How to Hire Great Content Marketers

A great content marketer will be an engine of growth for your company. Hire the right person, and it could totally change the trajectory of your startup.

But what is a great content marketer, and how do you hire one? It’s a young field — 55% of B2B marketers recently said that it was unclear to them what a good content marketing program even looks like — and the skill set that the job requires is still a little mysterious.

Here at iDoneThis, we acquired thousands of customers off of our content marketing, and we’ve hired some great ones like Janet Choi, now at Customer.io, and Blake Thorne, our current content marketing manager. Plus, we’ve hosted guest posts for people like Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt and Kevan Lee of Buffer, before they were famous!

Some people have asked me how we’ve done our content marketing hiring: here are a couple of the hiring processes that have given us awesome results. I’d love to hear what you think and how you do your hiring!

1. Writing a good ad

Getting great candidates starts with putting a lot of love into your job ad.

At iDoneThis, we think that job advertisements should give potential applicants as much information as possible about the position, the team, and the company’s vision.

Giving the most accurate possible summation of what it would be like working at your company is not just honest, it’s smart, because you will save yourself a lot of time weeding out unfit candidates, whose time you will also, incidentally, save.

Here’s how our ad starts:

Come work at iDoneThis! We’re hiring a content marketing manager.

The grand mission of iDoneThis is to make people happier and better at work. Our product helps teams sync up on what they get done every day. We’ve seen how that enables transparency within companies and empowers employees with autonomy in their work, and that’s what gets us excited to build and grow iDoneThis.

You’ll be the sixth person to join our small, tight-knit, distributed team. We strive to over-communicate and tobe transparent. We take pride in our craft and are always thinking about self-improvement and service.

Requirements

As a company with employees positioned all around the world, we post our ads on We Work Remotely and here, on Inbound. What we ask of our applicants is simple:

  • a resume
  • links to three web writing samples that they’re proud of
  • a sample pitch email with three ideas for the iDoneThis blog

Linking to the Blog

We talk about our grand mission of making people happier and better at work, tell applicants about the fact that their writing for the iDoneThis blog will reach hundreds of thousands of people, and generally try to bleed enthusiasm for our work. Part of this is linking heavily throughout our postings, sending readers to our blog to learn more about us.

A good applicant will click on and check out every one of those posts, and that they did will become obvious later on when we ask for pitches for new blog articles.

Culture Fit

Finding employees who fit the iDoneThis culture is a process that we try to start with the job advertisement itself.

We try to only attract people whose values align with our own and with whom we feel a kind of innate kinship. If someone is allergic to Google Hangouts and requires constant supervision to succeed, these paragraphs should convince them that iDoneThis is not the right kind of workplace for them.

2. The first round

These three asks are designed to identify three things: good writing skills, good pitching skills, and some evidence of successful writing with consistent output.

Resume

The resume is one of the less important parts of our application process, partly because we believe a dazzling C.V and a rose gold pedigree do not necessarily predict a good employee.

We love to see experience with SaaS, or a work history that involves some recognizable companies in the field, but these aren’t necessary.

What’s more interesting is seeing that someone has been bold and succeeded in their pursuits, with results to prove it. For example, with Blake had no marketing experience, but he’d been an award-winning journalist in Michigan, and that stood out to us big time.

Writing Samples

The writing sample is one of the most important parts of the application. Here are a few signs of a great writing sample:

  • Engaging writing: easy to read and not boring
  • Concise
  • Long-form blog posts are good; successful ones are better

But the most important thing we’re looking for is someone who has written a piece that’s been widely read and viewed. We want to see that their pieces have been liked, shared, commented — something that shows us that they’re able to write things that strike a chord, elicit a reaction, and make people want to read.

Pitch Email

The reason we ask for an example of a pitch email and not just three ideas for a blog is because we want to see if applicants have the potential to be great marketers, not just great writers.

A good applicant will get us excited about their ideas. They won’t write, “Here are my three ideas.” They will show us some example of marketing verve:

  • Keep it short and simple: no editor wants to have to comb through a mountain of paragraphs to get to your core idea
  • Start off with a hook, a quick one to two sentence summary that engages the reader
  • Bullet points help editors read quickly and also refer back to specific parts of your pitch later
  • Personalize it: know your audience and address it to them

A good applicant will also make sure to look at the iDoneThis blog beforehand so that their suggestions don’t come out of nowhere: we want their ideas to feel like potentially real iDoneThis blog posts that just haven’t been written yet.

3. A joint writing exercise

Some don’t necessarily agree with them, but a writing exercise, done right, can be a terrific way to: 1) show your applicant what it’ll be like working on your type of content, and 2) show both of you what it’ll be like working together. We don’t assign homework: we try to make it a collaborative process that will be equally helpful to both parties.

This actually ends up saving everyone time, since the writing exercise is so valuable that we don’t have to bog people down in endless interviews.

Pick The Right Pitch

Generally only about 10% of those who responded to our initial ad end up making it to this round. For them, we choose one of the pitches they sent us and ask them to write a 1000-word article fleshing it out: four hours of work, max.

When it comes to choosing a pitch, you want to pick something that will set your applicant up for success. If they just graduated from a liberal-arts school with experience working at a newspaper, and have no SaaS experience, have them try writing a more technical article, something that requires them to do research and turn their findings into a snappy piece of writing.

You want to give them a task that will get you excited about them if they complete it, something that lets them work to ensure you’re left with no concerns about their abilities.

Feedback and Assessing Team Fit

Once they’ve finished the first draft, there’s a feedback and revision process. About one out of every three applicants who make it to the writing stage generally ends up making it to this round.

We send a detailed and extensive feedback email, because we want them to know exactly what we’re looking for in a second draft.

What we want to see is a dramatic improvement from draft to revision, because for us, the ability to take and incorporate feedback quickly is one of the biggest predictors of growth potential.

4. Evaluation

We interview just about everyone who makes it to the revision stage, which for us entails about a 2.5 hour chat over Google Hangout.

The first half is us asking them questions. The second half is them asking us questions. Pro-tip: the latter is really important. Asking your interviewers questions is a great way to demonstrate interest in the position. Not asking questions is a bad idea.

During the interview, we have two people on the call: one person chatting, the other person taking notes. Remember: you’ll never look back on an interview and realize that you should have taken less notes, so best to just write everything down.

My co-founder Rodrigo and I realized that to effectively evaluate someone’s fit we would have to at least make some attempt towards objectivity. So we came up with some criteria. Here are three of them:

Writing Ability

The first draft, which we let potential hires complete over the course of a week, is followed by a second draft completed in two hours. Having someone go revise a piece within two hours is kind of a big task, but it’s a good way to separate those who can write from those who can do content marketing for a living. That gives us a sense of both work quality and work rate.

Subject Matter Interest

Like I said, we don’t expect or require SaaS or tech experience in our content marketers. What we want is people with growth potential who we can see being the best in the field.

Being open to learning on the job is probably one of the most important aspects of a content marketing position. It is a field that is constantly updating, with new wisdom, products and companies, and we want voracious readers who are going to consume everything they can and pass it along to our readers.

Technical Proficiency

Yeah, content marketers aren’t coders, but we still have a lot of tools in our content marketing arsenal, and we need them be able to work autonomously, without relying on our developers, on:

  • SumoMe, which offers tools to grow your website’s traffic: our content marketers plan and execute all kinds of growth strategies, from creating new calls-to-action to writing copy to grow our email list to creating new landing pages
  • Customer.io, where our content marketers design and implement user messaging campaigns, altering and refining as needed—you need to be able to do basic conditional logic to create segments and campaigns
  • MailChimp, where they design email campaigns and afterwards assess the analytics, iterating and improving their copy as they go

We test for basic technical proficiency by having applicants (even for a marketing position) compose a landing page for the iDoneThis blog: they’re allowed to use Google Docs, Squarespace, that kind of thing, and we care more about the copy than the design, but we still need to see that they’re capable of generating that kind of thing.

5. Deciding and notifying

With a bundle of application materials, a stack of notes and a list of criteria, we have a lot of information with which to make our final decision. Then, after Rodrigo and I sit down with each other and go through our notes, hashing everything out together, we’re usually able to make an offer within just a couple of days of having interviewed everyone.

P.S. Don’t send out half-hearted, generic rejection emails to the other applicants. We try to put some honesty into it — tell them what went well and what could have been better. Too many companies skip the latter and leave people who spent hours applying for jobs with them totally lost as to why they were rejected.

From Walter Chen

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