Vetting Freelance Writers? Look Beyond the Resume
Imagine that you’re watching The Voice, and it’s one of those early season episodes where they field the initial candidates. One by one, the contestants come to the stage, ready to show the judges what they’ve got. But instead of singing a few notes of Adele (and it’s almost always Adele), they read their resumes. Not much of a show, eh?
Obviously, the only way for the judges to really know if someone has what it takes is by hearing a live sample of their talent—not by examining their credentials. Turns out, some of the best singers in the country are waiting tables and serving coffee.
My argument: You should take the same approach when evaluating freelance writers. Not by making them sing (although there’s an idea!) but rather by evaluating them based on factors other than their resume.
Back in our agency days, if I wanted to gauge whether a writer would be a good fit for us or our clients, I asked them for three things, in this order:
- A personalized content idea (title, abstract, source links)
- Writing samples
If the idea wasn’t compelling—if it showed no creativity or research—I wouldn’t even bother looking at the other items. Why did I do this? And why did it work? Glad you asked. Here are a few lessons learned.
Ideas Show Insights & Creativity
We were never looking for writers who could simply string a few sentences together (and neither were our clients). We wanted writers with insights into specific topics; who could make seemingly mundane subject matter interesting to readers. The pitch was a great indicator of whether the writer had this level of skill and experience. If they pitched a generic, 5 Things You Just Know About X, then we knew they would struggle with this key requirement.
Ideas Reflect Interest
The best ideas were those that we wanted to see published on our site immediately. They were spot on in terms of topic, scope and intended audience. Naturally, these ideas came from writers who took the time to understand our brand, our service, and our customers. It was very easy to tell who took the extra time and who just came up with an idea off the top of their head. If a freelance writer isn’t interested in your brand from the start, they never will be.
Writing Samples Have Blind Spots
I’m always a little leery of writing samples. For one, most of the work a freelance writer does these days is ghostwritten, so you’re never entirely sure it’s them. Secondly, the sample could have been rewritten several times by the client over the course of weeks. Granted I always asked for writing samples (and still do) but I always have these blindspots in the back of mind.
Resumes are Becoming Irrelevant
What does a person’s job from twenty years ago tell you about their ability to write content for you now? Very little. You might get a good sense of what they accomplished, but it won’t tell you whether they can hit the preferred tone, deliver on deadline and propose new and compelling ideas. All of these factors are, in my opinion, more telling than a chronological list of their work experience.
I’ve been involved with freelance writing for over a decade. Not only have I been a freelance writer myself, I’ve leveraged freelancers to help build an agency, and now, a content community platform. During this time, I’ve seen the traditional resume become more and more irrelevant. Maybe you feel the same?
Image Credit: Optimum7