What we look for when we look for writers
I have to admit something. I’m writing this as I’m preparing for a call with a would-be writer for Collective Content. I’m happy he’s calling, don’t get me wrong. He’s an experienced writer and editor about all things marketing and martech, and we’ve recently lost one of our best contributors in that area.
But I’m not sure I should be talking to him.
Why? A mutual contact has introduced us and I don’t know if this will now be a waste of both our time.
He could be great. He’s almost certainly very good. But there’s honestly no way to tell that from a phone call. Or even from meeting someone and looking them in the eye.
Here’s what tends to be most useful. And before anyone accuses me of not being a people person (maybe I’m not), I agree it’s also important – as with any relationship – to get to know the person you’re working with. It’s just not enough on its own.
What else do I need? If you’re asking me to take a gamble by commissioning your writing/editing/designing/other abilities for a project or for full-time employment, these are useful things to do:
- Put us in touch with an old editor or client (for commercial writing) who saw your work up close. Examples of work give us a feel for subject matter and craft. But at a professional level, they will probably have gone through several rounds of quality control, so it can be hard to tell how much was an editor’s touch and how much was you. We need some honesty ahead of our relationship.
- Share some ideas. That means for blog posts, features, white papers, tweets even. We’re not one of those awful agencies that wants 100 people to submit 10 ideas each so it can then cream off the best ones, never to reply to you. But one or two bits of thinking that show you know your stuff and are creative…? That helps.
- Show us you understand the process of the business we’re in, which is related to the last point. For example, while journalists can make great commercial writers, quite a few don’t get what the purpose of the writing is or how to work with clients. And no, it’s not just about an immediate return on a client’s investment. Good writers in this business need to understand how to answer questions like, ‘What is content marketing?’ ‘What are differences approaches to consumer and B2B content?’ ‘What delights or upsets a client?’ These aren’t questions just for writers, either. For all of us agency side, understanding purpose is important.
- Niches are good. We know content shops that employ people straight out of J-school. Or hire them blind over the internet. That’s not us. We want to be able to vouch for you and have confidence in not only your writing skills but your deep subject-matter knowledge as well. Prove to us you know a niche or two. That’s hard to fake, especially when speaking to us. For designers and other creatives: show us what you do that others can’t.
When Nina Mufleh famously applied for a job at Airbnb last year, what caught everyone’s eye was her focus on the job and company she was targeting… not her focus on herself. That’s the right mindset to have.
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