6 Copywriting Interview Mistakes

CAREER

December 16, 2021

Joy Youell

Joy Youell is an expert copywriter and content strategist.

As someone who both interviews as a copywriter and interviews copywriters, there are a few oh-no-nos. These are all mistakes I’ve made that I kick myself for later, and ones I’ve seen writers make right in front of me. Bummer. If you want to close deals better, and get the “yes” you’re looking for from new copywriting clients, don’t do these. Easy as that. Well, there’s more, but start here.

1. Talk About Money Too Late in the Interview

You’re not here for the free food. If you’re a people person (I am), you will probably like most of the people you interview with, and be stoked about a potential partnership. If you like them too much, and wait too long to have the conversation, you’re setting yourself up for a major helping of awkward sauce. First, (obviously) don’t apply to jobs that pay below your copywriter rate. Second, review any rate or pay info right before the interview, so it’s fresh in your mind. Third, be confident about your numbers going in: know what you will take, and what you should make. Fourth, talk money soon enough. 

Now, this doesn’t mean the first thing out of your mouth should be a money moment. It does mean you shouldn’t hang up from the first interview without a clear understanding of what you charge and what they pay. I’ve done this before, and not talked about money until follow up. Unless you have a really clear picture that they’ll be able/willing to pay your rates (from someone who referred you, for instance), you need this to be spelled out plainly.

2. Hang Back and Don’t Take the Lead

Here’s something: depending on your level in this industry, many of the people who interview you may not be in the HR department, and may not be skilled interviewers. They may not know what they want to learn from you, or how to steer the conversation. Take it. 99% of the time, this is what I do, and it works well. Now, to do this, you either need to have experience interviewing (so you actually know what the convo should entail), or you need to practice. This is one reason it’s helpful to have other writers in your life: they can help you.

Lead out with clarity: “I’d love to get a high-level view of your company and what you’re looking for.” I love it when a client goes first, because it will definitely impact how I respond. When I first interviewed one of my head writers, Alex, his response to my description of who I was and what I was looking for had mirror elements, in vocabulary and presentation. It worked. Once they’ve described themselves (and they may trail off or not know when to end), you can step in with, “Let me share a little about myself.” Then talk project.

In some cases, they’ll only want to talk about the project, but there are still essential pieces of information you must get during this interaction if you’re going to succeed. So don’t miss them.

3. Be Inarticulate

This perhaps shouldn’t need to be said, but if you are a writer, people view you as a professional communicator. I get that not all writers are extroverts or particularly skilled orators, but you have to be articulate. If you stutter and stammer and “can’t find the words,” um, that’s a problem. After all, you’re supposed to be very good with words.

If this isn’t something you have any experience in, (I’m not joking here), take a public speaking course or something. Get a mentor. The single most valuable thing you can do for your writing career, aside from being the most skilled writer possible, is to communicate better. I’ve interviewed writers before who can barely put two sentences together. Are they good on paper? Sure. But if I can’t put them in front of clients, they can’t actually do the business of being a freelance copywriter, which means they’re not cut out for this. If this is a weakness for you: fix it. Now.

4. Not Have Done Your Research

I’ve had potential clients literally ask, “did you Google my company?” To which, of course, I reply: YES. Don’t go into an interview without doing your research. I mean, at a minimum, Google the company. I’m unsure why you would apply to a copywriting job without this step, but I think a lot of people do.

You will frame everything — your attitude, your vocabulary, your tone of voice — to how you see the company representing itself in the market. In a ghostwriting or white label scenario, you will “be” this company in the marketplace. They need to see a fit right away.

5. Present Sloppy

Now, I *never* tell people what to wear or how to look: that’s your own business and, frankly, shouldn’t matter. However, once you get to a certain level in this world, you do have to look the part a bit. That’s not to say that I don’t wear Bob’s Burgers t-shirts: I just throw a cardigan over them. If you look like a college student in the corner of a dorm room recovering from a bender, no enterprise client will ever hire you. That doesn’t mean you can’t be tatted and pierced and have blue hair. Some clients are looking for edgy, offbeat writers. 

HOWEVER, if you look like a casual blogger scoping out a one-time gig, you will not be taken seriously. If you want this to be your career, you have to consider your personal branding. Think about what your webcam picks up: trash cans? Messy beds? Random stacks of stuff? Take care of it. Don’t let your surroundings or appearance eliminate you from a potential job. That’s just a dumb reason to miss out.

6. Not Set Client Expectations for Next Steps

This is true of any interview, not just writer interviews: end with next steps. How will you follow up / how will they follow up? What’s next? If you leave a dangling, vague resolution, you didn’t lead well, first of all, and it’s a bit forgettable. Even subconsciously, every move you make in this interview conveys to a client what you are like as a professional and as a task manager. Are you on top of it? Do you understand workflows and management? Give plenty of signals that you do by wrapping things up professionally.

The Kind of Writers I Want to Interview

I’ve seen it all. I once interviewed a guy that I swear to you was in a tent. And, for me personally, I want to interview writers who are sharp and relatable. Right off the bat, I’m getting a feel for what they’d be like to work with. Would they be chill or intense? Would they take care of their work or meander and need a lot of guidance? Would they be fun or awkward? Humans pick up a lot more signals than you think in our little lizard brains: so be yourself, take charge, represent yourself with authenticity and finish well. Easy as that.

For the video of this, head to my Instagram.

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