This is a guest contribution from Steff Green of WorkflowMax.
Having been a freelance blogger since 2009, I’m used to looking for ways to improve my pitches and blogging job applications. However, recently I got to sit on the other side of the desk. I’ve landed the dream job – writing the awesome business blog at WorkflowMax – a cloud-based job management software for creatives and other service businesses. But we wanted to expand the blog from 3-4 posts a week to 7+, as well as start to work on some other cool content projects, and for that, we needed to bring another full-time blogger on staff.
It was up to me – and our Marketing Manager – to find this blogger. Mission: Accepted.
Having never hired a writer before, I turned to the internet for some advice, but didn’t really find much beyond very generic job-search tips. So, based on our experiences flying blind through the application process, I’m writing two posts for Problogger. The first is advice for companies like ours who need to hire a blogger. The follow-up post will be advice for bloggers who are looking for a full-time, steady job as a content creator at a company like ours: what to expect, and how to ensure you have the best chance of landing the gig.
Step 1: Write an Enticing Job Ad / Description
The first thing you’ll need to do is create a job ad that appeals to bloggers. This will be the first clue to prospective applicants that this job could be a good fit for them. Most bloggers that I know aren’t looking for a full-time job at a company (they are freelancers looking for several clients or making their income off their own blogs), but remember that you could be offering something that is quite unusual: a regular, monthly income as a writer. That stability for writers can be quite rare, which will mean you’ll definitely have a lot of interested candidates.
Because I’m the writer on staff, I had to take care of writing the job ad. I tried to highlight:
- Different types of writing the job would entail – such as blogging, ebooks, EDMS, social media.
- A sense of who the audience for the blog was, and the voice of the company.
- A sense of who the company are, and the benefits and learning experiences gained from working for them.
- Some of the perks the blogger could expect, such as flexible hours and their own laptop.
I wanted to attract writers who were used to writing B2B content, who had some knowledge about cloud-based software, service businesses and have the ability to quickly learn, adapt and write about a wide range of topics.
Step 2: Narrow Down Your Candidate List
We received a huge number of applications. HR sent us only 10 or so of the more likely candidates – so I didn’t get to see many of the real doozies. Our task was to narrow down our list to 3-4 candidates to interview.
If you are like me, you may never have had to choose interview candidates before, especially not based on resumes, cover letters, and writing samples. If you’re not a writer (like my manager), this can be even more terrifying. How do you know if someone is a good writer or not?
Here are my tips for narrowing down the herd:
- Think of the resume as a blog writing sample. After all, they are quite similar in structure – lots of headings, lists, and bullets to make it easily scannable, highlighting key points, an eye-catching opener to entire you to read more. We received one resume that was literally a laundry list of points (“Studied Communications. Led 20 person team for International project, A in Social Media Paper, Good Communications Skills”) with no apparent order or hierarchy. If a candidate can’t properly structure a resume, what hope will they have to properly structure a blog post or ebook?
- Look for creative thinkers. We had one candidate who wrote what would be considered a “risky” application – she made her cover letter into a blog post – with subheadings, bullets, a call to action, everything that is a blogging cliche. For any other job, this kind of application wouldn’t fly, but I found that in the sea of other candidates her writing stood out as fresh and different.
- Remember not to judge the cover letter too harshly. We were looking for quite a chatty, personable tone, and many of the cover letters we received were stiff and stilted. I tried not to judge them on this, as it’s the normal tone for a cover letter. Instead, I judged their writing ability on the strength of their samples.
- Ask for samples! We asked candidates to supply 1-2 writing samples with their applications. We also visited candidates websites and blogs to get an idea of the work they were producing. If a candidate lists a personal blog or website, go and check it out, because you can find all sorts of things you might not discover otherwise!
Step 3: Interviewing the Candidates
Now that you’ve narrowed down your applicants to a shortlist of candidates, it’s time to get those people into the office or on Skype for an interview. This is the most daunting part of the process, both for candidate and for company, because you’re no longer simply assessing if they can do the job – you’re trying to figure out if they will be a good fit for your team.
We narrowed our list down to five candidates, and interviewed four in the office and one over Skype. We were given a list of questions from HR that we could use, but we also had created a few of our own questions. Here are some of our tips for successful interviews:
- Start by talking through their CV. I’ve never seen this at an interview before, but I found it an extremely useful thing to do. Often, our candidates had many different jobs listed – from social media internships, to project-based work, to permanent roles, and long stretches of freelance work. Talking through their work history (all candidates were quite young) gave us an overview of where they were going in their career, and helped pinpoint skills they had picked up and unique experiences they could bring to our team.
- Ask about daily word count. An interesting question I asked each of our candidates was how many words they thought they could write in a day. I’m a solid 2000 word girl myself, and it was interesting hearing responses from 1000 words right up to 4000+. Wordcount definitely isn’t everything (quality over quantity, of course), but as writing is so subjective it gave us at least one solid metric with which to measure candidates.
- Put them on the spot about their blogging knowledge. For example, we would give them a scenario where they had just written and published a post on our blog. Now, how would they get lots of eyes on that post? I was much more interested in those candidates who talked about forming relationships with other industry bloggers than in those who said, “um … social media?”
- Ask about their future plans. Future plans can be a good indicator of whether the candidate is looking for a role they can grow into, or something to bridge a gap while they look for something better. We had one extremely strong candidate whose goal was to move into a strategic role, and her current role was already placing her in this type of work. Because our role is primarily production (writing blog posts), we decided she probably wasn’t right for the position in the end.
- Get to know their personality. You’re going to be working with this blogger for a huge chunk of the week, so make sure you’re looking for a candidate that is a good fit for your company. See how they respond to your questions. Ask them about their working style. Talk about their career so far. Do they seem like a good fit?
Step 4: Create a Writing Test
This may not be a necessary step in every company, but we were really struggling to choose a candidate. All four candidates were strong writers according to their samples, and they had great personalities that meshed with our team based on the interview, and different strengths and experiences. We decided to create a writing test that was specific to our company’s blog. Our company regularly sets tests when we employ developers, so it wasn’t so out of the ordinary.
I set three questions that related to different aspects of our blog. It would require candidates to read through some articles on our blog and get a feel for our voice and our audience.
First, I asked the bloggers to write a list of topic ideas for one of our verticals – creative agencies – to help promote an ebook. Then I asked them to choose one of their topics and write a 500-word blog post based on their idea. To do well in the exercise, the candidate would need to look at a few posts on our WorkflowMax blog, and write some ideas that fit our tone and audience (A lot of guest bloggers approach us with general business advice articles, which is NOT what we’re after, so I was interested to see if our candidates would make the same mistake. Some of them did.
The test was the single biggest indicator that helped us choose our first-choice candidate.
When creating your own test, think about:
- What activities your blogger will need to do regularly (idea generation, creating tweets, blogger outreach, writing posts, submitting guest blogs) and design simple exercises around these aspects of the job.
- Keep the test short – it should take the candidate less than an hour to complete.
- Give the candidates a few days to complete the test from home.
- Look for ideas and writing that could easily work alongside what you’re currently producing. Look for the structure of a blog post. Look for details like linking to other articles, using headings and lists, and having a call-to-action.
- But on the other hand, don’t discount a blogger because of features that could be learned – such as post formatting or compelling headlines. Have they got the basics right?
Step 5: Create a “points” system
So you’ve finished your interviews, and you’ve got notes written about each candidate. But now you’re stumped. They all have their strengths and weaknesses – how do you decide who is right for your company?
One thing I did is create a points system. We created a spreadsheet with a list of different factors, including:
- digital marketing experience
- copywriting / blogging experience
- WorkflowMax writing sample
- Other writing samples
- WorkflowMax topic generation
- Output – words per day
- Unique, engaging voice
- Future goals aligned with role
We then went through and rated each candidate out of five for each of the factors. Adding up the points gave us a score for each candidate. This helped to give us something with which we could measure candidates with different strengths against each other, rather than simply saying, “Well, Clara has experience in the cloud computing industry, but Doris’ sample was better. Now who do we choose?” This helped us single out two candidates who stood out.
Step 6: Talk to a Writer
If you don’t have a writer on staff already, then hire one to look over the writing samples and give you their honest opinion. If you are not a writer, it can be difficult to understand what makes a good one, and what makes a great writer stand out from the good.
Step 7: Make the Offer!
You’ve done it! You’ve found the right blogger for your position. You can now dance on a table and go out for a beer. But not before you’ve made them the offer, of course! We’re really happy with the blogger we chose, and she’s fitting in nicely with our little team.
Finding a blogger for a full-time position can be a real mission. But it’s important to find the right person for the company, because you are stuck with them for a long time.
Have you ever gone through the process of hiring a blogger? What advice could you offer other companies?
Steff Green is the content manager for WorkflowMax, cloud-based job management software that tackles everything from leads, quotes, time sheeting, invoicing, reporting, and more. You can find her writing business advice for creative agencies, architects, IT companies and other business that bill by time on the WorkflowMax blog.