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Qualifying candidates for content can be a longer process than you think. After all, your content is how people find you, learn from you, and choose you. And good quality and execution of content are what may set you apart from others. So, how do you make sure they’re fit for the role? Or if they can deliver the results you’re looking for? A good place to start is by asking them to complete writing prompts as an early step in the interview process.
As a manager of a content team, writing is one of the most important things I need to vet in order to see if a candidate is fit for the role. And I don’t just want to see writing they’ve done in the past, I want to test them now. That’s why I’ve come up with several different written task prompts to put candidates to the test. Are they a good fit for the role? For the company? For the team?
When you're building your first marketing team, a content writer will be one of the first roles you should consider hiring for, and when working with a small team it'll be essential that you hire the right person the first time, rather than wasting time and resources training someone who's a poor fit. Writing prompts are a perfect way to allow candidates to show off their skills.
When should you ask content job candidates to complete a written task?
There are different stages of the interview process in which you can offer written assignments. First, if candidates maybe lack a portfolio or you need more information upfront, you can ask candidates to complete writing prompts before you even speak to them. Second, and my preferred method, you can ask them to complete writing prompts later on in the process. Alternatively, you can do a mix of both. I’ll let you decide what works best for your hiring funnel.
Here are examples of what a typical interview process may look like and where the writing prompts may fall:
- Resume, portfolio & video introduction reviewed
- Pre-interview writing prompts completed
- Phone screen or initial interview
- Writing prompts completed
- Interview with the hiring manager (where writing prompts are presented)
- Interview with another member of the team
- Interview with higher-level managers/CEO if needed
- Hired :)
Let’s take a look at 6 different sample writing exercises for job applicants you may find helpful in your next round of interviews.
3 short writing prompt examples
Now that your hiring pipeline is full, you’ve reviewed resumes, portfolios, maybe a quick applicant video introduction, and the like, and you’re probably ready to start scheduling interviews. At this stage, it might be wise to ask some of your top choices to do a bit of homework that applies to your product/company to kick it off. You can do this before you start the first round of interviews, or after.
These short writing prompts should give you just enough to test the legitimacy of their work. To make the most of their time and yours, make sure that all assignments and expectations are clearly explained to candidates, especially if it’s before they get the chance to speak to anyone.
Short writing prompts to choose from
These examples can be tweaked and modified to the position at your company or depending on what exactly you’re looking for. Nonetheless, they can help you get started on how to develop short writing prompts.
1. ‘Wow’/awareness prompt
Please choose something on our website that you can build upon and write a blurb to ‘wow’ our audience. Make sure to use language that draws them in and makes them the center (it should be less about us and more about them). Consider a headline that sparks interest or curiosity from the reader.
Add a short description explaining what you expanded on and why you did what you did.
2. ‘How’/Consideration Prompt
Write a short blurb that helps our audience answer questions they have or learn something to help them along their buyer’s journey—whether they’re in the awareness, consideration, or decision stage. This can be for website copy, an email—just something to show you know how to write for this stage of the funnel.
Add a short description explaining how your writing piece guides readers along in their journey.
3. ‘Now’/decision prompt
Please write an email inviting someone to do something—download our new guide to X, reach out to us, schedule a demo, etc. Make sure to describe why you wrote what you did and how it requires action from the audience.
These are good tests that force candidates to really think about their targeted audience and the stage of the funnel they’re in and how to write for them—a true marketing skill. They are interesting, yet broad topics you can have job candidates complete to really challenge them—both in writing and in marketing knowledge.
Now, let’s take a look at project-based writing prompts that are a bit broader.
3-part project-based sample writing prompt
I personally prefer to ask candidates to complete a project-based writing exercise after an initial interview. This gives us the opportunity to learn more about them and their experience, so instead of short samples, the project-based writing prompts allow us to further determine if they are a good fit.
For this project-based writing prompt, I ask candidates to complete 3 stages of a writing assignment. First, I test their ability to edit and improve their writing. Second, I test their ability to write a piece, and third, I test their ability to plan and build a content strategy.
Of course, this is specific to what the content role does here at Kalungi on a day-to-day basis, but I’m confident any content marketer or content manager should know how to do these 3 tasks (or hopefully you can get some inspiration for how to tweak this for your company). As a note: no matter what, this longer, project-based writing prompt should specifically do 2 things:
- Allow the candidate to get a taste of what they will be doing during their day-to-day
- Allow you as the hiring manager to see if they will be a good fit for their job depending on the work they deliver
Let’s dive into this 3-part writing project. You can choose to assign all the parts, or select one or two. However, we’ve found this to be a good test of whether they’re a good fit for us, and we’re a good fit for them.
Project-based writing prompt for job candidates
1. Editing & improving writing
Please edit, leave suggestions and optimize this blog: [insert blog here]. Let us know what you’d change or improve to make it the best it can be.
Note: I typically like to keep instructions for this piece very simple to really test candidates. I want to see how they would make something better. I want candidates to use both skill and creativity to completely transform these pieces. Sometimes they do, other times they may only focus on grammar.
Either way, it’s nice to talk about the process they went through in their interview. Not only that, but it shows how far the candidate is willing to go and really tests their leadership skills as well. Especially if the piece is already edited and published on the website (which is what I normally give them).
2. Writing a blog
Please showcase your ability to create high-quality content that adds value, drives organic traffic, and boosts keyword rankings. Write an 800-1,000 word blog post on ‘[insert keyword here]’ for [website].
3. Planning & strategy
Demonstrate your ability to strategize, plan, and advise a topic cluster content strategy. Put together a topic cluster strategy in this spreadsheet [insert link here].
Note: For this project, I export a list of keywords for one topic cluster into a spreadsheet and ask them to fill out a strategy for it. You can see and download a template example for this project here. This really tests their SEO knowledge and gives me an understanding of their experience with building content calendars and strategies.
This 3-part writing project requires the hiring manager and the job candidate to discuss the decisions that were made in the next interview. I prefer to invite candidates to schedule an interview with me right when this project is completed so we don’t delay the process. This is because I’ve found that although sometimes people don’t ‘nail’ these projects, or do complete them with the quality I hoped for, I can tell if they are on the right track or if they can learn quickly when they explain the approach they took—especially for the editing and planning projects.
An example of what I added to the end of the project description:
Present your work! Please schedule a 30-minute content interview with the hiring manager. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule.
An optional portion of the project I also like to include is a self-review where the candidate answers the following questions.
- How do you think you did? What do you think you did well?
- What did you struggle with? What do you want to learn more about?
I give them the option to answer these questions in the project document or to be ready to discuss them in our interview. These are questions that allow you to tell the kind of person they are and the attitude they have towards work and learning. I think it also opens up the conversation and makes us more human. After all, honesty is key, especially during interviews :)
Good luck with your next hire
I hope these writing sample prompts help you better determine which candidate is best for your business. Remember, it’s the work that should impress you, not their resume or their experience.
If you do use any of these writing prompt examples—we’d love to hear your feedback on what you (or the candidate!) thought about them and how they helped you in your hiring journey. You can reach out to me personally at email@example.com.
Looking to build your marketing team? See our resources on "What roles to hire first" and "How to hire your B2B SaaS CMO" or get in touch with our team to learn more about how Kalungi's outsourced marketing services could provide you with a full-service, instantly-on marketing team.
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With 4 years of experience in both B2B and B2C marketing, Jordan always makes an effort to become an expert in any topic she is given so she can produce high-quality content for Kalungi and our clients.