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How to Hire Creative People

March 05, 2019

Hiring creative people is challenging because their value is often subjective. Here’s how to fix that so you can hire without bias and without wasting your time.

AdWords is objective.

You spend $100 and want to make back $150. It’s black and white. You instantly know what’s good or bad and which vendors or partners are therefore good or bad.

But what about creative services?

They’re often subjective. There is no right or wrong answer, per se. It’s more about finding the right fit for what you’re looking for.

That can make hiring and vetting these people a challenge. How are you supposed to differentiate between one versus the other? How do you get other people on your team to come to a consensus?

In the last year, we’ve reviewed more than 2,500 writers and hired about a dozen or so.

Writer applications

That task is nearly impossible without clearly defining what you are (and aren’t) looking for – ahead of time – to scale your business without jeopardizing quality. Here’s how to do it.

Start by Defining Your Objective Objectives

Hiring creative talent is a constant balancing act.

On the one side, you’re looking for an intuitive ‘fit’ – you know it when you see it. However, that doesn’t scale very well. It’s tough to verbalize criteria to your team or to hire quickly from thousands of candidates to keep up with demand.

That means you need to at least draw some clear lines around how you define good versus bad.

Take content, for example, there are all kinds of it out there. Reportedly, more than 4 million blog posts are published daily.

But what kind of content are you specifically looking for?

We specialize in long-form content in specific, technical verticals. So, this business strategy should define a content strategy.

For starters, we need people with industry knowledge who will cite sources without even thinking. And if we’re talking about long, technical content, we need people who know how to format content properly with headers in H2s and H3s to help break up the content.

So already, we have a few criteria to objectively compare different content writers, regardless of whether you like one style or another. If 43% of people skim blog posts, we can’t blow our chance with readers with poor citations or generic examples:

Bad citations

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Our ‘style’ might be bulleted lists instead of Roman numerals, for instance. But that can be taught, instructed, or corrected. Someone writing in a different style does not change our hiring decisions.

On the other hand, if someone makes simple missteps on basics such as formatting at this early stage, we can almost guarantee they’re not going to be the right fit down the road:

Lack of h2, h3 headers

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We haven’t even touched on the writing yet. That’s because the actual phrasing can be subjective. Some people might like shorter, choppier sentences, while others like it long and formal.

That stuff is up for debate.

But you know what isn’t? These objective criteria we’ve set, that anyone in our office – regardless of experience – can plainly compare, grade, and disqualify those who immediately aren’t a good fit.

Source Versus Budget

You can buy a piece of content for a few pennies. Same goes for design.

But would you want to? Would it actually live up to the guidelines and criteria you set in the last section?

On one end of the spectrum, you have massive scale and low wages. On the other, is the opposite problem, where it’s too time-intensive and can be too expensive. This is the catch-22 of hiring blog writers: Scale and cost are often diametrically opposed.

Therefore, you need to figure out how to balance the source you’re using to find quality people with the costs to manage their production.

ClearVoice conducted an excellent survey where it found that the ‘cheaper’ the writer, the more mistakes and problems he or she produced:

ClearVoice survey

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That means the initial deliverable might not cost all that much. But the shoddy workmanship is going to require more of your internal time and effort to correct or check their work.

Yes, it might not take very long to run a piece of content through Grammarly and decide on an ‘acceptable’ plagiarism score (we recommend 2% or less):

Grammarly plagiarism scanner

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However, plagiarism isn’t so easy to spot. For instance, one time we purchased a ‘cheap’ article from one source and found that the main points in the content …:

Cheap article

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… was an exact rip-off of the content already ranking No. 1 for that topic:

Published article

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So, the initial out-of-pocket expense for this article may have been ‘cheap.’ But how expensive is the risk if we ran the article, and the other company found out? How expensive would it be if we did this for a client, and they fired us? How expensive would it be if our account people had to manually check every single piece of content we previously purchased?

Saving money initially isn’t worth the possible money, time, and effort lost in the long-run.

Prioritize Work Samples Over Resumes and Interviews

In some fields, resumes are useful.

You can highlight concrete accolades that actually mean something. For instance, if you’re hiring someone to help with customer service, seeing that they’re a verifiable Google Top Contributor on their resume in that space is a good thing.  

Google Top Contributor

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It tells you if a person is legitimate and at least worthy of a quick call or interview.

But creative services are completely different, and that’s where things get tricky.

For example, one writer could charge $150, another $0.02-$0.03/word, while another charges $2,000.

Freelance writer rates

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Which one wins?

Not sure yet. But you know what won’t tell you this answer? Their interviewing skills. Plus, one-on-one interviews don’t scale.

So, you need to prioritize real work samples over anything else. That starts with their portfolio and published work samples (either on their own site or another site) that you can review in detail.

Trying to be a writer online, but no published blog posts? That’s a deal breaker.

Published blog posts

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Of course, existing work samples is just a start. The next step for people who pass this threshold is to actually test their writing skills with a prompt of your choice.

We pay for test articles from various writers and give them a tight deadline. The goal is to see if they can follow directions and how they perform under pressure.

Giving them a week or less to perform something that should take about half a day should be enough if they’re serious:

Writing test

Getting work samples from potential hires is essential before making a hiring decision.

Successfully Hire Creative Talent

Hiring creative talent isn’t as easy as other roles.

Opinions often take over, with decisions based on bias as opposed to potential value. It’s even hard to figure out what you’re willing to pay because their ‘value’ is tough to define.

The first step is to define some objective measures based on your business strategy to help your organization clearly spot the stuff that falls outside of these lines.

The second step is to determine rough budget and volume requirements in order to balance how or where you’re going to find the right people. And remember, these aren’t always just the ‘hard’ costs you’re initially paying.

Finally, prioritize real work samples over other qualitative means such as interviews.

It might seem expensive to assign the same test project 10 times to 10 different writers.

But I can guarantee you it’s way less expensive (in both time and money) than hiring the wrong people to start a project and then having to go through the entire process all over again.

About the Author

Headshot of Brad SmithBrad Smith is the founder of Codeless, a long-form content creation company who’s content has been highlighted by The New York Times, Business Insider, The Next Web, and dozens more.