It’s a nice relief point when you find a copywriter, internal or contracted, where the whole thing’s easy. You tell them what you want, they go and write it, they deliver it on time, and you like it right away. They understand what you do—eventually to the point where they find topics on their own. They learn the lexicon of the marketplace. They become reliable.
It’s great when it’s that easy.
But finding that writer isn’t so easy. How do you tell when you’re interviewing someone—across a desk or a satellite link—if they can deliver that? A little part of that answer is you can’t. All hires involve risk. But there are some tell tale signs you can follow—beyond the portfolio and the testimonials—that can give you a hint or two as to the quality of goods you’re buying.
With that out of the way . . .
If I were you . . . and you were me . . . and I liked your portfolio and was interviewing you to take on some copywriting projects . . . what would I be looking for?
- How much about my company and my technology do you already know?
The whole tabula rosa thing won’t work for me. My first question is whether you’ve had a chance to learn who we are and what we do. If the answer is any of the billions of versions of “No,” it’s Beulah the Buzzer time. (I wouldn’t be much gentler if you said “yes but I didn’t understand it”—a flat dud when it comes to demonstrated research skills.) You don’t have to master the topic. But you have to show me right then and there that I’m not looking at the prospect of delivering Product 101 courses.
- You have to know what you charge.
My fillings start to hurt when I hear the dreadful phrase “it depends.” I don’t mean that, sight unseen, you should be able to quote a particular project that exists only in my head. But you should be able to tell me how you structure rates, your range and rationale, how you discount larger or retained engagements and so on. If all I get is “every job is different”—or if I have to answer a ton of questions—I’m thinking you don’t really look on your business as a business.
- You have to know how technology marketing organizations operate
Since we’re on the subject. I want you to understand how I operate. People above me. Below me. People outside of my world who read and comment on the copy. Things take longer to review but deadlines are unmovable. Ten plates spinning at once. Budget struggles. My probe here is on how your other client organizations operated, and how well that worked for you. I’m listening for clues that you were uncomfortable or unfamiliar with it. Writers without that experience can get frustrated quickly.
- You don’t expect me to make everything tidy for you.
I once had a client tell me that another copywriter sent her a nine-page questionnaire to learn about her company. Bad idea. I don’t have time to do that—although I will put some effort into orientation at the start. After that I’m just going to send you links or dump files in Dropbox and leave you to handle it. During the interview, I’m going to initiate a process discussion and ask about the source material you received from other clients, how you processed it, and how you managed holes in the information or your understanding of it (the correct answer for this last one is “I looked it up”).
- Explaining how you work should take about a minute.
The process of writing is pretty simple. You learn (the data dump). You write. You revise. You deliver. Honestly, if there is much more to the process than that—you know, multiple meetings and orientation sessions and abstract reviews and so on—I’m thinking I need someone a little more confident.
- You don’t tell me how important great writing is to revenue
Or any other similar nonsense. In fact, you do as little talking as possible, listening instead to me explain what I need and what my company does, and answering my questions—including the ones I’ve brought up here. Your work already speaks for itself, I brought you in for the interview: please don’t give a value pitch to me.