What to Look for When Hiring Good Content Marketers

Building and executing a content marketing strategy — and doing it well — requires a team. And whether you decide to outsource your content marketing efforts to an agency of experts or hire internally, your content marketing team should be comprised of highly trained individuals in specific roles.

Years ago, when companies were testing the waters with content, you might have been able to get by for a while with a one-person team. Today, you won’t find much success hiring a jack-of-all-trades marketer to handle everything content-related. You need a team of talented individuals working in a variety of specific roles to power great content.

And as Cisco and Intel CMO Karen Walker learned throughout the process of hiring more than 200 content marketers globally to build out the company’s content operation, hiring the right people isn’t easy.

We’ve have used content to hire people in the past, so I can say pretty confidently that we’ve learned a thing or two about hiring content marketers. If you can afford your own in-house content team, here are four best practices for hiring good content marketers:

1. Ask for writing samples right away.

While you don’t want to judge a candidate’s entire writing ability based on one sample alone, too many organizations waste valuable time interviewing candidates who simply can’t write. Sure, not everyone you hire will be your head content creator, responsible for writing each piece for your blog and any guest posts you contribute — but that doesn’t mean his or her ability to write well is any less important.

Early on, we ask for writing samples from prospective freelance writers, editors, and content strategists to gauge whether their writing chops are on par with what we’re looking for in each of those roles. If they are, those candidates move forward.

2. Assign a sample exercise — but don’t ask for free work.

Once you’ve got an understanding of candidates’ general ability, it’s time to see how they handle the actual responsibilities of the role they’re applying for. We give candidates a sample exercise after their second interview. Depending on the role, they’re asked to perform a test edit, complete a test writing assignment, or develop article topics for past clients based on a content strategy that we give them.

What you should absolutely never do in this part of the hiring process is ask for free work. None of the sample exercises that candidates complete in the interview process should be used by your company, especially for a paying client. (Not only is that unethical, but it’s unfair to both the candidate and your client.)

In the same vein, don’t expect a candidate to spend hours upon hours on an exercise for your interview process. Remember, the best candidates will probably already be employed — or interviewing with other great companies — and asking them to create an entire documented content marketing strategy for your company isn’t fair.

We do everything we can to ensure that the exercises we give candidates take no longer than two hours to complete — we shoot for 30 minutes to two hours. But we can’t account for everyone’s pace, so when they submit their exercises, we also ask how much time it took them to complete their work to get an idea of how quickly or slowly they finish tasks.

3. Ask the right questions.

You probably already have your standard interview questions that help you determine whether a candidate is a good fit for your organization. Keep those, and add a few that are designed to quickly get to the bottom of how a candidate will work as a content marketer for your team. For strategists and editors specifically, we ask the following questions:

• Tell us about how many projects you manage at once and how you organize and prioritize your work.

With this question, we want to find out whether someone can juggle a lot of moving pieces — and do so effectively. Everyone has his or her own way of staying organized and completing projects, and we look for the organizer with extreme attention to detail and efficiency. Someone who uses color-coded binders for each project and a comprehensive to-do list will thrive at Influence & Co. When someone says, “Oh, I have a great memory, so I just keep a to-do list in my head,” we know she’s likely not going to do well here.

• What makes good content?

This question is subjective, and there isn’t really a right or wrong answer we’re trying to get to. We’re much more interested in how candidates approach evaluating content. Are excellent grammar and spelling the only things they care about? What importance do they place on the story itself? Do they think that personal examples make a piece really stand out? Based on your company’s answer to this question, you can use this to see whether you and your candidate are on the same page when it comes to identifying good content.

• What do you enjoy reading?

We ask this because we want to determine whether candidates are already reading the type of content we create. Do they love reading Fast Company and Entrepreneur? Awesome — they’ll have a much easier time understanding the kind of content we create. Are they really into young adult fiction novels? That’s still awesome, but it lets us know we may need to spend more time training this candidate on online content creation and distribution.

4. Use your content to give new hires a head start.

If you’re hiring driven people (and you probably should be), you’ll want to give them an opportunity to get a head start on training. Once someone signs an offer letter with Influence & Co., we immediately send him or her information about what to expect on the first day. We also provide access to our company intranet, which includes links to several articles on content marketing, the history of our company, an overview of the types of clients we work with, and more.

New hires are never expected to have read each piece of content we send before their first day, but it’s there just in case. Most people are excited about their new job and curious about the ins and outs of their role, and reading this content before the first day makes the first week of training more productive for everyone. And when that training goes well, your content team only gets stronger.

Hiring a team of solid content marketers — whether you’re looking to add two more to a growing team or hire 200 fresh faces for a new department — is never an easy task. But with the right approach, you can find the best candidates to fill each position of a high-powered team.

Want to know more about how to build a dedicated team of content marketers? We’re happy to answer any questions you may have! Feel free to fill out the contact form here, and we’ll reach out to you directly.

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