TAL .018: How to Hire Good Content Editors

The Arete Letter

Q: How do you hire a good editor without seeing their work? A: By using this checklist.

Today, I’m going to explain how to screen candidates for editorial positions on your content team.

(This letter is part of a series that started with issue .016 of the Arete Letter, which you can find here.)

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1. The Problem

Many teams struggle to find good content editors.

(Note: I’m defining ‘editor’ here as a managerial role sitting directly above your content creators.

It involves project management, content strategy, and deliverable editing.

Some teams call their editors ‘content strategists’ or ‘heads of content’, depending on org size.)


Because editors don’t have hard deliverables – and that can make it hard to separate strong candidates from poor-fit ones.

2. The Solution

  • CHECK: Do they have experience running content operations in a similarly sized organisation?
    • Experience does matter (to a point). They don’t know what they don’t know, and mistakes tend to be bigger and more costly than those made in technical content roles.
  • CHECK: Do they have experience creating content?
    • Every editor should have a technical skillset. If they’ve never created content themselves, they’re unlikely to be effective managers.
  • ASK: How do you define high-quality content?
    • If they can’t define it, they can’t deliver it. Definitions should be specific, objective, measurable, and achievable – see the kernel–chaff rubric as an example.
  • ASK: How do you approach content hygiene/maintenance?
    • Content hygiene is a key part of any content strategy role. Your candidates should have clear ideas about how to maintain content assets.
  • ASK: What’s your ideal content workflow? How do you manage assets and track ideation and delivery?
    • Their process should be clear, streamlined, and scalable. There’s no right answer – this question is designed to see how confident they are with content operations.
  • ASK: What channels and content types have you had the most experience with?
    • If a candidate has strong experience with your brand’s channels, they may be a better fit.
  • ASK: How would you approach content ideation for X channel?
    • Make ‘X’ whatever your brand’s primary channel is. Give them some time to think about their answer – you’re looking for an approach that maps directly back to buyer needs.
  • ASK: How do you measure success for X channel?
    • There should be two parts to their answer: relevant leading indicators (such as clicks) and an attribution model (ideally, hybrid attribution).
  • ASK: How do you assess an individual creator’s work? What metrics, if any, do you use, and how do you help them increase their efficiency and quality?
    • Again, there’s no right answer here. You’re looking for someone who has clear ideas about standards and training. You can find metrics for content writers in TAL .015.
  • TEST: Give them your ICP, relevant brand information, a channel, and a scenario. Ask them to write a brief for a specific piece of content in an hour. See what information they include in the brief.
  • TEST: Give them a piece of previously created content (along with its brief). Give them an hour to edit it and see what changes they make. Specify that you’re looking for maximum quality improvements – this should steer them away from fixating on grammar or style.
  • TEST: Give them your website’s URL and an hour to conduct a content audit. See how far they get, what sort of tools they use, and what sort of infrastructure they set up.

CHECKS should be conducted during the résumé screening stage. Keep in mind that a lack of relevant experience shouldn’t be a disqualifier per se – it’s just a way to thin the field if you have lots of high-quality candidates.

ASKS should be put forward during your first interview. Use the above checklist as a starting point, not a complete list of interview questions.

TESTS should be conducted once you’ve narrowed down your pool to a handful of suitable candidates. Always make sure you pay candidates for their time. (Three hours of pay is much cheaper than making the wrong choice).

3. Implementation

Tech Needed: None

Ease of Uptake: Easy

When you’re hiring a new content strategist/editor:

  1. During candidate screening, conduct CHECKS.
  2. During candidate interviews, conduct ASKS.
  3. During candidate testing, conduct TESTS.

By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.