6 Things I Learned From Sifting Through 724 Blogger Emails

by Rebecca Kelley on February 8, 2011 · 76 comments

Back in December, This or That was looking for people to contribute content to our website, so we published some job postings and watched the emails pile up. And by “we,” of course, I’m referring to me. I became an Army of One, a lean, mean, writer hiring machine. It took me about six weeks to tame my inbox, but I managed to go through 724 application emails (and counting, though the job applications have slowed to a trickle by now). No, that’s not a typo. I read 724 emails and over 700 writing samples (not everyone who contacted me provided a writing sample because they apparently couldn’t follow simple instructions). Not only did I pick up some handy tips about what makes a candidate stand out among the competition (as I summarized in my recent post, 10 Tips for Freelance Writers Applying for Blogging Jobs), I learned a lot about the process from the employer’s perspective that I’d thought I’d share with you all in case you’re ever in a position to hire freelancers.

1. Casting a Wide Net Isn’t as Smart an Idea as You’d Think

Normally, you’d think that the more places you post your job opening, the better chance you have of finding great talent. I completely shot myself in the foot by underestimating a) how many people are in need of work right now, and b) the instant appeal of writing for an entertainment website as opposed to writing boring site copy for a legal services company. We paid for a ProBlogger job posting and also posted the job details for free in seven different cities via Craigslist. Our job post in turn got picked up by other job boards, and it sort of snowballed from there. Before I knew it, I was drowning in emails and the actual work-related messages were getting buried amidst ravenous freelancers chomping at the bit for a writing gig. If I were to do it again, I’d post it once, see what sort of candidates it attracted, and then go from there. If you can find a great pool of people with minimal work, obviously that’s better than taking the long route.

2. Trust Your Gut

Sifting through hundreds of emails and writing samples is an endurance challenge to say the least, so to cut down on time, you’ve got to trust your intuition. I mentioned in my 10 Tips post how, from the applicant’s perspective, first impressions are crucial. That’s because on the hiring side of the fence, my time is too valuable to spend wading through a haystack to try and find the needle. Very early on in the hiring process, I was able to determine within the first couple sentences of a writing sample not only if the author is a good writer, but whether or not s/he can craft appropriate content for our website. Some people write well but lack the voice and tone that we’re looking for, while others just plain suck. My job was to find the most qualified candidates as quickly as possible, and most of the time that involved going with your gut. If you’re feeling “meh” about someone, it’s probably best to move on.

3. Don’t Fight for “Just Alright”

Somewhat related to “Trust Your Gut” is my third lesson learned. I opened up a dialogue with some folks, only to run into a roadblock over pay disputes, paperwork issues, etc. You’ll put up with someone’s crap a lot more if they’ve got talent to back it up, but if it’s a middle-of-the-pack candidate who’s all butt-hurt over your payment structure or contract verbiage, don’t waste your time bending over backwards for someone whose work probably won’t be worth the hassle. Some people whined to me about how low our rates seemed to them, yet I had an inbox full of talented candidates who were thrilled by the opportunity and the pay rates. Be wary of people who are difficult from the get-go — it should raise a red flag and make you wonder how hard they’ll be to work with long-term. Really ask yourself if you want to waste your time and energy, especially if there are other folks lined up and eager to work with you.

4. Make Sure You’re Ready

Our timing was a bit off when it came to assembling a team of writers. For one, our blog editor wasn’t set up to deal with contributors, so we first had to code it, then test it. This process took much longer than we thought, primarily because we’ve got one main developer and one main tester (me), and each of us is busy with a million other tasks in conjunction with setting up the new writers. Secondly, we launched our first tournament, where we let the Internet vote for the 2010 song of the year, and with that came more bugs, marketing, and users to deal with. When you’re planning out new projects, it’s all too easy to put the cart before the horse, but before you get ahead of yourself, quadruple-check to make sure both your team and your site are well-equipped to handle whatever you’re going to throw at them. Sure, every new project comes with delays and hiccups, but you can minimize the headache by ensuring you’re as ready as possible before getting started.

5. Stay Organized

Hiring a team of writers by sorting through hundreds of emails, finding the right candidates, getting the proper paperwork in order, setting up their accounts, approving their ideas, editing and publishing their work, keeping invoices updated, making sure they get paid on time — all this puts a lot on your plate. The only way to manage all of this and remain somewhat sane is to come up with a process that keeps it all as organized and logical as possible. Set up lists and spreadsheets and stay diligent. Keep in regular contact with your employees to make sure everything’s running smoothly. The bottom line is that you’ve got to stay organized, whatever your process may be, in order to keep your site humming along.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Tough

We’ve only been working with our freelancers for a couple weeks, and already I’ve shot down lots of ideas and deleted drafts that sounded good on paper but weren’t executed well. Some of the writers I’ve brought on probably won’t end up working out and I may need to cut them loose so that I can focus on the ones who are producing great work. You’re allowed to be a hard-ass with your expectations and deadlines because at the end of the day, it’s your business, your money, and your content on the line.

full disclosure

About the author...

– who has written 42 posts on ShoeMoney.com.

Rebecca Kelley is the Director of Marketing for This or That Media. She also runs Mediocre Athlete, a hobby blog about exercising and training, and My Korean Mom, a blog about her harsh but amusing Korean mother. In her spare time, Rebecca is a freelance blogger for hire, loves food and movies, and trains for marathons and triathlons.


Jeremy recommends you check out these amazing posts:

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{ 76 comments }

1 Hotdogman

Having to deal with employees can be a pain, but it’s better than the alternative: not needing them.

Only 1-2% of the population has the stones to be an entrepreneur, the other 98-99% need jobs. They aren’t creative or motivated enough to put themselves on the line for their dreams. This can result in varying levels of dependency which, at times, comes across as entitlement.

There are two types of good employees: those that are entrepreneurial within the confines of their job and those who follow instructions and get things done without hassles. The former is willing to take risks and step outside the box while staying within the comfort zone of their job the latter is a good at completing tasks as instructed and has a pathological need to keep their job.

Our culture has fostered this idea that a job is a basic right; it is not. This is why so many applicants forward shoddy resumes and poor cover letters. They have been “drinking the koolaid” and truly believe YOU owe them something. Don’t waste your time with them, just be patient with them when they can’t figure out a medium fries from a large.

2 Bill

Rebecca, this is a really excellent post and something that’s been lacking in the blogosphere. There are plenty of guides for writers looking for work, but nada for people who need to hire/manage writers. I’ve worked off-and-on with large groups of writers since 1999, and emphatically agree with all of your points.

3 enajyram00

A very insightful article. I think even those who are applying for writing jobs can learn from this.

4 dotCOMreport

I recently went on a search for quality contributors to one of my sites and although I did not get 724 emails, I did get snowed in. Bill is right, there wasn’t anything like this to guide me through but I did go with my guts almost always. These points are spot on.

5 Backlink Checker

How many of them did you hire in the end??

6 GQmeansGeek

With that many applicants, there’s bound to be a good number of talented writers to find. Hope you found the best person(s) for the job. :)

7 moolahmachine

Is it too late to join the submission pool?

8 Rebecca Kelley

A lot. :) They’re all more or less on a trial period though, so we’ll likely weed out some of the “meh” writers and ramp up the ones who are churning out great stuff. It’s all a process…

9 Glen Allsopp

Some good tips here, Rebecca.

I’m currently looking at taking on two full-time staff so this is very timely for me.

Good luck with the site!

10 Rebecca Kelley

Thanks, Glen!

11 Profit Blog

Yeah, it can be hard to find the right people. Sometimes you gotta use brute force to get quality work. Otherwise you’ll waste a ton of time.

12 spameater

It’s always best to be clear about your expectations from people who work for you. A mediocre job is unacceptable especially if you are trying to bring your business to the next level.

13 F2Xsites

I agree. Expect the best at the onset and chances are they’ll work on giving you the best.

14 Jona712

Well, how about giving potentially great writers a chance?

15 Peter Wiggins

We are right in the beginning of the process to look for writers so this post and the previous one about applying have been very informative.

Could you post again a few months in with a progress update – Did they work out e.t.c

Peter

16 Rebecca Kelley

Sure, I can do that!

17 SuperbadIM

Wow, that sounds like a helluva project. Those are great tips that I think would be useful for joint ventures too.

I definitely agree with the “difficult in the beginning” tip. Most of the time those people turn out to be the biggest headaches.

Jeff

18 WilmaP

Anyone who’s on the lookout for a job should read this as well. It would help to understand potential employers’ mindset when it comes to finding the right person for the job.

19 MVZP_01

Whoa! I’m glad it wasn’t me who did all that work. Great post, Rebecca!

20 Undercover Affiliate

What makes people great at their jobs is sometimes what makes them difficult.

21 Naji

Hi Rebecca,
It is so refreshing to hear that you guys are focused on quality which is so unlike the trend in the blogging world today where people are just trying to make a quick buck. Personally, I think you just need to be trying people out, looking for people who resonate with your vision because sometines a writer may be good but not suitable for here. Building a great team is like cooking a roast and is best done slowly. I am sure you’ll do a great job as you are so particular. Look forward to the results.
Cheers

22 Rebecca Kelley

Yeah, maybe it’s because I have a writing background so I can’t in good faith hire people without keeping quality in mind. I think that really sets great sites apart from the rest of the competition — who has that awesome “voice” and brings the vibe that really attracts you?

23 Ralph

Great article,

But could you elaborate more about the “contributors” and not being ready for that?
Assuming you use a WordPress site, isn’t it simply adding a new person as a contributor which takes 30 seconds?

Cheers,

Ralph

24 WhoisDoyle

Great article! The tips you shared would definitely come handy for those who are hiring staff for their business.

25 Husher50

I agree on all points you mentioned. #6 resonates most though. The first time I hired people to help me in my small business I couldn’t get myself to be tough on them when the situation demands it. But I realized that I had to if I wanted to see the results/outputs I want from them.

26 newmediaist12

I can’t imagine how you finished reading all those emails and writing samples in just 6 weeks on top of the other things you’re busy with. I can barely find the time to sift through my inbox on a daily basis.

27 TheSandMan5050

What about those extremely talented applicants who seem to be the perfect fit for the jobs you have in mind but have some attitude problems early on? Would you give them a chance or you’ll reject them early on?

28 Runs With Scissors

That depends on the quality of work, of course. If the trial period doesn’t work out then move on to the next candidate.

29 Rebecca Kelley

Yep, I agree with Runs With Scissors. I’m willing to give you a chance, but if you’re bringing chronic issues to the table, it’s best to move along, cowboy.

30 Yes2Freebies

Nice article! I always enjoy reading your guest posts here. Looking forward to the next one. :)

31 WhoSaysWhat01

I guess that would depend on the value the person’s adding to my business. I’d be willing to let go of great talent though if I’m looking at potential troubles managing the work. I’d rather go for both talent and good work attitude than talent alone.

32 NicMoon

Having to sift through 724 emails alone is an awesome feat! I hope it didn’t leave “Google-eyed.” Get it? LOL. Nice to have you back on the bandwagon, Rebecca. :)

33 nealcal

Where’s the LIKE button when you need one?

34 Rebecca Kelley

Hah, the avalanche of emails explains my absence from Shoemoney.com. :)

35 veronica_sm

I totally agree that most hiring decisions are made by intuition during the first few minutes of the interview (or a sample writing output). Mind you, the majority of applicants “exaggerate” to get a job so you have to be extra careful.

36 PattyT12

Hiring the right employee is a challenging process but pays you back in employee productivity, a successful employment relationship as well as a positive impact on your total work environment. Getting the wrong one on board is expensive, costly to your work environment, and time consuming. Nonetheless, I know you did a great job so let me be the first one to say congratulations.

37 Marnie Sho

You’ve shown in this post that networking is a terrific source of leads. I’ll just add that through your professional society or network of contacts you can get referrals for qualified applicants. For mid-to-senior level positions, search firms may represent money well spent. (How did Craigslist fare as a job search portal, by the way?)

38 Nicole Burns

The previous company I worked with preferred tapping Monster to gather qualified candidates. On the other hand, anybody here got an update on this year’s Humongo Nation tour?

39 Rebecca Kelley

I think Craigslist is great when you’re looking for writers, and I know of other businesses who use Craigslist for more high-level positions, so I wouldn’t discount it.

40 RedBlack88

Hiring the right employee enhances your work culture and pays you back a thousand times over in high employee morale, positive forward thinking planning, and accomplishing challenging goals. Great post as usual. Kudos from Indiana.

41 Sanjay

I usually trust my guts when making important decisions. If something doesn’t feel right out of the gate then I don’t do it or at least, re-evaluate my plan.

42 Tammyexperiments

I believe agencies specializing in communications, accounting or legal work can be a source of job candidates, too. Many do direct hires, and temp-to-perm options are a great way to test an applicant before making a decision. Plus, many professional societies have job banks or newsletters, which list positions at no cost and reach a well-targeted pool of applicants.

43 joonlee97

Using LinkedIn and perhaps Facebook just might do the trick, too.

44 H delacruz

In this line, do you agree that most interviewers are not properly trained nor do they like to interview applicants? What’s your two cents’ worth on this?

45 Rebecca Kelley

I think the problem is more that interviewers tend to default to cliche interview tactics (same questions and techniques, regardless of the position or company). I think the process needs to be tweaked depending on what your company’s like and what you’re looking for.

46 Laney Pitt

If I were the one looking for a potential employee, I want to know how interested a candidate is in the position. I want to hear about what makes him or her excited about the opportunity and the company. Given all of the resources available online, I guess this one is a no-brainer. ;)

47 floresparati

Did you check the candidates’ references and employment history? Many employers also ask that applicants agree to credit-history checks and drug screenings.

48 Rebecca Kelley

We didn’t really worry about that since we were hiring freelance writers, but we are more diligent when it comes to hiring for permanent full-time positions.

49 Dandundun

Cisco CEO John Chambers said, “A world-class engineer with five peers can outproduce 200 regular engineers.” Instead of waiting for people to apply for jobs, top organizations spend more time looking for high-caliber people. Your take on this, Rebecca?

50 Bputitout / Putitoutthere

Is it just me or does anybody else here think that item number 6 is the most badass?

51 ExclaimedIdeas

Nice points! Keeping the number of applicants you interview to a small, reasonable number is the way to go. Remember, your time is your money.

52 Ara600_m1

As a former HR assistant, I was trained to gather these key points when looking for a potential candidate:

a. What authority the person has to discipline, hire, and/or fire others and establish performance objectives

b. What financial responsibility, authority, and control the person has

c. What decision-making authority the person has

d. How this person is held accountable for performance objectives for their team, business unit, or organization

e. The consequences they are responsible for when mistakes are made

53 internetFTW

I came across this excerpt when I was looking for great hiring tips a week ago: “The hardest to determine, as well as the most important part of the process, is identifying the people skills a person bring to the job. Each applicant wears a “mask.” A good interviewing and selecting process discovers who is behind that mask and determines if a match exists between the individual and the job. By understanding the applicant’s personality style, values, and motivations, you are guaranteed to improve your hiring and selecting process.”

54 AL0101

I think that the best interview follows a structured process. This doesn’t mean the entire process is inflexible without spontaneity. What it means is, each applicant is asked the same questions and is scored with a consistent rating process.

55 FirenzeZ

Now this is one superb post! 5 stars for you, sister.

56 AnnieLouJ12860

I always get asked to describe a crisis my organization faced and how I managed it when I have a job interview. Must be a protocol, don’t you think?

57 WanderingMommy

Heard this whopper? An applicant was filling out a job application. When he came to the question, “Have you ever been arrested?” He answered, “No.” The next question, intended for people who had answered in the affirmative to the last one, was “Why?” The applicant answered it anyway: “Never got caught.”

58 KrisM77

I’ve got another one that is just as funny:

Employer to applicant: “In this job we need someone who is responsible.”

Applicant: “I’m the one you want. On my last job, every time anything went wrong, they said I was responsible.”

59 medomoc

Mind if I added some ideas? Situational based questions evaluate the applicant’s judgment, ability, and knowledge, so it should be a must when hiring people. The interviewer first gives the applicant a hypothetical situation such as:

“You are a manager, and one of your employees has just told you he thinks another worker is stealing merchandise from the store.”

* What should you do?
* What additional information should you obtain?
* How many options do you have?
* Should you call the police?

60 AnnieP78

Sounds alright to me. Are you an HR practitioner yourself?

61 Robin Sterling

Another Justin Goff follow-up post and we’re definitely good to go. :P

62 Cristina Dy

Way to go, Rebecca!

63 TomYoon

Great post. Enough said. Time for a beer.

64 The American Dream

The worst thing to do in a job interview? See photo of interviewer’s family on desk, point, start laughing uncontrollably.

65 TheUrbanTrekker

I’d give this post three thumbs up!

66 Sandra

This is true that as far as talent is concerned, one has to work hard to trap the same. The best approach in this regard would be – being organized, sticking to your plans, being always prepared and having guts to be tough in the decision making to find the right people to support your objective. The article is nicely covering all these aspects in detail.

67 TYCP Magazine

All of these points are very true. Can’t stress this enough. Anyone that is looking to hire staff need to read this post.

68 Dan

I can relate to you on this one Jeremy. I occasionally use craigslist and similar venues when I need some extra help on a project. It never fails that 90% of the responses I get are from underachievers with over inflated opinions of themselves. I’m not even gonna go into the amounts of spam you have to weed out to even get to those. Fortunately though, there are those few needles in the haystack that make it all worth while. You really do have to stay organized to keep on top if all though.

“You’re allowed to be a hard-ass with your expectations and deadlines because at the end of the day, it’s your business, your money, and your content on the line.” – You hit the nail on the head again Jeremy. I love it!

69 baterias de carro

friend check the references against former jobs

70 web tasarım izmir

useful works thanks a lot

71 Mitch Wilson

I wish I owuld have found this when you posted it or knew you were looking for writers when you were as I could have had a rare opportunity to offer you advice, much of which it seems you have learned the hard way, which is usually the best way anyways. I currently have 18 writers, which means I have “interviewed” many hundreds and have had another 40-50 that didn’t work out.
People ask ask about and complain about money from the get go are usually a huge problem and rarely worth it, I have never had one work out as it seems the same things that make them seem to think they are worth more than their work actually makes, are the ssame ones who use their “great Writing” as a crutch and a reason why they should be able to get away with not meeting other obligations or even do the simple things like sending an email if they need a few days or weeks off or something.
THis is one tough thing but I agree with a lot of what you say here and while I check your site out from time to time, I’m just not a regular so I don’t know how it all worked out but I’ll start clicking around for those names that I see once or twice and then never see again.
As far as building the part where writers enter their articles, this shouldn’t ever be underestimated as aside from going over everything everyone enters, this is the way to make certain things only be able to be entered “your way” or as I call it, the right way. At the very least it gives the writers a good start.
Good luck with all of this and I would love to hear an update, I have been working with writers on my site for a few years and while it might not make a great book, it wuld be something good to share stories and experiences as this is just not something there is a lot out there that has been written about.

72 Sahil Kotak

This would very helpful for me very much.

73 lyndon

Thank you that interesting web-site, although i possibly could certainly not discover the rss feed

74 Candra Oguendo

Hello could I quote some of the material here in this site if I reference you with a link back to your site?

75 CoeurdAlenechiropractor

thank u for the in good insight!

76 Treatment For Frizzy Hair

Great post! #2 to me is very important…Trust your gut. It will never let you down. Love this article!

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