The Content Marketing Hiring Process at Scribewise
BY John Miller
September 27, 2019

Great news here—we just hired a new employee.

But, shnikies, was it arduous.

We got to the altar a few times but for one reason or another decided the person was not the right fit. Maybe they just didn’t connect in their interview. Maybe their writing test wasn’t good enough. Maybe it was pretty good, but had one too many typos.

But it’s okay that it took a little longer than we expected, because we were being exacting. Demanding. We decided that we could not settle for someone who was merely good. Like Bobby Axelrod on the TV show Billions, we were seeking someone who could provide value above and beyond; we only want Wilburys on our team.

Talk to any business owner or manager, and they’ll tell you how hard it is to hire the right people. I’ve had plenty of people tell me they’re happy to get it right 50 percent of the time. That seems … crappy. For everyone.

Another problem is that, like political debates being used as a vehicle to decide who the best office-holder will be, job interviews are not necessarily a good indicator of who will perform well in the job, day in and day out. There’s a tendency—especially for agencies—to only hire extroverts who sparkle in interviews. Then, after a couple of weeks, they realize they’ve hired someone that talks a good game but can’t actually do the work. Next thing you know, you have a team full of energetic folks who say everything is awesome all the time, but can’t actually deliver. Not good.

So we stayed the course and stuck to our process. Finally, we found our Wilbury. Here’s the process we used to do it, and the process we plan on using in the future.

Step 1. Sourcing Content Marketing Candidates

It begins with filling up the top of the funnel in the quest to find qualified candidates. Our first move is to ask our team if they know anyone—former colleagues, friends, etc. We also discuss people we’ve interviewed in the past who we didn’t hire because the time wasn’t right.

We’ll look through LinkedIn, searching on terms like “content marketer”—genius, right? Sometimes we get high quality candidates simply by spending some time doing these searches. Usually, we’ll spend some money advertising the opening. We’ve tried advertising on local or targeted media, but the best success we’ve had has been using LinkedIn’s platform. We’ve also used search firms, but at this point we’ve found that we’re better able to identify potential hires—we simply know ourselves better than an outsider.

When advertising, here’s the meat of our basic job description—we tweak this depending on exactly who we’re looking to hire.

Scribewise Job Description

If you consider yourself a jargon slayer who can write circles around those stiffs at the PR firm, if you are at least slightly obsessed with the latest marketing trends, and if you have an aversion to agencies who believe Culture = Foosball, Scribewise might be the place for your career to flourish.

We’re on the hunt for a content marketer who brings:

Outstanding writing ability. Send us your samples.
Proven success in media relations and/or social media and community management.
Minimum of 3 years experience in content development, media relations and/or social media management
The ability to be self-managing, well-organized and do hands-on work with minimal supervision.
A willingness and ability to participate in strategic discussions, both internally and with clients.
A sense of humor.

Responsibilities may include:

Content creation, particularly for B2B firms. This includes the ability to develop and manage an editorial calendar and create significant volumes of written content.
Media relations, including the ability to counsel clients on best practices.
Participation in branding initiatives for clients and the ability to help companies define their “story.”
Participation in agency marketing efforts.

Also, we make sure people see our Culture Deck right from the beginning. The Culture Deck gives you a good idea of who we are and how we work. Bonus—it’s actually a true representation, which is not always the case with culture decks. However, it also points out that working at Scribewise may not be for everybody, and if people select out of the process before we waste either their time or ours, that’s a good outcome.

We’re looking for people who we believe can write. Who have written. No matter the job, if you can’t write, you’ll never be able to tell our clients’ stories, no matter how bright and shiny your personality.

Step 2. Making the First Cut

We’ll usually get over 100 candidates pretty quickly. About half of them are obviously not the right fit. The remainder require a closer look. We consider how well their resume is written and structured (we’re looking for organized thinkers) and what their experience is. If they’ve had to work with any type of complex subject matter—B2B tech, insurance, financial services, etc.—this is a positive.

After this review, we’re down to about 20 people.

Step 3.  Reviewing Cover Letters and Writing Samples

This is where we lose a lot of folks. It’s astonishing how many people have worked in marketing for five years who can’t write. Or who don’t have writing samples and send along college term papers. A lot of times people have been told they’re strong writers, but well … they’ve been lied to.

Truthfully, they might be considered good writers in their current position. But we’re looking for something with a little zing. It needs some personality. We need someone who can take complex material and make it understandable to a distracted audience. That’s the job in a nutshell.

Now we’re at 10-12 viable candidates.

Step 4. Conducting Phone Interviews

This is about a 15-minute interview. We ask everyone the same questions; you can probably guess most of them. We also ask the candidate what questions they have at this point. Pro tip—have some questions.

One of the key questions we ask here is, “what is your salary range?” For the love of all that is holy, please know how much money you want to make when you’re interviewing for a job. If you don’t know, we have to question how well you prepare for meetings. Obviously, some people are uncomfortable talking about money, and money isn’t everything. But it’s a key aspect of any work relationship, so we have to talk about it.

Note to all candidates—when you tell someone the salary you want, make it a real number. My advice is to make it a reasonable figure that will make you happy. Don’t guess what we want you to say. Don’t throw out a big number because you think we’re negotiating and you need to start from a higher plane.

If your number is out of our range, there’s no point in us continuing. I’ve had plenty of candidates tell me they’d take less than they’re currently making, but that makes us leery; if we hire you at this lower number, odds are that in a couple months you’ll be unhappy. That’s not good for anybody.

Just be honest, both with yourself and us.

We’ve typically eliminated a few more jobseekers at this stage, and now we’re down to five or six legit candidates.

Step 5. Giving DISC Profile Assessment

We just started doing this in the last year or so. The test is neither qualifying or disqualifying, but it’s a way for us to begin to understand your work and communication style, and what motivates you. It also informs the type of questions we’ll ask you at the face-to-face interview.

Step 6. Finally! Meeting Face to Face

News flash: The face-to-face interview is important.

By now, we have reason to believe that you can do the job (we’ll confirm that later), and have swiped right. Now, we’re looking for chemistry. You’ll meet with our management team. We have some questions we need to ask you, but as much as anything we want to have a conversation about both you and your views on marketing.

Pro tip: Don’t lie. We once asked a candidate what marketing blogs and sources she read to stay current, and she said “all of them.” When we asked her favorites, she said, “you got me.” She had nothing. That’s unrecoverable—not the fact that she couldn’t name any, but that she had lied about it. Now we don’t believe we can trust her.

We’re not trying to trap you when we ask these questions … we just want to get into your deeper thoughts on marketing.

If the face-to-face goes well, it’s on to the next step, probably the most important step for us. This is where we find out if you can do the job.

Step 7. Asking You to Complete a Writing and Editing Test

I read recently that some jobseekers think it’s unfair to ask them to “work for free.” We don’t see it that way—just like you won’t be first chair in the New York Philharmonic without playing a note or wide receiver for the Eagles without running the 40, you won’t be able to write for us without a writing test.

This is perhaps the most important step in our process. Writing is essential to everything we do. Being a strong writer and doing well on this test demonstrates your skill level, your attention to detail and, most importantly, your clarity of thought.

We’re going to assign you to write a blog post that is something we’d typically deliver for a client. We’ll give your directions, including a synopsis of the post, a link to something similar, approximate word count, style and tone of voice. We don’t time you, but I always tell candidates that if this takes them six hours they’re probably not going to want the job.

We also include an editing test; something we’ve written that has about 20 errors in it. We want you to correct the mistakes. This test has turned out to be a great predictor of someone’s success—it shows a person’s skill level and attention to detail.

Step 8. Checking References

This is usually perfunctory, but you never know. It’s the last check before we make a job offer. As you’d expect, most references rave about the people that have listed them as references. That’s okay, and expected. We’re just looking to confirm our thinking.

We’ll also reach out to someone we’re connected to that the candidate has not listed as a reference. After all, we claim that we take a journalistic approach to our work, so why wouldn’t we look for additional sources? That way we’re getting another, perhaps more trustworthy opinion. We did this with our last hire, and the connection said great things, confirming everything we believed. Hashtag win.

That’s how we do it, soup to nuts, A to Z. Sometimes, it moves quickly, sometimes it seems like we’re needlessly tying ourselves up in knots. But, as we say here in Philadelphia, we’ve come to Trust the Process. The proof is in the talent on the team.

Let’s talk about growing your company.

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