I’ve been on both sides of the table in this conversation (actually, I am all of the time): interviewee and interviewer. Walking away from these conversations, I almost always think of something else I shoulda, coulda, woulda asked/been asked. Over the years, I’ve steadily whittled down my list of copywriter skills and capabilities, as well as discerning what a client is really asking (spoiler alert: it’s different than what they say).
So, I thought, “how to interview a copywriter” feels like a very useful topic to write on. Plus, I just got the p-tag version of the H1 in by phrasing that way.
If you are hiring a writer, I would strongly recommend that you the copywriter interview covers these main points.
I always warm up with some get-to-know-you stuff, and I always lead. Copywriters tend to be introverts, and you don’t want somebody who isn’t at their best. You’re doing both yourself and them a service by warming things up with some softball stuff.
Start by setting expectations: “I know we have a quick 20 minutes today to get to know each other. I’m going to start by telling you a little about myself and what I’m looking for, then you can tell me about yourself.”
In addition to alleviating anxiety, this is also a kindness. In the world of writers and content marketers, it can be like a freaking free-for-all. What I mean is, what you don’t know is huge, and what they don’t know is huger. Gianter? Voluminous? Velociraptor? You get the idea.
They don’t know what you are looking for (specifically), they don’t know your vibe, they don’t know your goals, they don’t know your expectations. If you tell them, they can frame their responses appropriately. If you’re hiring an SEO specialist, are you yourself highly knowledgeable about SEO? If so, they’ll answer questions differently than if you acknowledge you are a complete novice. It’s super important to ideologically level set before diving into the specifics.
Interview tip: leave the pause. Let there be open, empty space for someone to speak up. This is hard for me because I want to make people feel comfortable. But the pause is important.
Alright, on to the nit grit.
Copywriting is a skill. And just like any skill, there are certain capabilities that any copywriter in the world should possess. Those are quantifiable. The problem is, in the freelance marketplace, there are plenty of people who are “just good with words.” Meaning, they didn’t go to journalism school or have a degree in English or any of that. Frankly, even if they did, that’s no guarantee that they’re any good (speaking from extensive copywriter interviewing experience).
You need to get to the heart of three things, which are the measure of a good copywriter:
This is how we at Hire a Writer measure copywriter proficiency, and they’re the key points to walk out of the interview having learned.
If this gets crickets, it’s a red flag. If they answer without any qualification, also a red flag.
The average writer can produce 500 words/hour, but it varies significantly depending on the type of content.
The reason you have to know this is manifold, and there are a few more specific ways to frame it based on what you’re looking for in a writer:
Clarifying questions are a good sign, because there are absolutely external factors that can impact writer speed. But this is fundamentally a professionalism question that impacts your budget.
If a writer ends up taking six hours to write a blog, and their rate is $75/hour, you’ve just paid $450/blog. If you’re hiring a staff writer, and they take a super long time to produce content, you’re not going to get much done. And they’re contracted and probably salaried. It’s all problematic and you need to understand writer speed before you hire them.
“Google it” is the answer 95% of the time, if I may pull the curtain back a little on the copywriting community.
Even I, something of a cracker jack researcher, Googles… a lot. The “white papers” you write for internet consumption are essentially commercial. But it’s important to know how a writer goes about sourcing material that informs their work.
You don’t want to be fact-checking. While that is a part of the editing process, you need to be able to trust that copywriters are researching things with accuracy. This definitely slows the process down, but is important if you want to have any kind of credibility.
Ask them what their research process is like, what types of sources they use, how they find information and even what examples they have of academic or similar content they could share.
This is another area where the fact that people don't typically get degrees relevant to blog writing or internet copywriting is tricky. If they haven’t written papers since high school, or even if it’s been a while since college, there has to be a lot of self-teaching to replace that academic experience.
I favor the former, Alex favors the latter, but both get a copywriter to open up in an interview. And you desperately need them to. It’s not just about them having a personality that’s easy/good to work with, but about them having enough wit and joie de vivre to be *interesting.*
Boring writing is basically the internet summed up. If you’re going to hire a copywriter, you want them to write in an interesting way.
Now, interesting doesn’t need to mean comical, comedic or irreverent.
That may be your brand voice, but it may not be, and you certainly don’t need to change who you are to fit in on the internet. Think through what makes your ideal audience interested in your product, and what they would find intriguing. Then figure out if the copywriter you’re interviewing appears to have the same or similar interests.
What I’m after in this question is:
All of these are vital to understand before you hire a writer, because they will definitely influence how interesting the work they produce is.
To sum up, when you interview a copywriter, you need to open by making your identity, role and expectations clear, then letting them describe themselves. Get to the heart of the three quality metrics of a copywriter: speed, accuracy, interest. If you walk away fully understanding how a copywriter rates in those areas, you’ll know whether or not they’re a fit.
Hiring is a madhouse. Good luck.
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