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Field Notes

Field Notes #010: How I Identify Content Talent

How I Identify Content Talent

What makes a good content marketer?

Past results are the best predictor of future results, but talent with a strong track record tends to be “priced in” and hard to hire. I like to try to find untapped or underdeveloped talent, and the best way to do that is to identify how the person thinks.

Outside of clear writing skills, the three  things that predict great content marketing talent are:

  • Curiosity
  • Courage
  • Gives a shit

The easiest way to identify these traits is through a project – basically, a test article. 

To test for curiosity, assign a topic slightly outside the writer’s usual subject area. Better yet, have them pitch a few topics, and then slightly alter your favorite one to push them outside their comfort zone. 

When reviewing the draft, the trait of curiosity best shows up as the writer using unusual sources. If the draft feels like it’s a slightly rehashed piece only using Google search as research, that’s not a good sign. If they scoured forums and Slack groups and watched documentaries to get unique insights, that’s a great sign. 

Curiosity and giving a shit are related, of course. But you can see when someone gives a shit by the level of granular detail they put into the draft. No one who gives a shit brushes over a grand proclamation. They’re not hand-wavy. They flesh it out entirely so the audience understands. 

Giving a shit comes out in two other distinct ways as well: they reach out to experts for interviews, and they take feedback well. Someone who takes feedback well cares about the work, not their ego. They care about the truth, not being right. This is a great sign. 

Paradoxically, courage is shown by their ability to defend contrarian positions, even if the editor pushes back on them. To take a stand is to create great content marketing (as long as you can back it up). 

Again, it’s best to read these traits through someone’s work. But you can tease them out in your interviews as well.

To test for curiosity, I like to ask the following questions:

  • What are the tabs open on your browser right now?
  • How do you research a topic you know nothing about?
  • Teach me about something.

To test for courage (and ambition), these questions are solid:

  • How ambitious are you?
  • What’s the most courageous thing you’ve done?
  • What views do you hold religiously, almost irrationally?
  • What’s something you believe about content marketing that most people would disagree with you about?

To test for giving a shit, you want to hear passionate responses:

  • How successful do you want to be?
  • What’s your driving force? What’s your long game?
  • Who are our competitors?
  • How did you prepare for this interview?
  • Why do you want to work here?

Hiring great talent is always the bottleneck to growth.

Getting better at identifying and attracting talent is one of the most important jobs of any leader, and especially in content marketing.

1. Ronnie Higgins’ Twitter thread on media marketing – this is such a clear illustration of what people mean when they say “build a media company.” Perfectly articulated.

2. “What makes a blog post the best in the world?” | The Cutting Room ft. Peep Laja – this interview + live edit is effin’ excellent. I cut my teeth in content marketing with Peep as an editor. He’s a no BS leader, and every content marketer who has worked under him has leveled up immensely.

3. Content Marketing ROI: 6 Steps to Measuring Growth – I wrote a rather lengthy piece on measuring content marketing success.

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.