Our content marketing agency is often looking to hire writers, and in a separate comprehensive guide, we share our step-by-step process to search for and select them. But for now we want to share the job description we use when we have an active search for freelance writers underway.
I prefer to the keep this part of our hiring process very simple — so simple, in fact, that one document serves as both the job description and the ad. Most examples that I see run too long by trying to cover details that are best left to other stages in the process: the interview, the scope of work and onboarding. The trick is to plan out the other stages in the hiring process so you have confidence everything important will get covered in due time.
That way the combo job description/ad you use to hire writers doesn’t overwhelm. When you hire freelancers, you are really beginning a process of inviting them to join you. I try to have a bias toward a welcoming tone, even though I am going to end up rejecting all but one of the people who apply.
Too many adopt a “gatekeeper persona” during the hiring process. From the applicant’s perspective, it’s like encountering a doorman at a nightclub. But if you think about the writer you will hire at the end, that is not the tone you want to hear from your next client or employer. Ads and job descriptions for freelance writers usually don’t make them feel welcome.
Focus more on what you want that one person to hear, even though you don’t know which person in the sea of bloggers it will be. Hiring them starts with a conversation, and you need to invite them to that conversation.
This is the exact job description we use to hire writers
Below are all the pieces we include in our combo job description/ad when we hire writers who help us produce content marketing. Note that our agency is particularly focused on B2B marketing.
First up is a few critical details just in the header.
1. Title: Writer, Content Marketing Services Firm
Clarify if the writers you hire are going to be full-time or part-time, if this will be a W-2 or 1099 arrangement and if they are going to be in-house or remote. Ours indicates remote, because our marketing agency is a fully distributed team.
3. Pay: $X/word (project-based)
Opinions differ about when to open the issue of pay. Perhaps we’re giving up a bargaining position by making our pay so clear at this stage.
But in cases of hiring freelance writers, the time it takes to interview someone who won’t be able to consider our pay rates is just too valuable. We’re better off establishing that early so we know there’s mutual interest and so that I can focus on the qualifications who are realistically in our candidate pool.
If the writer is going to be working as an independent contractor, decide if you are going to pay for a retainer, for deliverables or by some other metric.
We actually hire writers on a project basis in the end, and I do hint at that here, but in the ad I use a per-word rate as a guideline, because that’s a common metric that freelance writers understand. I’ll explain that it’s actually project-based in the interview stage. If we said $X/blog post here, that wouldn’t mean much because we haven’t established what kind of blog post we’re talking about.
After those header sections, we get into the body.
4. This opportunity is perfect for . . .
When our agency hires any marketing help, I like to write this intro paragraph to make myself see the role from the point of view of the person who is reading the ad. Why would this job be important or interesting to them? This is what we said the last time we were hiring writers:
This opportunity is perfect for an experienced reporter who can adjust on the fly and isn’t intimidated by new subjects in new domains. If you know how to get good interviews, have strong feature reporting clips, are eager to learn more about content marketing and are interested in working directly with technology startups, we want to hear from you.
As you can see, we don’t actually emphasize marketing experience at all, at least when we are looking for writers. We have found that experienced journalists have most — though not necessarily all — of the background needed. If we can find people with interviewing, researching and reporting experience, then we can catch them up on the content marketing background they may need.
5. What we do
This section describes how our marketing agency specializes in production and strategy for written content, and it explains the kinds of clients we work with. The point, of course, is that these are the kinds of interesting clients the freelancer will get to work with.
Which is another reason to specialize, if you don’t have enough reasons already. Too many marketing agencies make the mistake of trying to be “full service” because they are afraid of leaving money on the table, and it raises legitimate questions about if they are doing anything well. (Just check out this marketing case study for an example.)
I’ve found “full service” not only waters down what you do. It waters down the enthusiasm, commitment and potential domain expertise of the writers. When we hire writers, the people who apply to us respond enthusiastically to the fact that we have a niche (edtech, online learning and higher ed) and that it is one they are interested in.
You should also use this section to start to communicate your high standards and your ways of working with content writers. You are essentially onboarding them to your company’s values starting right now.
Here is that section from the last time we searched for freelance B2B marketing writers:
We are a small and growing content marketing agency that develops in-depth feature reporting, expert commentary, white papers, ebooks and ghostwriting that educates and intrigues our clients’ customers. We are dedicated to surpassing the clickbait model and creating genuinely useful content that helps our clients establish themselves as thought leaders in their industries.
To do that, we put a big emphasis on original reporting. This article on using journalism in content marketing explains a lot about our approach.
Our standard is that every article should be something the both the CEO of the client company and you the content writer would proudly share on their LinkedIn pages. (Most of the work we do is bylined, along with some ghostwriting.)
Most of our clients are fast-growing startups in education technology, online learning, software-as-a-service and innovation design. Many sell B2B/enterprise products.
After some paid tryout assignments, we hope to establish the writer with regular assignments with our clients. Most of our current need is for material that ranges between 800 and 1,500 words and that is based on original interviews with between 1 and 4 experts.
Many people, because they are in “gatekeeper” mode, include too much here. When we are hiring anyone, most of us have certain important intangibles in mind, and we try to translate those into something quantifiable.
As a result, the list of qualifications keeps getting longer and longer. As Ryan Craig at University Ventures says, “it’s easier to come up with 10 technical requirements for a job than 10 different ways of saying ‘critical thinking’ or ‘problem solving.’”
Which is an imperfect solution to the challenge of hiring for those intangibles or for others like professionalism or the ability to work independently.
I believe that if I map out the interviewing, the scope of work and the onboarding process (and the test assignment we use) then we’ll figure out the intangibles there. Listing them as qualifications in the job description or ad is just noise.
So I try to limit this list to items that distinguish this freelance writing position from any other. If the qualification is common to all freelance work or common professional knowledge, there’s no need to list it here.
Here is what we included in our last job ad and job description when searching for writers.
The ideal candidate can demonstrate:
- experience in the basic reporting skills of finding sources, interviewing them and synthesizing quotes from multiple sources.
- experience with business or trade magazine reporting or B2B marketing.
- an ability to adapt quickly to unfamiliar technical subjects.
- interest in learning more about the growing edtech industry.
- excellent clips.
That’s not a very long list of qualifications is it? How does it compare to other job descriptions? I certainly am tempted to add many more, but I try to remind myself to have a bias for simplicity and a welcoming tone.
And that’s really the end of the job description part. The rest is the application process stuff that goes in the ad we use to hire writers.
7. How to apply
Whatever you ask people to submit should correlate to what you are actually going to review and that will influence your decision.
I always keep in mind what a statistician friend once told me was a principle of designing a good survey. She said don’t ask a question unless you know how the answer is useful to your research. Amateurs like myself tend to weight down surveys with questions that are in the category of “interesting to know.”
The same tendency — and the same need to resist it — is at play when developing job descriptions and job ads. Only ask for something if you know how you are going to use it.
When we hire writers, we describe the kinds of writing samples that would be most helpful. If we need someone who can help us produce produce white papers, and a freelance blogger send us links to 400-word blog posts they did for consumer brands, that’s a signal I need to consider. (Though it might just be that they are less experienced and are ready to break into B2B marketing work.)
When we hire B2B content writers, it’s usually helpful to see their LinkedIn page and a well-maintained online portfolio. Not having those isn’t a dealbreaker, but since we are supporting the digital marketing efforts of technology companies, I feel more comfortable with people who are swimming in the same waters.
8. Include a thank you and a promise to give them a response
One of my missions in life is to model good behavior for working with freelancers and contractors, which includes giving an answer to an application that you invited someone to sent in. To me this is obvious, but I know from my own experience with other editors that it’s not.
It’s a good policy to make that promise publicly. So our advertisement usually says something like:
Thank you very much for considering applying for this role with our content agency. We know the freelance life is tough. We’ll do our best to give you a prompt reply to your application.
I’m not always as prompt as the writer would like, but we do always reply with a definite answer once we’ve made our decision and hired a writer.
And that’s it. Simple right? Send us a message you find it useful or if you think there’s anything critical we missed.
I have a vision of a content marketing agency that consistently produces standout material aligned with my clients’ business goals.