This month's must-ask interview questions focus on what to ask when hiring writers. In a world ablaze with content, companies need talented writers to fuel their websites, instructional manuals, blogs, social media feeds and more.
When bringing new writers on board, what questions should companies ask to cull the talent pool to those writers with the necessary chops to achieve their organizational goals?
Five such questions follow:
1. How would you describe your writing style? e.g., journalistic and fact-finding; fiction-based; technical; storytelling; business; etc.?
Value of This Question: The reasoning behind this is that different types of styles fit different types of markets or needs. For example, if an engineering company were hiring for a writer to build instruction manuals for their ABC widget, then they likely would seek a technical writer with a facts-focused approach that includes little 'fluff' and expository.
However, a company hiring a writer to compose marketing copy for a new game may seek out someone to storify the content more whimsically or imaginatively, extending the narrative beyond the facts.
Moreover, journalist-trained writers often are intimate with the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook where articles like "a," "an" and "the" and serial commas often are omitted and an interrogative approach to the who, what, where, when and why is utilized to derive final content.
Determining which writing style fit is best for a hiring company's needs will be helpful in pinpointing a best-fit writer.
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2. What training and experience do you have writing for <fill in the blank; e.g., corporate marketing blogs; technical manuals; educational websites, etc.>?
Value of This Question: If a person can robustly describe writing-specific training and education, then they have a foundational motor that revs up their writing engine. Candidates with degrees in writing, literature or English come to mind; as well, digital marketing, business communications and journalism degrees all bolster a writer's skillset. Moreover, there are a multitude of writing-specific certifications and credentials that populate a writer's education briefcase.
Experience is the jet engine that propels a writer to get their training off the ground, leveling out their writing chops while in flight. A proven record of professionally composed content that not only has been published, but also which spurred repeat work or proved value through visibility takes writers' credibility to the next level.
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3. Who is your favorite writer?
Value of This Question: While this is a fun question, it also may provide some insights on the candidate's writing style. For example, avid news readers may be more prone to internalizing the vocabulary and writing style associated with media communications. Or, a fantasy fiction reader may imbue their already creative thinking abilities while immersed in these stories, fortifying their value as a marketing or advertising copywriter.
4. Are you comfortable paring down complexity?
Value of This Question: Most writing has a certain level of complexity, in that it requires an ability to logically weave together ideas into understandable sentences and paragraphs. It also requires a general skill at crafting a beginning, middle and an end. That said, not all writing is created equal. Some projects are more technical, others are more detailed, some are more clunky and chaotic, and yet others are more high-level and sophisticated. Or, it may be a combination of all of these project types.
One job of the hiring company is to understand what level of writing complexity the writer should be capable of performing. As well, for more complex initiatives, the discussion should extend to the processes and protocols to achieve best outcomes.
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5. What type of writing do you perform? Research/interview-based? Creative, from scratch (top of mind)? Revamp of existing content (e.g., editing and refreshing lanky, outdated or uninspiring content) to breathe new life into it?; etc.
Value of This Question: Some writers capably perform all or a combination of the above types of writing. Others lean strongly in a certain direction; for example, some writers are successful and comfortable writing from a repository of content that needs to be trimmed and boiled down.
Others are more fruitful when starting from a blank slate, with a topic in hand. They are energized by having a series of action steps from which to build their content base: interviewing, researching and introspection.
Moreover, other writers prefer to be thrown to the wolves, topic-less and only a prod in the general direction.
Figuring out what type of writer you are dealing with will help determine if a) they are a fit for your specific writing culture; and, b) if they can nimbly accommodate more than one area of your content development needs, making them a flexible partner for future, evolving writing collaborations.