Tried-and-True Testing Secrets for Hiring a Marquee Copywriter

A writing test is one of the best ways to understand a prospective copywriter's abilities. Here are some expert tips on how to devise a writing test that will make the most of your time.

Photo: David Klein via <a href="">Unsplash</a>
Photo: David Klein via Unsplash

As a B2B marketer with a long list of copy and content needs, you may be looking to recruit a few high-quality, brand-aligned copywriters. How can you ensure these writers will hit the mark—and deliver writing that’s both on-strategy and on-brand? 

Unlike in healthcare, construction work, architecture, social work, the law, academia, financial planning, coaching, and countless other industries, there aren’t any mandatory board exams, licensing qualifications, or even educational certifications that are required to become a copywriter. What’s more, on-point degrees in say advertising, copywriting, or journalism aren’t even necessarily a total indicator of talent, capability, passion, or fit (speaking for ourselves, we’ve met plenty of folks with seemingly baked-in copywriting talent, whose studies have ranged from business finance to French lit—go figure!). 

So…instead of tested industry standards, you’re left largely to your own judgment. 

How will you know what it’s like to work with this person on a day-to-day basis? Will their first drafts deliver swift insights—sculpted with an eye for detail? Is their past work another case of acerbic editors polishing rough coals into glittering diamonds?

You’ll need a standard methodology to evaluate copywriting candidates—something that can help you assess hard skills, and compare apples to apples during the recruitment process

While there’s no single ideal formula for recruiting the ideal copywriter(s), there are a few tried-and-true approaches. Some study writing samples. Others administer writing tests. Here at MarketSmiths, we’re fans of both approaches. 

copywriter testing
Photo: Glenn Carstens via Unsplash

Step 1: Evaluating writing samples

Writing samples can be a prospective copywriter’s best friend, or their worst enemy. For recruiters, they’re a great way to get a sense of a writer’s skills and ability to stay on-message.

Do their samples flow naturally with that particular rhythmic march that distinguishes firm, beautiful copy from tepid words? Or do they even know their grammar ABCs?

Better yet, what kinds of samples do they choose to show? Sure, your copywriting applicant might pen the most flowery prose this side of Faulkner. But will that style of writing translate well to the pinpoint precision your brand needs to articulate compelling, brand-aligned insights? Will it at once understand and attempt to solve readers’ concerns?

Save everyone some time and effort by taking these factors into account before you bother with testing copywriter candidates.

Step 2: Building the test

Once you’ve identified a handful of applicants who seem to know their stuff, you may want to administer a writing test tailored to the needs of your company.

Designing and writing a test to filter out weak candidates can be challenging. So don’t waste your precious time. Get tried-and-true results using these key tips.

Copywriting Test Tip 1: Focus on specific content formats

Before typing out a single instruction, determine the content format to test for. 

Are you known for blogs highlighting how products fit into consumer lifestyles? Have your candidate crank out a suspenseful blog post which incites a call to action. 

Need help proselytizing the power of your services based on customer testimonials? Have the candidate try their hand at an emotional, moving case study.

After all, if the writer can’t wrap their head around the bread and butter of your marketing output, do they really have what it takes to bolster your brand?

Copywriting Test Tip 2: Choose a place and time

Consider where the candidate will take the test. Importantly: why that location? 

In many instances, remote tests with a due date of a few days to a week out can determine whether the writer will be in lockstep with your company’s day-to-day. But maybe your brand is known for knocking out fast and hot assignments with urgency and aplomb.

In that case, a timed in-person writing test might be in order. Keep in mind your company may want to consider covering the candidate’s transportation costs.

Copywriting Test Tip 3: Onboard your candidate—to a point

While the purpose of tests is usually to determine your candidate’s knowledge base and core competencies, a little context can go a long way. How well the candidate handles new information arriving on-the-fly speaks volumes.

Figure out what and how much information to give the candidate before assigning your test—but leave enough room for them to come to their own creative conclusions. That’s a big part of what you’re hiring.  

Step 3: Evaluate 

Once you’ve issued a test and received results back, it’s time to assess the work.

Look, biases exist. We’re all human. But a strong hiring process should strive to eliminate as many of these biases as possible. This helps create a better, more inclusive workplace for the well-being of your current employees and your customers.

Do you have an objective rubric in place which tests will be scrutinized against? What does the demographic of staffers who will perform that analysis look like? Inconsistencies such as getting annoyed by a candidate’s favored word crutch, preferring one inflection over another, disliking someone’s chosen font or spacing (ha! guilty as charged) and so forth can creep into the process and taint it. Try to resist. 

With an objectively designed test and a diverse pool of testers, you’ll receive stronger, more on-target results from applicants worth spending your time on.

Speaking of money…

Whether to compensate for testing work is a much-debated topic amongst recruiters and job-seekers alike. Work is work (is work), it’s true.

Ultimately, it’s up to your company where to come down on this. Keep in mind budgetary constraints, the volume of work being asked for, and the number of tests you’re administering. Are you testing a potential full-time hire, or a contract freelancer? 

What sort of candidates are you looking to attract? Applicants might see a test as a heavy lift on their workload and (perhaps understandably) feel like it’s not worth their time to pursue the role further—and then you may miss out on a strong candidate. Then again, maybe they’re not all that great, aligned, or interested. 

With these ideas in mind, your company will refine its test design and evaluation processes into a razor-sharp tool for weeding out the chaff—leaving behind only the most competent copywriting candidates worthy of representing your business. 

Searching for a tried-and-true solution to your brand’s creative copy woes? Test out the crack team of copywriters at MarketSmiths!

Devin Raposo

Devin Raposo

Forever curious, Devin writes to learn. Before becoming a ‘Smith, he studied as a software engineer while honing his craft writing short fiction as well as acerbic cultural critique in the arts space.

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