How to Find and Hire the Best Content Marketer for Your Startup

You know, it’s kinda scary:

Turns out that anybody could call themselves a content marketer today...and most people wouldn’t be able to call their bluff. At least one impression I had after reading the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 Benchmark Report:

According to the report, 88% of respondents use content marketing in their work. But…

At the same time, content has become the fastest growing user acquisition channel today. And from my experience after working with numerous startups, it yields the best results when a company manages its strategy in-house. But given all the misconceptions about content marketing and what a content marketer’s job entails, how does one actually hire someone to manage their content efforts? That’s what I decided to discuss in this post. I’ll show you where to look for a good content marketer, how to pick the best person for the job and, steps you need to take to onboard them to your team. But … to begin at the beginning.


What Does a Content Marketer Actually Do?

Most people confuse content marketers with writers. The two however are two distinct positions. I agree, content marketer produces content too. However, their competence is much broader than that of a writer. For one, they wear many hats:

Content marketers develop a vision for using content to communicate with customers.

They’re the drivers behind a company’s content efforts, taking care of all aspects of the work, from planning, research, execution to analyzing results. 
They devise strategy to use content for achieving the company’s goals.
They plan and oversee the entire content strategy.

They liaise with other shareholders to oversee the execution of the strategy.
They deal with freelance writers, designers, product marketers, sales teams and external sources to oversee the production of content according to the strategy.

They edit all content produced by other teams. 
Content marketers also proofread and prepare content for publication. They ensure consistency of style, correct grammar and safeguard conforming to the brand guidelines.

And finally, they create content too. 

Writers on the other hand focus entirely on creating content to a brief and specifications provided. Their role is important but not synonymous with that of a content marketer. Therefore, when hiring a content marketer, you need to find someone who can not only write but devise and manage the entire content strategy for your startup. 

So, what makes a good content marketer? Given all their responsibilities, content marketers must posses the following characteristics:

Understand and Work with Data

Today’s content marketing relies on dataNumbers, statistics and insights help marketers make decisions and deliver impact on their organizations goals. In fact, according to this study by OMI, analytics is the most desired skill for content marketers (with 27% of companies seeking employees who can work based on data and numerical insights).

Be a People’s Person

Traditional marketers could spend their days hidden away behind the desk. And still devise and implement successful campaigns. Content marketers however must work with and among people. First of all, they interact with different department and division. But secondly, they interact with audiences, influencers and many others in order to achieve results. 

Must be Always-On 

Look, the data says it all:

  • 60% of marketers have delayed going to the bathroom to meet a work deadline,
  • 90% of marketers check email at night or on weekends.

For some this comes as a downside of the work but… content marketers can rarely disconnect. There’s always someone to respond to, content to curate, comment to moderate or an emerging trend to piggy back on. That’s why you can constantly see the best content marketers online. They engage with the community outside of the working hours or when audiences in other time-zones go online. Outbrain lists further 7 characteristics of a good content marketer:

  • They’re a customer, 
  • A creator, 
  • An editor, 
  • A statistician, 
  • A performance marketer, 
  • A voice, and
  • A learner.

So how do you find a person who matches all those criteria?

Here are few pointers that I hope will help you.

Part 1. Finding the Right Candidates

Did you know that on average 250 people apply for any given job? But only 2% of them get an interview? Why? For one, because companies employ a rigorous process to weed out poor applicants as early as possible. And unless you want to end up overrun with resumes, I recommend you do the same. Here’s how.

Write a prequalifying job ad

A solid job ad not only informs about a vacancy at your startup. It prequalifies applicants, reducing the amount of poor resumes you receive. The ad should give the most accurate description of what it is like to work at your company. Describe your culture, state expectation you’d have for the person and list requirements they’d have to meet. For a content marketer job, you at least should request them for:

Resume

Although not the most important part of the applicate, a resume could help you identify various traits of a person’s character. For instance, their work history could signal dedication to the work. If they’ve been jumping jobs like crazy, it might suggest their not developing strong bonds with companies they work for. Awards and recognition could also signal motivation, determination and the ability to work under pressure.  

Links to Writing Samples / Portfolio

A content marketer is not just a writer. But writing and content related activities constitute a major part of their job. Asking for samples will help reveal a number of facts:

  • Can they write in an engaging style?
  • Do they have their own voice or just copy other content marketers in the field?
  • Can they communicate thoughts in a concise way? 
  • Does the audience favor their writing (measured by social shares for instance)? 

But also:    

What kind of expertise they have?

Someone could be a great writer. But to effectively help promote your startup, they need to have experience in your specific vertical. While they'll still be able to create quality content, they won't add any real value to a reader. 

Where they published so far?

Having pieces published on the most known sites that adjourn to highest standards (i.e. Hubspot or Kissmetrics) sends a very strong quality signal. And certainly helps make the resume stand out.

A Pitch or Idea to Judge Them By

Although not a must-have, I’d recommend you also request applicants to perform a simple test. Ask them to come up with a couple of ideas for your blog. Or suggest headlines to a specific idea. The test will help you test their ability. But also, weed out people only vaguely interested in the job. A casual applicant will most likely be unwilling to perform any such task. And so, you won’t have to waste time on her application.  

Part 2. Recruiting

Publishing a solid job ad should result in a good number of quality applications. Your next step - pick a shortlist of candidates to interview. Personally I recommend asking candidates to complete a (paid) writing exercise.  

Writing Exercise

Ask top candidates to the ad to write a first draft on a topic YOU know a lot about. Having prior knowledge on the topic will help you understand the quality of their draft, assess their knowledge and find out if they're aligned with your view of the market. For candidate, such test will give them a sense of how you work on a piece of content, the type of briefs you give and so on.  Next, pick the most successful drafts and offer revisions to further see how they would work on a piece together with you. This should help you shortlist the final round of candidates to invite for an interview.

The Interview

Your hiring process up until now aimed to weed out anyone who:

  • Can’t follow instructions, 
  • Doesn’t pay attention to detail, 
  • Lacks both talent and skills you lack, 
  • Lacks creative and strategic thinking, 
  • Or has no real interest in the job at all.

Therefore, in theory, anyone whom you selected to the interview stage should possess the qualities you’re looking for.  

What’s left then is to uncover their competence, experience and see if there’s a personal fit with you.

With that last element being the most important. 

As Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ explains:

"The typical job interview process fixates on ensuring that new hires are technically competent. But coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament are much more predictive of a new hires success or failure. Do technical skills really matter if the employee isn’t open to improving, alienates their coworkers, lacks emotional intelligence and has the wrong personality for the job?"

According to Leadership IQ study coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament are the top reasons for new hires failure:

 (image source)

Your interview therefore should help uncover a candidate’s likely ability in all those areas. Here are a couple of ideas how to achieve it:

Ask Situational Questions

Present a candidate with a scenario and ask them to explain how they would solve the situation. It could help you assess if they can quickly analyze problems and come up with a workable solution. What’s more, they help uncover if they can adapt to a new situation quickly. But also, if they can clearly articulate their ideas. 

Ask Behavioral Questions

This approach stems from the concept of behavioral interviewing. It assumes that “past performance is the best predictor of future performance”. Asking behavioral questions (i.e. “tell me about a project where you had to…”) aims to reveal patterns in a candidate’s previous behavior. And thus, assess the likelihood of a person’s reaction to a similar problem in the future. For instance, if in the past a candidate resolved issues on their own initiative, you could assume they’ll act the same again. If they have always focused on performing tasks rather than achieving results, , they might have a duty driven attitude. Which might not make them the best people to lead your content efforts.

Review the Sample Assignment

Also, go through the sample writing piece with each candidate. Providing real time feedback will help you assess how they respond to critique. Are they open to it, taking it easily on board and suggesting solutions? Or do they take it hardly and retreat from any feedback? Testing it will help you reveal their coachability and temperament. 

Part 3. Onboarding

Once you’ve selected the right candidate and offered them a job, you need to ensure they integrate smoothly with the rest of the team. And as you’ve seen from the Leadership IQ report, the task isn’t actually that simple. What’s more, according to Allied HRIQ’s “2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey,” roughly 35% of companies spend nothing to onboard new hires.

At the same time:

  • Companies lose a quarter of new hires within a year, 
  • Replacing them costs up to $65000, and 
  • At least 1 out of 6 new hires leaves because of poor onboarding process.

It’s therefore crucial you put a process in place to onboard new hires. Here are a couple of ideas that might help you.

Create agenda for their first week

Clarify what you expect from them right away. Schedule meetings with other employees a new hire will collaborate regularly to give them a chance for a proper introduction. 

Set up their workstation

Don’t have a new hire come to work only to face an empty desk.

Before the start day, ask them what hardware and software they’d need. Also, ensure that they’re connected to any software you use in the company (i.e. Slack or Trello) and train them if they haven’t used it before. 

Schedule a company lunch or downtime for everyone to get to know the new hire

Instead of leaving a new hire to get to know everyone in the office, help them feel welcome. Schedule some casual time on their first day during which they could get acquainted with everyone else in the company. 

Communicate all processes your startup works by

Help your new employees learn about internal processes, responsibilities and workflow. Don’t leave it up for the hire to work out how you do business in your startup. He or she might, but it will take a lot of time and cost. 

Conclusion

A solid content marketing strategy is the foundation of every startup’s growth. But from my experience, you get much more return if its managed by a person inside the company – a dedicated content marketer. And hopefully this post provided you with a good starting point to a process of finding one for your company.

Good luck.

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