How to hire a copywriter for your team
Looking to hire a copywriter? First, learn what role a copywriter plays, how to recognize a skilled copywriter and what to ask when interviewing one.
What does a copywriter do?
While there’s a range of specialties and skills within copywriting, a copywriter is typically focused on promoting a product, brand or service.
That includes writing ad campaigns, social media posts, blog posts, email copy, website copy, strategic concepts and pitches, UX copy, radio scripts, banner ads, taglines, packaging copy, technical copy and *deep breath* everything in between.
Some writers are more specialized in their field – for example, social media specialists or UX writers. Others (and these writers are prized) can fill a range of writing roles on any given day, moving seamlessly between blog posts and UX copy, between different voices and brands, between strategy and execution.
No matter how versatile your candidate is, it’s important to know their main strengths and interests. If you’re looking to build your blog presence and you hire someone focused on UX writing, neither of you are going to be very happy for long.
What to look for in a copywriter
Always ask for an online portfolio – or as it’s called in the copywriting biz, “a book” – when interviewing a copywriter. (Anyone sending you a collection of unsolicited email attachments and links to random marketing blog posts is likely not a skilled writer.)
In their portfolio, look beyond the one-off taglines and search their ability to ideate, simplify complex problems and nail a brief. Visit several projects to get a sense of who they are, how they write and their range of skill: Can they tell a good story? Do they have a compelling set-up that pulls you in? Do they clearly explain the challenge in terms you understand? Do they walk you through their process in a clear and concise way? Do they get to the point or do they ramble needlessly? Do you find what you read convincing? Can they write in a range of styles and voices for different clients and projects? Given the fact that writing is their thing, their case studies should be written well.
A good copywriter translates briefs into assets – on a deadline. They can distill an idea down to its clearest form, work within boundaries and think strategically about the big picture. They know good copy requires an understanding of the subject and the audience, an awareness of the platform, the design and the measure of success.
Communication skills reveal almost everything you need to know about a copywriters. No typos and excellent grammar skills are a given. But are their emails clear and concise? Are they responding in a timely manner? Is their cover letter compelling? Do their portfolio case studies have a distinct voice and a coherent message? Do they seem sharp and self-aware? How they communicate tells you how well they can sell, collaborate, manage details, meet deadlines and convey a message.
What to ask when interviewing a copywriter
Planning to interview a potential copywriter candidate? Here are a few important questions to ask.
Q: What is required for an ad campaign to be successful?
With this question, you can assess how deep a writer’s knowledge goes, and where they see copywriting fitting into the greater whole. While they may not touch on all of it, a good copywriter knows a successful campaign requires many parts: A smart client. A great idea. A strong brief. A talented team. A simple message that can be executed in many ways, across many mediums (one good print ad does not a campaign make). Finally: A successful campaign is one that meets a goal.
Q: Say you’re in the middle of an important project and someone gives you an urgent new assignment. What do you do?
This question reveals not only your candidate’s ability to manage their own time and meet deadlines. It’s a test of their ego.
Q: What do you need from your team to begin a copywriting project?
Here you can assess the copywriter’s process and collaboration skills. Most copywriters want a thorough brief before beginning a project. Some copywriters rewrite the briefs themselves. In either case, a good copywriter knows a successful project requires the harmonious effort of a team.
Q: Tell me about a project you’re proud of.
This question will give you insight into their experience, and their passion for what they do. Ideally, they’ll show you a project that relates to the role they will fill on your team.
Q: Can you tell me about the most challenging project you’ve worked on?
A good test of their attitude and approach to problem solving.
Q: What book did you enjoy reading recently? What publications do you regularly read?
Most writers are readers, no matter what type of writing they do. This gives you a sense of your candidate’s personality and what inspires their work.
How to get a copywriting job
The simple answer? Have a strong portfolio.
How to create a copywriting portfolio
You’re a writer, so show us you can tell a story. That happens in your portfolio case studies:
Curate your favorite projects and write case studies that show you can communicate clearly and concisely. In brief paragraphs, walk us through your thought process for each project: from the initial challenge you faced, to the strategy you set in place, to the specific tone and message you were aiming to convey. Show us why this project was a success and why your work made all the difference. Wrap us up in a story (albeit, a short one – this should be easy to scan in less than a few minutes) and sell us on what you offer, just like you would for a client project. If you have access to any relevant images from the project, include them to give context and add visual interest to your portfolio. Avoid stock graphics or photos as that will only distract and cheapen your story.
A word for beginners: If you’re new to writing and you don’t have client work to show in your portfolio yet, give yourself your own projects. Start a personal blog and commit to publishing once a week. Think of a fake product and work with a designer friend to create a campaign you can both use in your portfolio. Pitch articles to your favorite publications. Hone your voice through your social media accounts. Until you have professional portfolio pieces to show, create your own. In a way, writing is an easy field to enter. If you can write well, your degree or years of experience don’t matter too much. So focus on improving your skills and producing great work. The rest will happen naturally from there.
Once your case studies are complete, the rest is easy. Write a short homepage introduction that sets the tone for your portfolio as soon as we land on it. Think of it as your personal tagline that distills your work down to a couple sentences, focusing on what you want to do more of in the future. On your About page, you can expand on your experience and background further. Don’t be afraid to show a little personality here. Crack a joke, share your favorite hobbies, tell us what you’re reading right now. Make yourself memorable!
And this is important: Throughout your entire portfolio, write in your own voice. Show us you can write with style by sharing your own.
How to prepare for a copywriting job interview
In your interviews, be prepared to answer questions about how you work:
How do you collaborate with designers and creative directors? How do you prefer to receive feedback? If an urgent project lands on your desk while you’re in the middle of another one, how do you switch gears? You will also likely be asked about your favorite project. Walk them through a project you’re proud of, that relates most closely to the job you’re applying for.
Finally: What’s your favorite book, or what book are you reading now? Any copywriter should also be a reader, and it’s likely a copy or creative director will ask you about it as a way to get to know you and your interests.