A Content Writer’s Portfolio…
Appointing a content writer, whether on a contract or as an employee, can be tricky and rather costly if not successful. New staff members are typically only expected to add real value after three to six months of appointment and contractors in about a third of that time. Ideally, you want a newly appointed content writer to start adding value within weeks. Conversely, you would like to be as sure as you can, before you appoint them, that they will not add value. What can you do to be more confident?
More often than not the interviewing process (see Interview tactics) follows the route of screening interview, phone interview, 1st interview, 2nd interview, 3rd interview and final interview. Part of this process is typically a discussion and assessment of the content writer’s portfolio. A necessary step, yes, but herein lies the potential problem.
Even if the candidate has the requisite qualifications and industry experience and, the presented portfolio demonstrates the desired writing skills, you have little way of gauging the context. By context I mean the circumstances and environment within which the portfolio items were written.
The modern workplace is characterised by anxiety, tight (and moving) deadlines, quick decision making and necessitates an agile approach of some sort. Knowing the deadlines, availability of information, the assistance provided and accuracy of the brief surrounding the written items presented, for example, would go a long way to better assess the portfolio. Understanding this context is critical to evaluating the portfolio. I will go so far as to say that without understanding the context, you cannot make a meaningful assessment of the portfolio. As stated earlier ‘you have little way of gauging the context’. What can you do? You can test them.
“Do what you can with what you’ve got where you are” (Theodore Roosevelt)
Ask them to perform a series of writing tasks within a specific time. A long article, short article and some posts for example. The topic(s) should preferably be relevant, the brief must be well prepared (value proposition, support information, etc.) and tasks can be sequenced. The more detailed writing tasks, that require research, can be done off-site and some of the posts can be done during the interview, but all with specific time requirements.
What they produce will demonstrate their content generation prowess under ‘working’ conditions you have created and, how they approach the tasks will tell you something about tenacity and their ‘willingness to fail’. You also will have a basis to meaningfully compare candidates and, if you have similar written work already produced, you also have a benchmark to evaluate against.
If they are not willing to be tested, well, that also tells you something.