10 Questions You Must Ask Before Hiring a Content Writer

02
Jul 2013

ghsrRecently my lovely friend Raegan asked me out for coffee to talk about writers. You see, Raegan is a marketing recruiterextraordinaire here in Houston, and her clients are clamoring for content creators. Her question to me went something like this:

“When we interview writers to fill these positions, how can we tell the bona fide content creators from the wanna-be’s?”

So we commandeered a table at our local Starbucks to hash out how to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to spinners of content.

With that, here are 10 questions you absolutely must ask before hiring a content creator, plus the answers to listen for … and the red flags that should send up a warning signal.

1. How do you kick off a project with a new client?

What you’re looking for here is listening. A good content writer will spend time with the client to get a feel for the brand’s personality as well as the needs of its target audience.

Red Flag: “I just kinda start writing.”

2. Which blogs do you read?

You’re looking for a writer who’s committed to keeping his or her skills sharp, and that includes reading some of the better blogs on the subject of content creation.Two that come to mind are ProBlogger and CopyBlogger, but any marketing- or content-focused blog would be an acceptable answer.

Red Flag: “I totally dig TMZ and Perez Hilton …”

3. Tell me about the best book you’ve read recently.

The best writers love to read, and not just blogs and e-zines. On my list of acceptable answers would be any marketing or general business book, as well as any book that shows your writer is a well-rounded individual.

Red Flag: “Do comic books count?”

4. Which professional organizations do you belong to?

A good writer views his or her work as a business, one that is worth investing in—and part of that investment involves joining professional organizations. They offer the opportunity to keep up with trends, sharpen skills, and benefit from interaction with other professionals. And a good writer will find a way to come up with the annual dues.

Red Flag: “None.”

5. Which style guide do you prefer to go by?

What you’re listening for here is either the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook or theChicago Manual of Style. I’d even accept the Yahoo! Style Guide as a runner-up.

Red Flag: [blank stare]

6. Can you describe the difference between content and copy?

Copy is sales-oriented, while content is value-oriented. Copy is the stuff you’d find in a brochure, while content is what you’d find in a bona fide newsletter. A good writer should know the difference between the two.

Red Flag: “Is that a trick question?”

7. What is your proofreading process?

There’s more to good proofreading than reading your content over and over again on the screen. A good writer will have a process (or several to choose from) for proofing each piece of content. Some of my tactics are reading the content out loud and reviewing a printed copy. Give bonus points if they mention my super-ninja trick for when it’s gotta be perfect: reading it backwards.

Red Flag: “Proofreading? Is that a thing?”

8. How do you optimize your content for search?

A good content creator will be familiar with the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). Your ideal candidate will answer this question by describing how he or she (a) determines which keywords to focus on and (b) works those keywords into the content.

Red Flag: [blank stare]

9. What operating systems and programs do you use?

True story: On two occasions at my last corporate job, we hired writers who showed up on their first day, took one look at their computers, and said, “Oh, you use PCs.” Yep, they’d only ever used Macs. Each assured us it wouldn’t be a problem, but … yeah, it was. So if you’re hiring a content creator to work on-site with your team, make sure he or she is hip to the program—literally.

Red Flag: “I use a Mac [or a PC]—doesn’t everybody?”

And the bonus question:

10. Can you describe the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re?”

Yes, it sounds asinine. But I see this mistake All. The. Time. And I know at least some of those errors are the work of allegedly professional content creators. A good writer knows that a spellcheck program can only get you so far.

Red Flag: “Wull, they all sound the same, so it’s all good, right?”

How about you—how do you separate the wheat from the chaff when choosing a content writer? Tell us about it in the Comments; we’d love to hear from you!

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 About the Author

Rachel has answerA self-described geek who can recite entire episodes of South Park by heart, Rachel Parker has had a passion for content ever since she was old enough to hold a crayon (purple, please). As Founder and CEO of Resonance, Rachel helps businesses publish content that connects with their audience … and converts those followers into customers. She’s also the host of the Content Marketing Podcast and a sought-after speaker, having presented to many major business and marketing organizations. Contact Rachel about speaking to your group or business.



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52 Comments

  1. Thank you @Rachel Parker 🙂
    These days we finds few content writers for our online website. Because content is precious for every single blog or site. Your above questions help me to gain much knowledge.

  2. Laura says:

    I have a style guide, the Canadian Style Guide, from college. But, I haven’t cracked it open in a very long time. I didn’t join any professional organizations either but they aren’t in the budget. I mainly write my own sites, for myself. I liked your points, they are good and all things a web writer should know, whatever their professional aspirations.

    I’d also ask your writer about the software they have used. I wrote for a site which wanted everything sent in Word.doc files. I’m not an MS Word fan so I didn’t have the program. I had used it when I worked in an office long ago. I found an open source work around but if I had been taking a job and expected to work with MS Word every day I would have needed to learn the software and remember what was where.

  3. George Arnold says:

    Excess verbiage and poor syntax weary the eye and quickly lose the reader. I can go form post to post and site to site and see obvious excess verbiage in 85% of the content.

    • Rachel Parker says:

      Agreed, George! I always cringe when I see experts claiming that Google gives greater credibility to longer blog posts. That may be true in attracting search traffic, but if you bombard the reader with endless verbiage, you negate any of the benefits by alienating the reader. Good point!

  4. […] It’s always a pleasure to hear from my friend Raegan Hill. Not only is she one of Houston’s top marketing recruiters, but she’s also one of the best-informed people I know, always on top of current trends and developments. Whenever I hear from Raegan, I know I’ll get either (a) a juicy tidbit of strategic gold or (b) a question that I can spin into a timely blog post (like this one). […]

  5. […] It’s always a pleasure to hear from my friend Raegan Hill. Not only is she one of Houston’s top marketing recruiters, but she’s also one of the best-informed people I know, always on top of current trends and developments. Whenever I hear from Raegan, I know I’ll get either (a) a juicy tidbit of strategic gold or (b) a question that I can spin into a timely blog post (like this one). […]

  6. […] It’s always a pleasure to hear from my friend Raegan Hill. Not only is she one of Houston’s top marketing recruiters, but she’s also one of the best-informed people I know, always on top of current trends and developments. Whenever I hear from Raegan, I know I’ll get either (a) a juicy tidbit of strategic gold or (b) a question that I can spin into a timely blog post (like this one). […]

  7. Aubrey says:

    Is MLA Style considered old-fashioned? I was an English major in college and we always used MLA Style. If I’m writing content, do I need to be more familiar with AP Style?

    • Rachel Parker says:

      Hi Aubrey,

      Very good question! I will tell you from experience that when companies do specify a style guide to use as a reference for their content, they nearly always cite AP Stylebook. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reference to the MLA Style Manual, or the Chicago Manual of Style for that matter.

      So yes, if you are writing content, I would definitely become familiar with the AP Stylebook. Best of luck to you!

  8. I did a quick search in preparation to interview a prospective writer. The first several articles were not useful. This is the most straightforward, funny, helpful article I have read on this topic. My search for what to ask is over. Thank you!

  9. Congrats on your SEO; you came up second on a random search for “content writing questions”!

  10. Navin Israni says:

    Loved the last question! Clearly segregates a good “writer” from the crowd..

    I am beginner-level content writer, my English is fairly good. However, I don’t find the use of style guides much helpful.

  11. […] you have the initial logistics figured out, it’s time to start looking for the writer(s) that you want to help you with content development work. I’ve found that the two best places to […]

  12. […] you have the initial logistics figured out, it’s time to start looking for the writer(s) that you want to help you with content development work. I’ve found that the two best places to […]

  13. […] you have the initial logistics figured out, it’s time to start looking for the writer(s) that you want to help you with content development work. I’ve found that the two best […]

  14. […] you have the initial logistics figured out, it’s time to start looking for the writer(s) that you want to help you with content development work. I’ve found that the two best places to […]

  15. […] you have the initial logistics figured out, it’s time to start looking for the writer(s) that you want to help you with content development work. I’ve found that the two best places to […]

  16. […] you have the initial logistics figured out, it’s time to start looking for the writer(s) that you want to help you with content development work. I’ve found that the two best places to […]

  17. […] you have the initial logistics figured out, it’s time to start looking for the writer(s) that you want to help you with content development work. I’ve found that the two best places to […]

  18. Usman Ahmad says:

    Very good questions, I think first one is the most important question. I usually ask these type of questions before hiring a content writer.

  19. […] 2 Parker, R. (2 July 2013). 10 Questions you must ask before hiring a content writer. Retrieved on 8 December 2015 from http://resonancecontent.com […]

  20. ankitaa banerjee says:

    Hi, my question is that i am a beginner to learn this process of content writing, so please tell me what things r necessary for me to become a good content writer. Tell me every possible details that can help me.

    • Rachel Parker says:

      Hi Ankitaa,

      The first piece of advice I can offer is to educate yourself at every possible opportunity. Read books by content marketing experts — I highly recommend Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi, Youtility by Jay Baer and Everybody Writes by Ann Handley. And make it a daily habit to read blogs that can help you grow as a content writer, especially Problogger and Copyblogger.

      My second piece of advice is to create content every single day. Even if it’s just for a blog that no one else will see, the daily practice of writing, editing, and proofreading will hone your skills to a fine point. You can also offer your services for free to a nonprofit organization or to a business that’s willing to barter, which will give you some valuable experience working with actual clients.

      Becoming a good content writer isn’t something that happens overnight, but with discipline and patience, you will get there!

      Best of luck to you,
      Rachel

  21. ankitaa banerjee says:

    writing a content what are the major things i have to remember . tell me about the writing style, is this really important and what is seo can u please help me.

  22. Abdul Sami says:

    Hello Rachel,

    This post has helped me in knowing that what questions i will need to ask to writers during interview and i am sure these queries will help me to find find out best content writer for my company.

  23. Faroouk says:

    I have been recently invited to an interview recently and I have found these questions helpful.

  24. Karen says:

    Very helpful indeed! I’m in search of good writer too and these geek point definitely help me to choose a qualitative resource.

  25. Alan says:

    Thanks for sharing such great information. I really agree. These question can help us know more of content writer, his or her skills. Thanks a million times.

  26. mp3juice says:

    Admiring the dedication you put into your website and detailed information you offer.
    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while
    that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material.

    Great read! I’ve saved your site and I’m
    including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  27. Jared says:

    Thanks for this fantastic post, I am glad I observed this website on yahoo.

  28. Thank you @Rachel Parker 🙂
    These days we finds few content writers for our online website. Because content is precious for every single blog or site. Your above questions help me to gain much knowledge.

  29. miyakhan7667 says:

    Very good questions, I think first one is the most important question. I usually ask these type of questions before hiring a content writer.

  30. Good questions Rachel. the only one I am not quite comfortable is the Style Guide. I ask the following:
    a. What narrative preferences do they have? b. What are they passionate about – comfort factor level with a few categories c. What happens when they are stuck for words? d. What tools do they use for plagiarism checks and what do they think about it. e. How many words can they write at a stretch.

  31. kapush says:

    I owe you! Thanks a lot for writing such a useful post. I practically created my sales pitch out of it. And acknowledged you, of course!

    Here’s the link to the page in case you want to take a look sometime:
    http://kapush.org/seocontent/seo-content-writer/

    Thanks again 🙂

  32. miyakhan7766 says:

    Thank you @Rachel Parker 🙂
    These days we finds few content writers for our online website. Because content is precious for every single blog or site. Your above questions help me to gain much knowledge.

  33. ANNAH says:

    Good day Rachel
    I’m an aspiring content writer with less or no experience at all. written for few publications but that was years ago. I was caught up in a changeling situation that led me to juggle through none career related jobs. Recently i have started in a new company as a contact center agent and luckily they advertised a post for a copy writer, i took the risk, applied for it and i was called for an interview. Please kindly help me prepare for the interview as i’m thirsty for the opportunity. I know there is a lot i must improve prior to the interview date.

    • Rachel Parker says:

      Hi Annah,
      I must admit I’m out of the loop when it comes to the in-house hiring processes of content teams, so if I were you I’d check the blogs of some of the reputable recruiting sites. Many of them offer excellent tips to help first-time writers prepare for an interview. Best of luck to you!

  34. […] to consider before hiring a writer: Although there are 10 things that you should consider before you hire a content creator, the most important thing is making sure that your ideal writer […]

  35. You are absolutely right about all these questions. One should ask most of these questions before hiring a content writing service either via online or an offline mode.

  36. Great tips, it is becoming increasingly more important to have valuable content on a site. Writing with search in mind seams super important as it is becoming increasingly important to business success to rank well in on-line searches. I mean everything is done on-line now days.

  37. veergupta says:

    Good post you’re shared i really need this post thank you.

  38. Mehak says:

    Really helpful thanks

  39. Jim Sanders says:

    Excellent article you have shared thanks for sharing. I appreciated of you.

  40. Prachi says:

    Hello Rachel,
    Nice questions and expected answers from the content writer. These questions will help me what a content writer need to think.
    Thanks for sharing.

  41. Lu says:

    when you hired a content writer, does the content writer just write about it and give it to you? Or does content writers publish my content in their blogs, website, social media ect?

  42. Elliot says:

    After I initially commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is
    added I get four emails with the same comment.
    Is there an easy method you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks!

    • Rachel Parker says:

      Hello,

      In the notification emails, you should see a link to “Manage Subscriptions.” By clicking on that link, you will have the option to remove your subscription to the comments.

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