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What it feels like to hire the wrong writer

I brought on someone who wasn't right.

That's not to say that they were not a culture fit or that they didn't work hard. What wasn't right, was that they had cheated on their entry exercises...

We felt silly not to have detected the difference between their skills in interviews and their writing prowess. We had generously put the former down to nerves.

I felt conned. I felt like I'd wasted everyone's time. I felt like a rookie manager who had not implemented all the right checks.

Regardless of whether my feelings were an accurate reflection of reality, they were a huge downer. I didn't want to feel like that again.

So what did I do instead? I set up a process to filter writers better.

Here are my 4 secrets of writer vetting:

1. Set a tight time on the writing task.

Also, out of respect for candidates, only ask finalists to complete the test. Ask writers to commit to 1 hour, no more, that they can spend working on a test and email them the task at the start of that hour.

At the end of the hour, they should email you their work. You should not give them more time but you can reschedule the task if they have an emergency situation, and send them a different request the second time.

2. Check for comparable styles in their published work.

While I recognise not all writers will have work published in their name, there are sites that will publish them for no cost, or they might have a personal blog. At the very least, they should have microblogs on their LinkedIn. The style of each should not just be "good", they need to be comparable and consistently good. You need to see their voice in each piece.

3. Do not skip the trial period.

Training and learning curves are real. Nonetheless, great writers can slip into your style in a handful of pieces, if you give your time generously during that period. I'd recommend offering new writers 2 long-form articles to work on. Give them a fully completed content brief, and ask them to provide meta descriptions plus social texts to distribute the articles. This should be enough content to detect their understanding of the topic.

4. Invest time in industry training.

You cannot, as a new writer, understand everything about an industry. If you chose someone without experience in your industry, give them grace in picking up the terminology. Teach new hires how your company systems work, not just content or marketing systems, but product, technology, and client service. Trust me, your marketing team needs this knowledge too!

Learn from my mistakes, and hire well. Hire once.

Now, if someone asks me for recommendations of writers to work with, I have a shortlist (very short) of freelancers I trust. I have examples of their work to hand, and I know their working style. This has taken a lot of time and attention to curate.

As a result, I am always thrilled to recommend these freelancers to companies when I can't offer the writing services they're looking for myself.



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