Over the last six years, I’ve grown a content team from seven to 50 individuals, with 90% retention along the way.
Now I oversee a team that writes, edits, and publishes over 2 million words a year. And we’re not talking about churning out subpar content. Our content producers are masters of their craft who produce research-intensive, deeply insightful, and unique content.
When I was a few years into leadership roles, I thought I had hiring figured out. That was before I had to quickly scale a content team to seven times its original size. Refining my hiring process was necessary to save my time, respect other people’s time, and find exceptional talent.
Here’s the honest-to-goodness secret: your hiring efforts will go smoothly when you create a plan before jumping in. A good hiring strategy is way more work than what most people put in. Do effective planning on the front-end of your hiring efforts, and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
Make sure you and stakeholders are aligned on why you are scaling the content team and what’s most important in the content you’re creating. It can be easy to get caught up in the idea that you need “more content” without further explanation or clarity from stakeholders. These stakeholders may include marketing managers or directors, vice presidents, or creative directors. Meet with them individually or as a group to hash out the reasoning behind your hires and how it aligns with broader business objectives.
You may want to ask:
- Is speed a top concern when producing content? Are you trying to keep up with news trends?
- Do you need deep subject-matter expertise?
- Are you willing to hire folks who might take more time per piece but deliver superior quality?
- Do you need someone with experience collaborating with other functional areas (SEO, design, etc.)?
- What qualities or skills do you view as most important for these roles?
Once you’ve aligned on the high-level details of what you’re looking for, you can work on developing a plan.
Do your research
Refer to the objectives you defined in the previous section to decide whether to hire internal employees or freelancers; in-house employees or remote; full-time or part-time. Make sure to partner with your HR department in this process, so you make sure you understand potential legalities regarding these decisions.
Research how other companies have defined similar roles. Read job postings and note things you like or dislike. Seek average market salary information, so you understand what people should be making and what a fair offer entails. Your HR department may be able to help you with this because procuring and understanding average market salary data is more complicated than it seems at first. (Total compensation often encapsulates more than a base salary.)
Reach out to peers in your network to learn about how they’ve structured their teams and similar roles. Talk to content directors, content strategists, content managers, managing editors, and content coordinators and learn how their roles are defined. Offer to take out a former colleague for coffee to pick their brain.
When I realised I’d need to structure a job and career path for a content strategy team, I reached out to a VP of UX at another company. I offered to take her to lunch in exchange for her guidance. That conversation was invaluable for formulating my thoughts and next steps to build out the team. As long as you’re humble in your approach, you’d be surprised by how kind and helpful people will be.
Visit a content meetup group—or create one! A few years ago, I created a Salt Lake City Content Meetup to hear from local content thought leaders. We cover various topics, from designing chatbots to how to build a YouTube audience, to how to use content to change behaviour. It’s fun to meet people with similar interests, and it’s been a huge opportunity to learn about roles at different companies and build relationships. As a result of the meetup group, I’ve learned new things, hired folks, and connected with smart people who I now call friends.
Your research will pay off. By the time you write your job description or begin interviews, you’ll have a firm understanding of job titles, market salary ranges, and the type of employee you need. You’ll interview with confidence and an understanding of a fair offer, rather than only relying on candidates to communicate their salary requirement.
Write a hiring strategy
Developing a hiring strategy means deciding how to hire for your needs. You’ll want to define the skills needed for the role, as well as traits important to your company or team culture. It helps to identify cultural traits before hiring because “culture fit” can mean different things to different people on the same team, and if you’re not careful your inherent biases can sneak into your idea of “culture fit.”
Skills you may look for:
- Strategic thinking
Take time to observe your current team. You may be able to identify patterns or gaps in skills or personality types. For example, you may find that you’ve primarily hired people who love to brainstorm content ideas but struggle with execution. Or you may realise that your team excels at written communication but struggles to verbally communicate the importance of content projects. Looking at your team in this way may help surface inherent biases in your hiring process, so you can check yourself on them or ask others for feedback. Teams thrive on diverse perspectives and ideas, so you want to keep that in mind when you’re hiring.
Once you’ve done your research and identified skills and traits you’re looking for, you’re ready to write a job description and a job posting. Both are important. A job description is an internal document that should detail not only what the position does, but the type of background candidates should have, whether candidates can be found internally or externally to the company, and what the career path looks like for the position. The job posting is an external piece of content that should be shared on your company website and on job boards. It should explain the benefits and selling points of the position and working with your company.
Define what you need in candidates versus what’s nice to have, and decide how you’ll know when you’ve found the right fit. You may want to incorporate a test project or questions in the interview that closely resemble the work of the role. If you decide to do a test project, make sure to align with your HR department and consider whether you’ll pay candidates for the projects and if they’ll need to sign any necessary paperwork.
On my team, we ask copywriter candidates to complete a test project that entails writing a short blog post for a specific website. This helps us see beyond what you might glean from a writing portfolio because you’re able to see how quickly they’re able to work—and what their work looks like without help from an editor or advisor. Having said that, test projects can be a sensitive subject and you should align with your company’s goals and culture. If you decide a test project would add meaning to your hiring process, approach it carefully. If there’s any chance you may use any work or ideas from test projects, you should absolutely pay candidates for them.
Create a thoughtful interview strategy
Before scheduling interviews, you want to outline who needs to be there and what your questions will be. Since you’ve already done the work to identify the traits and skills you’re looking for, it should be easy to write behavioural questions related to your needs. You want to write the questions down and share them with the other interviewers, so you’re on the same page. This will help ensure that your interviews maintain a flow and reasonable timetable, rather than aimlessly shifting from one topic to another.
- How do you measure the success of content?
- Tell me about a time when you learned something new about users and how you applied it to your work.
- What would be your first steps in creating a content plan for a website?
It’s important that you maintain consistency in the questions you ask and how you approach the interview. You want to compare apples to apples and see how different candidates respond to the exact same questions, so you have a fair assessment. If you align with the other interviewers ahead of time, this shouldn’t be a problem. But even then, you will likely run into scenarios when you’re not able to ask all your questions. You’ll need to try to keep consistency as much as possible and keep the interview on a similar cadence across the board. Make sure you also plan in leaving 10 to 15 minutes for candidates to ask questions at the end.
It’s important to hire the right people into content roles. These people become the voice of your company and the backbone of your content strategy. It’s absolutely worth your time to slow down and thoroughly define your hiring strategy before diving into interviews. If you lay a solid foundation early on, you’ll save time in the long-run and hire folks who push your content to new heights.