The Essential Guide to Hiring and Closing Content Strategist Candidates

The content strategist role is one that many companies are seeing the need for as they begin to expand their content marketing initiatives.


This guide covers:

  • The skills a good content strategist should have
  • How hiring managers can assess candidates
  • The various content strategist personas you may encounter
  • Why you should hire a content strategist


What skills does a content strategist need?

Although we’ve already established that a content strategist should have a blend of editorial and marketing skills, here are some specific skill sets you should look out for.


Hard skills


Must have

  • Journalistic, creative or content-focused background, with experience in creating and editing digital content across multimedia and social platforms.
  • Skilled at writing and copy editing, including writing in different voices and styles, for a variety of target audiences.
  • Experience with marketing automation tools like Marketo and Hubspot.
  • A strong understanding of analytics. Knowledge of analytics tools like Google Analytics is a bonus. 


Good to have

  • Agility with new technologies and its applications. For example, exposure to AI and conversational UI tools, as well as approaches such as voice UI design and chatbot scripting. These skills are a bonus and may come in handy for future content marketing initiatives. 
  • Experience with graphic design, website design, illustration, UX, videography and photography is a bonus. This includes software like the Adobe Suite, Sketch and Principle. 
  • Experience with digital marketing functions including SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, E-mail Marketing and PPC Marketing is a bonus. 


Soft skills

  • Experience in project management. As an overseer of your content strategy, it is normal for a content strategist to have several ongoing projects. 
  • Experience in public, media and influencer relations. 


How to assess a content strategist

Aside from asking the right interview questions, here’s what to look out for when assessing a content strategist. 


Resume screen

A good content strategist should have a portfolio that showcases his or her past work experience, with evidence of actual creative work. Look out for editorial and creative roles the individual has held at various publications or agencies. Work experience related to the industries your firm operates in is also crucial.


Questions good candidates would ask


What do you have in mind for the direction of your content strategy and how do I come into the picture?


This question demonstrates that the candidate is analysing your current content direction and what his or her role would involve. Depending on whether you are looking to hire someone who is ready to come in and change the direction of your content or someone to maintain the status quo and support your current direction, sharing briefly on your future content plans will help you establish whether the candidate is the right fit for the job.


What are some of the brands with content marketing strategies you’d like to emulate? What is it that you like about their strategies?


A candidate who asks this question is looking to get a better idea of your brand voice and what you think is most in line with your brand. After raising specific case studies of companies you’d like to emulate, you can also identify whether the candidate is familiar with the content styles within your industry.


How experimental are you in your content strategy? How much budget is there for experimentation? 


A candidate who asks this question is trying to figure out what he or she has to work with, especially if your firm is hiring a content strategist to revamp or radically change your current content marketing department. Some candidates may be wary of low budgets or inflexible standards, so do be as open as possible about the restrictions of the job and the results you expect.


Mistakes and pitfalls


Hiring someone without one of the three skills (marketing, editorial and project management)

While marketing-focused teams will benefit from someone with editorial experience and vice versa, a content strategist must be the bridge between colleagues in these three specialisations and it is important to not neglect any of them. An individual with a strong content-focus could easily slow down a team if he or she does not develop the overall content strategy with business goals in mind. 


Finding a candidate who has extensive experience in all three areas may sound like a tall order. Teams with a limited hiring budget may also face difficulties. Some teams may settle for a candidate who has extensive knowledge in one or two of those areas and surface level experience in the rest. Go for a candidate who will balance out your team. For example, if your marketing team is made up of individuals with mostly editorial and project management experience, going for a candidate who is strong in marketing but less so in the other two areas is still a safe bet. 


Neglecting brand and industry fit

While it may be tempting to hire someone who has done great work for companies in other industries, content marketing in drastically different industries definitely requires drastically different skills. A good practice in one industry could have negative, far-reaching consequences in another. 


Let’s take the example of Red Hat, a provider of open source, enterprise IT solutions. Without any understanding of cloud computing — be it buzzwords, technical terms or target audience — even the most skilled content strategist would find it difficult to develop and contribute to an effective content strategy for the company.


The articles on Red Hat's blog are very technical, and the writers appear to be a mix of contributors and Red Hat staff.


However, Red Hat clearly doesn’t make that mistake. With articles titled ‘A deeper look at L1 Terminal Fault aka Foreshadow’, it’s clear that they prioritise industry knowledge and hire content strategists who have it.


How to hire the best 

While there is no single successful archetype of a great content strategist, there are a handful of content strategist personas you may encounter. If your firm already buys into content marketing, here’s how to hire the content strategist that best suits your needs.


The Ideal Candidate


Experience in your industry


Previous position was also a content strategist role


Skilled in both marketing and editorial, and has campaigns on her resume to prove it


This is the candidate with the more typical content strategist resume and background. He or she has previous experience as a content strategist at another company in a similar industry as yours, or at an agency that deals with the industry your firm operates in. This candidate is a great option if you require both industry experience and content expertise, and also have the budget to match up. He or she would be suitable for a more senior role responsible for developing the content strategy and overseeing more projects. 


The Rookie 


Industry experience may be thin


Fresh graduate who has a resume to support his or her creative and editorial skills


Has interned as a content strategist before


This candidate is the first option you will consider if your budget for the content strategist role is tight. While he or she may take less responsibility of developing the content strategy right from the get-go, this candidate could bring valuable editorial and content creation skills to the table. If your priority for this hire is boosting content production, and not industry experience, this candidate could be a valuable asset to an experienced team. 


Journalist turned Content Strategist


Years of reporting experience, may have even held Editor roles


Has covered a beat related to your industry, and has connections 


A good eye for content, and flexible with writing styles and formats


For this candidate, a strong editorial background is a given. If your team is lacking direction and consistency in its style of content, trust a journalist to give your brand a voice. This candidate could also refresh old content standards with new ideas if your marketing-centric team is suffering from content that is too corporate or branded. Compared to a more junior journalist, a candidate who has held editor roles before will expect a higher starting pay.


Marketing Executive turned Content Strategist


Substantial experience running marketing campaigns and meeting business goals


Has worked in the marketing department of a firm within your industry


A track record for managing projects that are content-heavy, with a strong portfolio


A marketing executive is likely to be a more traditional marketer, focused on business goals like lead generation and brand awareness. For a team with more creatives, this candidate could be a good addition to steer the team towards delivering ROI. With experience in project management and marketing, this candidate commands a higher starting salary, and creatives on your team will have to learn to work with a more traditional marketer. 


Digital Marketing Specialist turned Content Strategist


Possesses strong digital marketing skills including SEO, social media marketing, PPC marketing and e-mail marketing, with knowledge of the relevant tools


Experienced in developing content-heavy digital marketing campaigns, with a resume to prove it


Has worked in the digital marketing team of a similar company in a relevant industry


Out of all these roles, a digital marketing specialist is probably the candidate who already has a good idea of what a content strategist is responsible for. While a digital marketing specialist has a more general set of skills, most of them are applicable in executing a content strategy campaign. Thus, for this candidate, industry experience would be a higher priority. He or she would be a prized candidate for a content strategy team that is looking to broaden their scope with other digital marketing channels. 


Why hire a content strategist?

A content strategist focuses on inbound marketing. If you’re looking to reduce your team’s reliance on outbound or performance marketing, a content strategist may be what you're looking for. 


Focus on inbound marketing

While it may be natural to focus on performance marketing and immediate lead generation results, content strategists deliver more long-term outcomes. If you’re not yet convinced on why you should be investing in content marketing, research has shown that it gets three times the leads per dollar spent compared to paid search. Another study by McMurry/TMG found that unique visitor count for content marketing leaders is almost eight times higher


A great example of a firm that bet on content marketing since the beginning and is reaping the benefits is finance management app Mint. 


Mint was acquired by Intuit in 2009 for US$170 million.


They started a financial advice blog, MintLife, even before their product was finished. Because of its highly shareable content and its ability to reach a wide audience base through platforms like Digg and Reddit, Mint garnered 10,000 users per week within seven months of its founding. This helped them to save significant sums on customer acquisition and demonstrated how it isn’t too early for companies to get into content marketing.


How-to articles tend to be popular with readers, and Mint's content strategy team clearly identified this very early on.


Improve best performing channels

While there are perks of having a strong creative team that churns out engaging content on a regular basis, teams looking to maximise their marketing ROIs will prefer someone with sufficient marketing experience. Instead of waiting around for a tried-and-tested formula, a content strategist can optimise your best performing content and apply the learnings to future plans, to further your content strategy in the long term.


Strengthen SEO quality 

61% of marketers say enhancing SEO and developing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority. A good candidate with a focus on SEO cannot just be a great writer, but also someone who can harness keyword research to leverage topics that appeal to your audience. And the return on SEO is generous. After reorganising their search results for all their international URLs, Dell saw a marked increase in organic traffic and number of ranked keywords, and most importantly, a 1000% increase in ROI


When searching for Dell, the right country-specific URL and the main USA site now rank high on Google.


Develop visitor UX on marketing assets

Many marketing teams typically comprise of a mix of specialists, across UX, editorial, business development and design. However, hiring team members who have experience and knowledge in more than one area will result in effective collaboration.


For example, a marketing lead may request for collaterals from the designer, and the two may struggle to balance design capabilities and marketing goals like lead generation. If a designer understands the buyer journey, or if a marketing lead can speak design language, this starts them on the same page and leads to streamlined workflows.


Good for team composition

A team with more creatives may create fantastic content but lose sight of business goals, whereas a marketing-centric team may prioritise brand messaging over good storytelling. Going beyond simple copyediting, a content strategist has the potential to be the bridge between. With a specific team member focused on content, the whole team will also focus less on strategy across channels, but more on the quality of content and how the message is presented. If your current team composition struggles with balancing the two, they would benefit from having a content strategist around. 


Nurturing leads and reducing sales dependency


Supplement sales

Sales, especially field sales, can be costly, but with social media, the sales team can easily reach out to prospects and nurture them. According to LinkedIn research, 92% of buyers engage if the sales professional is a known industry thought leader. Although their primary responsibility is inbound marketing, content strategists also provide the sales team with content they can use to establish themselves as thought leaders. 


Longer-term investment

Hiring a content strategist is a longer-term investment that can eventually reduce dependency. Lead growth for small businesses with blogs is over double that of those without blogs. With leads generated from inbound marketing, this progresses the marketing team’s contribution further down the marketing and sales funnel. O2’s launched its account-based marketing campaign in 2015 is an example of In a move that combined marketing expertise and sales insights. Armed with customised content for each account, sales team members conducted more strategic conversations and eventually closed more deals. O2 saw an ROI of £118 per dollar spent, and over three times the number of target businesses won. 


Brand positioning

Much like social media and paid advertisements, content creation is just one channel for the brand activities a company conducts. A content strategist can support these campaigns, as well as establish relationships with partners, influencers and media to engage them in the initiatives set out for its own content. 


In MailChimp’s recent ‘Did You Mean’ campaign, aside from the YouTube videos that garnered an average of 400,000 views, they also published their annual report on the exact same day the campaign was launched. Their content strategists helped to establish content marketing as one of the channels for this campaign, paving the way for greater brand awareness for the firm. 


MailChimp released a parody video, under a YouTube account named MailShrimp, which garnered almost 500,000 views.


Conclusion

Hiring a content strategist may not be every company’s top priority, but we hope you found this guide will help you determine whether you should hire a content strategist, and hire the right one for your team’s needs. We also have job description templates you can use and a more in-depth guide to interview questions you might ask a content strategist.

Content Strategist
Hiring Guide
Content Marketing