Hiring a copywriter: does a portfolio tell you everything you need to know?

By September 21, 2018 September 23rd, 2018 No Comments

The recruitment process for hiring a copywriter has most definitely changed in recent years. Previously it followed a fairly standard format to other positions in the communications and marketing industry. The applicant submitted a detailed job application against a set of criteria, CV and covering letter. This was a good indication of the skills, including writing skills, that the candidate has and is enough to decide whether to invite that person to interview or not.

There’s no denying the fact that the job market is incredibly competitive; possibly more so than ever before. Naturally there needs to be a way to sift, fairy swiftly, all the applications and sort the wheat from the chaff. Even in the last five years I have noticed one fairly significant difference with the recruitment process nowadays.

The request to send a portfolio immediately.

Every recruitment agent or company I have been in contact with recently instantly replies with: “please send me your portfolio.” It’s like a stock response and there seems to be no way to avoid sending one if you want to stand a chance of progressing through the initial sifting process.

Professions such as web development naturally lead themselves to being able to produce a stunning portfolio. What if a copywriter ghostwrites articles on behalf of a chief executive or members of the senior management team? This is when it becomes tricky for a copywriter specialising in B2B business blogging.

It’s no secret that many companies hire a copywriter to write this type of content but what recruiters need to understand is that it is not easy to submit examples if it identifies the person or company they write on behalf of. Yes, it is possible to redact parts of the content, but then this loses the overall flow and impact of the article. For example if you have to remove the call to action, unlink hyperlinks and black out company names the result is a messy page of content – probably not something a copywriter will be proud of sending to anyone. Another factor to take into account is that many copywriters have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the companies or agencies they are working for.

This makes me wonder if other copywriters feel in the same position as me: how can you showcase your work and what you can do, at the same time as protecting the identity of the authors you’re writing on behalf of? But there’s actually a more fundamental question:

Does a portfolio really showcase the skills you need from a copywriter?

A varied portfolio of writing examples will showcase a person’s writing ability but there are many more skills you need to test when looking for the right copywriter for your projects.

Having a degree in linguistics demonstrates a deep knowledge of the language but it doesn’t mean that person knows how to take a client brief and turn it into compelling, original copy that fits the brand guidelines perfectly and meets the overall business objectives.

#5 skills of an outstanding copywriter / corporate copywriter / copywriter for B2B

1. Reliability

You or your client is on deadline, you need someone who takes deadlines seriously and delivers on time, every time. Often the copy for a project, website or email campaign follows after many other decisions have been made. The result is that the turnaround time is tight. You need your copywriter to be able to deliver but also to tell you if the deadline is realistic. There’s nothing worse than rushed copy that doesn’t fit the bill and then has to go through endless edits.

2. Interpretation

One of the main skills is to take a brief, understand it thoroughly and quickly, and produce content to meet it. The copywriter needs to be able to interpret not just the project brief but the brand guidelines, business goals and outcomes in a very short space of time. They often work with many clients at the same time (and I include internal stakeholders here too), therefore they have to switch from being immersed in one topic to the next very quickly. They’re great at joining the dots with other campaigns, products or services so can bring much more to the project than just the words they produce.

3. Analytical, logical, focused

Yes, these are three separate skills but they work in harmony for good copywriting. The ability to analyse and research a lot of material to produce logical and structured content needs a person to be focused. This takes time and patience, which some people just are not able to do. Many job descriptions include attention to detail as a key skill, which often relates to having impeccable spelling and grammar. This should come as standard with any copywriter, so when looking for someone to write for business (often called corporate copywriting), you need to find a person with an analytical mind that can interpret and translate often technical language into something that’s easy to digest and understood by all.

4. Not easily offended

It’s not uncommon to write something to be told the client doesn’t like it. An experienced copywriter will not be offended by this; they accept that it is part and parcel of the job. What makes someone stand out is the way they use that feedback to turn around their original piece of writing into something the client does like. Of course, there may be times when it’s right to challenge if they believe it’s the best outcome for the business. What’s important is the way they approach this – calm, logical and evidence-based.

5. Listening

The most powerful skill a copywriter can possess is the ability to listen. In many instances, by listening intently on what you or your client is saying gives so much material for the copy itself. If your copywriter switches off, starts doodling or looks blank in a meeting, the chances are they’re not paying close attention. Just take a look at their notebook. If you see pages and pages of notes, it’s a good indication they’re taking down every little detail that will be used in the finished piece of content. They’re also expert at playing devil’s advocate – they will openly ask the questions that others are too afraid to in order to get clarity on a topic so they can explain it clearly for others.

[Close with strong C2A]