How not to recruit a digital content person

We’ve all seen cringeworthy ads for Rock Stars, Gurus and Ninjas. We know words like passionate, self-starter and dynamic gain more eye-rolls than applicants. And who can forget, the Social Media Paperclick Manager.

Less well known are the clangers in digital content recruitment. If you’re hiring a content writer, editor, manager or strategist, you may want to know about these pitfalls.

1. “SIO” Content Writer

This email exchange with a recruiter who sent me an opportunity to apply for SIO Content Writer truly made my day.

Me: “Is the job title might be meant to be SEO Content Writer? Stands for Search Engine Optimisation.”

Recruiter: “No, it’s definitely SIO. Do you have that?”

Me: “I don’t think SIO stands for anything to do with content. SEO is a common requirement though. I could lay out some examples of the impact of my SEO work if that would help.”

Recruiter: “I’ve checked with the client. It’s definitely SIO.”

Me: “Interesting. What does that stand for?”

Recruiter: “I don’t know. Maybe [First result from Google, a piece of medical equipment]?”

Before this happened, I would’ve thought it was too obvious to say that if you’re using an abbreviation in a job title or job ad, at least find out what it stands for. Which leads me to…

2. ‘Must know CMS’

You can’t say must know CMS like you might say must know PHP or must know CSS. It doesn’t make sense.

CMS is not a programming language. It stands for Content Management System. It’s an umbrella term for software used to create or edit web pages. You might recognise some of these: Drupal, Sitecore, Sharepoint, Kentico, WordPress. They’re all CMS, and there’s hundreds more.

I think you mean, Must have experience using a CMS.

3. ‘Must know [our] CMS’

Technically, this makes sense, but it’s misguided.

It makes sense to look for a Drupal programmer or a Kentico programmer, but content writers, editors and managers don’t need experience with your CMS. If you specify this, you’ll gain nothing and rule out many suitable applicants.

Using different content management systems (CMS) is like driving different makes of car. It’s absurd to think someone can’t drive a Nissan because they’ve only driven Subarus and Toyotas before. It doesn’t even take time to learn to drive a new CMS — you just get in, have a poke around to find out where everything is, and you’re off.

If you want to make sure you hire a content person with strong technical skills, set a test as part of the interview that includes things like:

  • writing metadata that includes target search terms you provide
  • writing basic HTML, like heading tags, making a link and using em and strong tags.
  • identifying poor accessibility and SEO practice, like non-distinguishable links, non-descriptive alt text or incorrect heading mark-up.

These things will tell you far more than asking, Have you used Drupal? Just, don’t.

4. Not knowing if you want a writer or a graphic designer

The job title Content Designer is used to refer to two different things these days. It’s surprising how often the ad is not clear which they want, and the recruitment contact doesn’t know either. Adding to the confusion, there is a little cross-over in the skills needed.

  • One type of Content Designer is a graphic design role often found in digital and advertising agencies. It usually involves preparing visual assets for social media, email or web. It tends to be straightforward work, attracting early career stage applicants. The Content Designer Wikipedia page seems entirely devoted to this role.
  • The other type of Content Designer was popularised by the UK’s famous public sector digital game-changes, Government Digital Service (GDS). It’s a mid-career to senior position, needing a strong Plain Language and information-organising skills. It usually involves substantial face-to-face work with subject-matter experts (SMEs), so great people skills are also a must. Find out more about Content Designers as part of GDS.

If you’re going to use this job title, take extra care to avoid vague language in your job ad and role profile.

What do these content job ads tell us?

When it comes to recruiting for content people, not everyone knows what they’re talking about. And that’s fine. If we all admitted what we didn’t know, the world would be a better place.

If you need to hire a content manager, editor, strategist or writer:

  • Be concrete and clear in describing the role. Don’t try to make it sound edgy, cool or more senior than it is — great applicants are not swayed by spin.
  • Make sure the job title is appropriate.
  • Ask someone who knows about content for help, and listen to their advice.

Heard some content recruitment craziness?

I’d love to hear about it. Comments most welcome.

Leave a reply