How to hire a content writer: The ultimate guide

how to hire a content writer the ultimate guide

Every business needs a good writer.

They can use their writing skills to help communicate your brand message, connect with your audience, and drive more traffic – tasks that are all essential to your marketing strategy.

But hiring a writer isn’t as easy as it sounds.

You could think you’ve found the perfect writer after a stellar interview, only for them to submit subpar writing once they start. 

You might be worried that the hiring process for writers is too reliant on trust – is that portfolio really theirs? Are they as good with deadlines as they say?

Hiring a writer for your business is a huge upfront investment, from interviewing to onboarding, editing, and coaching. 

Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on this decision…

So how do you get it right? What’s the best way to hire a content writer?

In this article, we’ll explore the top ten skills every good writer should have, what your hiring process should look like, and how to avoid the most common mistakes when hiring a content writer.

Why businesses need content writers

Research from HubSpot shows that 66% of businesses have increased their content marketing budgets, but producing content is still one of the top challenges they face.

A content writer’s job is to create the content you need to put your content marketing strategy into action and see tangible results.

Depending on your industry and business goals, this might include writing…

  • Website copy
  • Social media posts
  • Product copy
  • Blogs
  • Case studies
  • Video scripts

…and many more content assets that help your business achieve a wide range of goals, from gaining domain authority and boosting traffic to nurturing a customer community and differentiating your company from competitors. 

In general, there are two main business types that need to hire a content writer:

  • Agencies that provide content marketing services
  • Organizations investing in content marketing within their marketing department

The second type includes companies in any industry that relies heavily on content marketing to stand out and attract customers. For example, SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) companies are known to invest a lot in content.

Here’s why it pays to have a strong content writer on your team:

  • The average blog bounce rate is 82.4%
  • Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13 times more likely to see a positive ROI
  • 55% of marketers say blog content creation is their number one inbound marketing priority
  • 47% of B2B customers need to view only three to five blog posts before they’re ready to talk to a salesperson
  • Websites that have a blog are shown to have 434% more indexed pages

Written content drives crucial web traffic and is a huge part of many companies’ marketing strategies, which is why it’s so important to know how to hire a content writer.

So… how do you start?

Should you hire an in-house writer or a freelance contractor?

Deciding how to hire a content writer usually starts with this question: Should you hire an in-house or freelance writer?

The main benefits of in-house writers are the perks that come with hiring any kind of full-time employee – more hours dedicated to your business plus cultural buy-in.

The cons of in-house writers are that you have a more limited talent pool, you have to pay health and insurance benefits, and onboarding and interviewing generally take much longer.

However, it seems as though more people are asking, “How do I hire a freelance writer?”

In most circumstances, it makes the most sense to hire a freelancer. One study showed that 98% of marketers have hired freelancers at least once.

Let’s take a look at the main pros of freelancers:

  • Generally more cost-effective
  • Easier to scale
  • Wider talent pool
  • No employee benefit costs
  • Faster onboarding
  • Higher chance of competency

Yes, you read the last point correctly – freelancers have a higher chance of being competent in their roles. Monika Adarsh, a senior marketing manager at MobStac, had this to say about it:

“Good freelancers are able to produce quality content from the word go. Given that they are experienced in writing different styles of content for B2B and B2C, they are capable of delivering a well-researched and written blog post.”

Monika Ardash quote

When it comes to the downsides of hiring freelancers, some of the biggest cons include possible difficulties in communication and scheduling conflicts. Good team management tools like Slack, Google Chat, or Microsoft Teams can help you deal with these challenges.

Here’s a quick summary of the top benefits of freelance writers and in-house writers:

Freelance writerIn-house writer
More cost-effectiveIntegrated into your company’s pay system
Easier to scaleFully invested in the business
Wider talent pool and easier hiringQuickly learns the organization’s goals and adapts to the culture
Higher chance of competency and a wider range of skillsMore familiar with the company’s key performance indicators and how their work affects them

10 skills every good content writer has

It’s easy to just say that writers are skilled at writing, but there’s so much more to it than that. 

The top ten skills for content writers, besides writing, are:

  1. Editing
  2. Researching
  3. Communication
  4. SEO knowledge
  5. Time management
  6. Adaptability
  7. Project management
  8. Culture add
  9. Being a team player
  10. Willingness to learn

Let’s explore these in depth.

10 skills every good content writer has part 1
10 skills every good content writer has part 2

1. Editing

Writing and editing go hand-in-hand. Editing increases the quality of each written piece and decreases the number of revisions required.

A good writer should be able to find errors in their own work, including grammatical errors, typos, and redundancy. They should also be accustomed to copyediting to check for overall readability and flow.

Even if you have separate editors in your team, it saves time and money to have a writer who can view their own work and filter it first.

2. Researching

Research skills are essential – and we don’t just mean using Google.

Writers need several abilities to perform research effectively, such as the ability to research quickly, double-check (or even triple-check) facts, and conduct multi-medium research. 

Multi-medium research refers to research conducted across multiple channels, such as YouTube, LinkedIn, documentaries, podcasts, webinars, and anything else that can provide much-needed information.

Writers can learn most research skills, but those with a naturally inquisitive mind have a knack for uncovering the best data.

3. Communication

This is a skill that nearly every professional needs in spades.

Updates and feedback are always important, but communication is crucial when things aren’t going so smoothly.

When a writer is struggling with a topic, when their work is going to be late, or if a piece needs to be delegated to another member of the team, a quick heads-up is all that’s needed to stop a disaster.

As long as communication is clear, these problems will be minor inconveniences instead of escalating into chaos. 

Here at TestGorilla, we offer a Communication test to help assess a candidate’s written and verbal communication capabilities, non-verbal cues, active listening abilities, and collaboration skills.

4. SEO knowledge

Understanding search engine optimization (SEO) is an imperative skill for content writers since most content writing is used to drive search traffic and help your prospects find your business.

Writers should be able to quickly adapt to trends, incorporate new techniques, and smoothly integrate keywords without them being jarring or out of place.

Even knowing the basics of SEO can help a writer’s work immensely, whether they’re a copywriter or blog writer. 

5. Time management and organization

Time-management skills enable a writer to properly research, outline, write, and edit while still meeting their deadlines.

Organization and scheduling skills help writers allocate the right amount of time to each task to ensure not only prompt delivery but also high quality.

Having this skill also enables a writer to know what they can handle and to manage their workload without having to delegate many pieces to other team members.

Implementing TestGorilla’s Time Management test into your hiring process will help you assess how well candidates can prioritize, plan, and execute tasks. This way, you’ll know what they can handle before the first deadline.

6. Adaptability

Great content writers must know how to adapt their writing to each project and assignment. Writing isn’t one size fits all.

The writing style of a mainly academic writer may not fit comfortably into a conversational blog intended to be a call to action for a company. On the other hand, a casual sales writer may not be able to write serious research content.

Knowing how to adapt to a different brand’s voice and tone for each piece and being flexible with sentence structure and level of formality will immediately increase the value of a content writer.

7. Project management

Similar to time management, effective project management also involves keeping projects and pieces organized and churning along like well-oiled machines.

This skill is especially useful if your writers are involved in creating writing briefs, planning deadlines, communicating with fellow writers and customers, and shipping completed pieces to be published.

A content writer with the right project management skills will maintain a smooth, professional environment and save you quite a few headaches.

8. Culture add

Any candidate will be a better culture add if their values, behaviors, and beliefs align with your organization’s values.

Developing and maintaining a strong company culture provides a competitive advantage, increases productivity, boosts performance and engagement, and decreases turnover.

The recruitment company Robert Walters found that 73% of professionals left a job due to a poor cultural fit.

TestGorilla’s customizable Culture Add test will help you hire candidates who align perfectly with your culture so that both the company and the content writer will be happier and more productive.

9. Being a team player

This skill is crucial in every position, isn’t it?

If you have a team of several writers, editors, and project managers, it’s important to ensure that everyone gets along. 

Certain team player qualities make writers easier to talk to and work with. A good writer should be able to accept criticisms, listen to feedback, and explain their reasoning to others without getting angry.

Building a solid team will enhance performance and help form healthy work relationships, which will lead to higher-quality content.

10. Willingness to learn

A writer who is too set in their ways may struggle to adapt to your company’s brand guidelines, processes, and general preferences.

This is where experience can become a disadvantage since a writer with many years in your industry may struggle to recognize opportunities to learn and improve from others in your team.

Writers who are open-minded and eager to learn will absorb your company’s resources, identify the standard of content they should aim for, and be grateful for constructive feedback.

What your content writer hiring process should look like

When it comes to hiring a content writer, there are a few simple steps you can work into your hiring process to ensure success.

Here’s a quick summary of what your content writer hiring process should look like:

Ask for a trial sampleSend a personalized trial to help authenticate a candidate’s skill and the quality of their writing
Test and evaluate candidatesUse online assessments to evaluate a candidate’s skill
Ask interview questionsUse structured questions to get the most out of your interview 
Onboard the new hireInclude company guidelines, a contract, and payment information in your welcome packet to upgrade your onboarding
Use management toolsUse a handful of useful software applications to make your work easier

Should you ask for a portfolio, CV, resume, or experience?

You can ask applicants for a portfolio, CV, or resume – but this may lead to a negative outcome overall.

One study showed that 10% of job applicants admitted to lying on their resumes during their interviews. Experts believe this could be linked to the importance that employers place on resumes.

So what can you do instead?

Request an original trial sample from the writer, providing them with a specific brief. This ensures their portfolio wasn’t made by someone else or isn’t fraudulent in some other way.

It also ensures that when they say that they can write for your industry or that they can adapt to any industry, they’re telling the truth.

Remember, it’s a best practice to pay the writer for their time in the trial phase – even if they’re unsuccessful. Be sure to clearly articulate your trial rate and confirm it with the applicant before proceeding with a trial.

How to test and evaluate candidates

After a successful writing trial, the next step is to test and evaluate your content writer applicants.

Online pre-employment testing is the future of hiring because it enables you to evaluate a candidate’s talents and skills without bias getting in the way. 

All you can see is how well they perform – not where they went to school, their personal history, or their gender.

TestGorilla’s test library contains a myriad of tests to measure soft skills, hard skills, language proficiency, and role-specific skills for particular job positions.

With TestGorilla, you can build a pre-employment assessment that includes up to five skills tests.

Simply create your company’s content writer assessment by adding whichever tests you’d like to it, such as the SEO Copywriting test, Culture Add test, and Time Management test. You can then give the assessment to your candidates when you’re ready to evaluate them.

What interview questions should you ask?

Next, you’ll interview the writers who did the best in the pre-employment testing stage.

Since you’ve already used skills tests to evaluate the candidates, the interviews can focus more on learning about the writers and their past projects, building a relationship with them, and addressing technical requirements like revisions and the typical pay rate.

Here are a few great example questions you can ask:

  • Have you worked on similar projects?
  • What piece of yours are you most proud of?
  • What’s the best way for us to communicate?
  • What process do you use to write your blogs?
  • What’s your favorite type of content?
  • How many revisions do you typically accept?

To maintain consistency and equality in the hiring process, it’s a good practice to work these questions into a standardized structured interview that you use with every candidate.

Read more about the benefits of this type of interview in our blog post on unstructured versus structured interviews.

How to onboard applicants

Onboarding can be hit or miss, and you don’t want to start things off on the wrong foot.

Here are a few ways to make sure your onboarding is clear, well-organized, and efficient so that your writers can get right to work without any confusion:

  • Collect all necessary contact information from the writer
  • Send out and receive back contracts (if necessary)
  • Establish a payment and invoicing system
  • Add project requirements, communication guidelines, expectations and deliverables, and company guidelines to your onboarding document
  • Send your welcome packet with the above information

This helps make onboarding tidy and scalable with little room for error.

Why you should use management tools

There are countless tools out there to make managing your content writers easier. There is software that can facilitate communication, streamline workflows, and simplify the process of writing, editing, and collaborating.

Team communication tools like Slack and Google Chat help you touch base with team members, while project management tools like and Trello make delivering and editing pieces smooth.

Google Docs is an excellent tool for you and your writers to use. Content writers can use it to write outlines and drafts that you can then monitor, comment on, or edit.

You can check a candidate’s competency with Google Docs before hiring by adding TestGorilla’s Google Docs test to your hiring assessment.

How to avoid common mistakes when hiring content writers

Understanding how to hire a content writer requires you to learn about the pitfalls and mistakes you can make during recruitment.

Here, we’ve gathered the most common mistakes and how you can avoid them. Be mindful and stay on top of these points, and you’ll do fine.

How to avoid common mistakes when hiring content writers

1. Talk with your writers frequently

Success always boils down to good communication, doesn’t it?

Checking in with writers about deadlines, making sure they aren’t struggling with a project, and giving feedback are all important points of communication. Even a “How’s everything going?” now and then will have huge benefits.

2. Ask for samples

A lot of employers can get excited by credentials, testimonials, and resumes and hire a writer before they know the actual skills the writer possesses.

But good writers can sometimes turn out to be unable to write in your required industry or style.

Asking for a sample piece with a personalized brief in your requested style will help you decide if the writer has the right skills and know-how for the job. 

3. Don’t judge a writer based solely on their price tag

What is the typical rate of a content writer? How much does it cost to have someone write a blog?

How much you should pay varies and is a big decision when hiring a content writer.

Should you go with the cheapest writer because you’ll save money? Or do you hire the most expensive one because they’re guaranteed to be good?

Neither. It’s tempting to be swayed by biases you may hold about pay rates, but the most reliable way to hire is based on skill.

Skills-based hiring lets you look beyond the price tag so that you can go with the most proficient writer who has all (or most) of the skills listed above.

4. Communicate your expectations before moving forward

One of the most important things you should do when hiring a content writer is to lay out all your expectations and find out the level of output they’re capable of.

Can they produce long-form content? Do you need them to write email copy? How many pieces can they write per month?

They need to be able to fulfill your needs, but stretching their availability and bandwidth won’t produce quality work.

Lay out your expectations as early on as possible to waste less of your time – and theirs.

5. Provide clarity on content

It isn’t all up to the writer to produce quality content. If they don’t know the specifics of what you need, they can’t deliver it.

Creating company guideline documents and style guides keeps everyone involved informed. These documents should clarify things like:

  • Topics
  • Tone
  • Style and formatting
  • Technical requirements

Then, keep them handy in a cloud storage program. Doing this will not only clarify guidelines and requirements but ensure the writer can check them whenever they need to.

6. Don’t put all your stock in industry experience

Do you have your eye on a writer but feel apprehensive because they’ve never written for your industry?

Don’t sweat it too much.

It’s nice to have some industry experience, but a quality writer who has to do a little research will produce better results than a subject-matter expert who is an amateur writer.

Prioritizing writing and research skills over industry expertise will pay off in the end.

7. Avoid content mills

Content mills are everywhere, and they charge temptingly low prices.

But the low price tag itself can be a red flag.

Content mills can pay writers as low as seven dollars per article and often churn out articles ridiculously fast to make any kind of profit. Writers hired by these content mills aren’t used to methodical work that produces quality writing.

We also think that content mills aren’t the most ethical type of business to support.

Know how to hire a content writer and take action

Learning how to hire a content writer properly can seem daunting, and without the right tools and know-how, there can definitely be challenges.

While hiring writers, consider their editing and research skills, ask for trial samples to assess their abilities, and use structured interviews for a successful hiring process.

Don’t forget to assess your candidates with skills-based tests to hire high-performing writers without bias getting in the way.

Choose TestGorilla’s pre-employment testing for a more sophisticated, successful hiring process for your organization. Try testing your content writers with our Content Strategy test and SEO Copywriting test.  

Register for free today and start making better hiring decisions, faster and bias-free.

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