writer job interview questions and answers honest answers

Have you ever thought of answering job interview questions 100% honestly? Like, painfully so, without the shoulds and musts, of what you should say and who you should be, imposed by The Balance Careers and the like affecting you?

Apparently not, because as I was trying to find a title for this piece, I realized there was nothing similar online.

We’ve grown so accustomed to this way of being and working, that now the hiring process is deeply flawed.

As someone who is trying to live intentionally and mindfully, using a safe formula of what I think the hiring manager or the lead editor wants to hear feels a bit wrong.

While I’ve never lied in interviews, I know for a fact that I’ve given part-truths more often than I’d like to admit, and I know that’s the case for a lot of my friends and colleagues too. Strangely, I believe this is exactly what’s asked of us during the hiring process. Below is my contribution to the story, and some of my genuine, hella long-winded answers to the most common writer interview questions I’ve been asked during the years. I’ll try to update often, feel free to share your hiring horror stories in the comments.

  1. What motivates you to perform your best work?
  2. What has been your best/favorite learning experience?
  3. Have you ever had to tackle complex challenges?
  4. For you, what’s the hardest part about being a writer?
  5. What are your different writing styles and what tones of writing do you have experience with?
  6. What are your favorite/main writing tools?
  7. In a short bulleted list, what are your steps to writing and launching an article/blog post?
  8. How do you decide what topic to write on?
  9. Tell us something unique about your writing style.
  10. What was a cool project you did, and why?
  11. If you were the CEO, which three rules would you implement in the company?
  12. What do you know about our organization/company/agency?
  13. Why did you leave your last job?
  14. What are your salary expectations?
  15. Why do you want to work for X Company?
  16. Anything else you’d like us to know?

What motivates you to perform your best work?

Also known as: What’s important to you in the workplace?

I mean, we know by now motivation and willpower alone aren’t enough to stick with a habit or engage with healthy behavior (or not engage with unhealthy behavior) in the long-term. So if I rely on motivation alone to perform my best work, that’s not exactly good news for you, and definitely not for me. I mean, I’d have to live life on the edge based on caprices of the moment, I’d do things for the rush waiting for that next reward.

I love dogs and giving them treats for being good boys/girls/non binary babies, but I don’t enjoy relying on that reward system for work, which is quite an important aspect of my life.

Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.

James Clear, Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated

The quote above is from an exhaustive guide on motivation by James Clear. I believe his approach around motivation and “doing it even when you don’t feel like it” is more powerful in building habits that stick (like, loving your job and performing your best work regardless) than being motivated by external events and depending on spurs of energy and creativity to do my best work.

Consistency is key. I even wrote about it, comparing writing to love. “Sellout!” Maybe.

But what I’ve learned throughout the years, again and again, is that love is a verb, an action.

Just like we have to water plants for them to bloom, we have to invest in relationships for them to thrive.

We have to love actively.

Whereas I can appreciate science from afar, to be able to answer “What’s an interesting thing you’ve done lately?” with “Writing.”, I have to write. A helluva lot.

I try to do my best work actively, so I can train that muscle and rely on habits.

So, in a way, nothing can motivate me, just like nothing can demotivate me.

I go with the ebbs and flows of life and work, continuously adjusting my sails. I try to recognize the triggers (mindlessly hearing/talking to coworkers as I have gone over the same sentence 20 times) that distance me from my best work; try to perfect my craft, to constantly update my writing calendar with ideas for new pieces, edits, research so that I’m never left having to rely on my inspiration, motivation. Writer’s block? Haven’t heard that name in years.

That being said

As far as environments I thrive in, or types of colleagues I love working with, I’ll mention some values that matter to me below.

I don’t really care for friendly, if anything, over the top friendliness when it’s obvious your relationship isn’t on that stage yet, is a red flag I tend to avoid.

Here’s what I care about.

Reliability

For me, one of the worst qualities someone can have, in workplace settings and beyond, is being unreliable. Someone isn’t reliable when:

  • I don’t know if I can count on them for a project
  • Their performance depends on how they’re feeling that day and whenever I need their support, I have to hope they’re “feeling productive” and willing to work 
  • They say they’ll do something and they don’t (Naval said: “Integrity is what someone does, despite what they say they do.”)

As a writer, I work with developers, designers, social media managers, account managers, customer service reps, product managers, on a weekly basis, and those are some of the people I work with.

Knowing I can rely on someone to do their job to the best of their knowledge is a feeling that drives me. That’s when I feel the “team” talks!

Transparency, honesty, accountability, an overall commitment to the truth

I trust the strength of the truth so badly I got it tattooed on me:

“Honesty simplifies things”

It goes hand in hand with another principle I strongly value, accountability.

Honesty saves time, energy, money, jobs even. Things inevitably go wrong, being able to remain open, flexible, and willing to take responsibility is important to me.

For me, this extends the four walls of the office/the open space/the beach I’m remotely working from, and doesn’t only apply in-house. I thrive in environments where clients get exactly what they’re promised. 

As a content writer, especially when working with companies with new content teams which lack a “content culture,” and aren’t yet as profitable or well structured as more traditional departments, it’s very important to me that I’m honest about expectations and deliverability, and that so is my team with clients and me.

As Tommy Walker, veteran content marketer who ran content at ConversionXL, Shopify Plus and QuickBooks, said in this AMA for Superpath:

I also made it very clear from the outset that I am a chef, not a short order cook, and I needed time to gather my ingredients and put the recipes together.

While I’m very passionate about growth and going beyond my comfort zone, I don’t feel comfortable promising more than I can deliver.

Strangely, I perform quite well under pressure, and deadlines not only do not stress me, but actually do the opposite, but still, I like to work when I have the time, resources, and all the necessary “ingredients” to create the most decadent recipe ever.

Respect

Respect may seem painfully obvious (I also wrote about the painfully obvious and the purpose it serves), but it’s not a value as common as I’d thought.

Pick partners with intelligence, energy and integrity. You can’t compromise on any of these three.

Naval Ravikant, How to Get Rich

I like positive people a lot. While I find it hard to compromise on intelligence and integrity as well, I can definitely take grumpy energy or someone who’s not very energetic or communicative, as long as they’re respectful and do their job.

What has been your best/favorite learning experience?

Ask me what’s my favorite book too, won’t you?!

It’s hard to choose a singularity simply because I’ve been shaped so strongly and changed so deeply from what I’ve learned, read, experienced.

A relatively isolated country, Albania was occupied by the Ottoman Empire for four centuries and cut off from Western civilization for the same duration. Then, for 40 years, Albanians were under a controlling dictatorship, during which, according to Balkan Insight, “around 18,000 people were imprisoned for political reasons; some 6,000 were executed”. 

The tyranny was destructive for many Albanian families, economically and psychologically. Democracy hadn’t reserved a better future for Albania, and eight years after the collapse of the dictatorship, conflicts, wars, crime, deaths, robberies reached sky-high levels during the infamous 1997 year.

There’s a lot to say about Albania that’s positive, unusual, amazing even, but that’s not why we’re here.

Growing up in Albania, a slowly developing country where not a lot of resources were readily available, I’ve felt first hand the undeniable importance of learning. 

I would be a different person completely if it weren’t for the books, podcasts, videos, talks, conversations I observed from another continent, from -what felt at times like- a different world.

I’d be a different person if it weren’t for the books my parents read, if it wasn’t for the learning path they decided to pursue.

That’s why learning holds a special place in my heart and is sacred to me.

That’s why it’s hard for me to choose “one” learning experience. 

That being said

When I took the Buddhism and Modern Psychology course, it greatly impacted me. It’s the main reason I decided to start meditating, and why I chose a mindful lifestyle overall. 

The other transformative, favorite learning experience was obtaining my psychology degree. I wrote about my uncomplicated relationship with learning here and about my psychology degree here

Michelle Obama put it this way in Becoming:

Education had been the primary instrument of change in my own life, my lever upward in the world.

Same.

Have you ever had to tackle complex challenges?

For a lot of projects, the writing role usually involves translating complex topics into copy that’s easy-to-understand.

As I’ve mentioned in my Now page:

“For the last 21 years, the company group I work for has offered communication solutions to millions of people. With 9 SaaS agencies and a huge focus on communication, you’d be surprised to hear I’m the first writer they ever hired! ATM: enjoying the honor, learning curve, independence, and structure.

Being the in-house writer for 9+ companies that are quite unrelated to each other is an upward hill, but the view is beautiful. I’ve had to learn and develop my overall knowledge while writing for a listing service, a time-management/productivity system, a recruitment agency, a loyalty program software, a digital agency, an online course platform, a cultural magazine, a real estate private index, among others. Recently, I had to write for a client who had a funeral business.

Managing this workload is definitely complex, but it’s also exactly the way I like to work- coming up with new ideas every day, learning continuously, writing for different niches, growing.

For you, what’s the hardest part about being a writer?

I was asked this recently. Trying to come up with a satisfying answer, I gave the worst one: “I’d say I struggle with prioritizing. As a creative person who has a lot of ideas and verticals to work with, it gets overwhelming sometimes being the only person in charge of deciding which piece of content comes next, or what department I should highlight, or what article would better suit our businesses goals, or whether I shouldn’t focus on business goals for this one, but actually on values… But I make do.”

If you know me, you know I have no issue prioritizing, at all. Since I’ve been working as a content team of one for the past two years, if I couldn’t prioritize accurately, I’d be f-i-r-e-d. With this answer, I think I was trying to showcase my resourcefulness, and casually bring up one of my proudest achievements, my portfolio filled with content ideas for upcoming articles, so that I could point to the fact I never run out of things to write about or feel writer’s block.

What’s the actual hardest part about being a writer?

Everything that comes to mind feels trivial.

Maybe because I’m still on the honeymoon phase (despite being on the job since 2017), too junior to have gone to the dark side of writing enough times to recognize a pattern.
Maybe because I’ve written and wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and now that I’m paid to be one, it feels “ungrateful” to complain.

Or maybe because I’ve gotten to that sweet spot where my career is an important part of my life, but still not a fundamental part of my personality, meaning I can separate my feelings from it and view the journey objectively.

Or maybe because I’ve gotten to that sweet spot where my career is an important part of my life, but still not a fundamental part of my personality, meaning I can separate my feelings from it and view the journey objectively.

I know giving this answer to a hiring manager would be considered a red flag and point to an unchallenging job environment. So I “make do” with other answers.

What are your different writing styles and what tones of writing do you have experience with?

I specialize in B2B writing, long-form writing, and web content writing. Experienced in personal development blog writing, ad copy, landing pages web content, social media, email marketing, etc., I’ve become a skilled writer with a wide range of expertise, having written for the tech, food, advertising, health industry, etc. My tone in writing is personal and informal, always optimistic, sometimes humorous. I’m experienced in descriptive and persuasive writing styles.

Vanilla answer just for the sake of it. Point is, I’ve written a lot of things (not a book, no) and I intend to keep writing forever.

What are your favorite/main writing tools?

Evernote for writing, ZenPen for a minimal writing space, Google Docs and Airtable for sharing and receiving feedback, Yoast SEO plugin and Ubbersuggest for optimization, Grammarly for spell checking and grammar errors, Sharethrough for titles, Copyscape for plagiarism. I haven’t had the chance to try the Hemingway App, but I’ve heard wonderful things about it also. I enjoy writing directly on my CMS as well (WordPress). Visual editor, but not full screen mode.

Not a tool per se, but a favorite writing tip is saving things offline. Inspired by a journalist on Twitter sharing her horror stories with losing work because of dead sites or bankrupt businesses, I saved ~60 of my pieces which were in pages I don’t own, or won’t have any control over if I leave the project. 

Also, nothing beats pen and paper for coming up with ideas or remembering what’s important.

In a short bulleted list, what are your steps to writing and launching an article/blog post?

It all comes down to the parts in bold, but please read below for the more detailed method.

  • Research: reading articles on the matter, watching interviews of industry leaders, asking coworkers, etc.
  • Make sure what I’m going to say hasn’t been said before or hasn’t been tackled at from my perspective
  • Setting a purpose for the post: what (desired outcome) and who is it for (target audience)?
  • Writing an outline: what will the article consist of? What should a reader know by the end of the article?
  • First draft
  • Light SEO as needed
  • Find photos that make the words “shine”/ Work with the designer to create info-graphics or other complementary data
  • Edit reading backward for spelling mistakes and from top to bottom for meaning
  • Add any sources, credit, additional info that might’ve been forgotten
  • Content distribution as needed when I’m in charge of that too

Sometimes it’s not a straightforward process, and these steps massively depend on the type of writing that’s needed. 

For The Inner Dolphin, I’m the sole decision-maker, I just sit down and write because writing is an essential part of who I am (also, because I said I would and I try to keep my promises). 

Most of my full-time jobs have been new positions where I was in charge of building the company’s content writing stack, which is kind of similar to being the sole decision-maker, especially if there’s no content culture.

TL;DR: It depends.

How do you decide what topic to write on?

Writers are first and foremost readers. I consider research an important part of my day as a writer. The best way to explain my process is to think of me with a thought bubble over my head containing the following:

  1. An issue the company is trying to solve
  2. Last impressive piece I read
  3. Patterns I’ve been noticing lately (in the industry or in daily conversations) and how I can beautifully tie them all together

Tell us something unique about your writing style.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been writing. As long as I’ve known the alphabet, that is. It’s absolutely an enjoyable process for me, ironically, hard to put into words.

My writing style combines the craft of storytelling; the voice of a warrior, who fought hard to have that voice heard (the communist regimen my parents lived under punished any form of free speech and this mentality was hard to shake off from our generation as well); restless research; empathy for the readers’ time and attention; viewed through a psychological lens.

What was a cool project you did, and why?

In my country, International Women’s Day is widely recognized as the day women get flowers. No protests and no recognition of their hard labor and contributions to society. We can’t change the world, but we can start with ourselves, in my case with the startup I worked at (ENGAL).

During the project, I wrote about the women who worked with me day to day, interviewing them and highlighting their work, strengths, and inspirational qualities, which there were plenty of. The project was successful, inside the company and out of it. One of the women even told me she reconciled with her difficult mother because of it!

If you were the CEO, which three rules would you implement in the company?

  1. I’d make “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work” a mandatory read and a mission
  2. I’d make “Work like the client is you in two years” a mandatory read and a mission
  3. Corny and not precisely a rule, but the quote “Work hard, be kind and amazing things will happen.” is something I live by

What do you know about our organization/company/agency?

Well, if I’m applying for an opportunity, I only get the absolutely necessary information, in the smallest amount possible.

If we have scheduled an interview, though, I have probably spent at least half a day learning more about the project, staff, culture, mission, all that.

Recently, after an unfortunate occurrence, Glassdoor and Trustpilot reviews are part of the mandatory research too. Glassdoor is self-explanatory (please, please, do not rely on the website copy only), but Trustpilot matters to me because clients (see: people) matter to me.

Why did you leave your last job?

Because clients (see: people) matter to me.

If you were looking for a more detailed answer, my article Here’s Why I Quit My New Job After 4 Hours and Didn’t Look Back might give you a better understanding of the reason(s) why I would quit a job.

What are your salary expectations?

I really, really like Buffer’s transparent formula and Basecamp’s models for salaries, like, you tell me!

Considering we know women (and other marginalized groups) tend to undervalue their worth, considering we know women ask for raises as frequently as men, yet don’t get them as often, and other similar factors related to the country of origin, race, age, etc., my humble opinion is that companies need to work towards a future which involves transparent salaries and a clearly set formula to make sure everyone gets what they’re worth.

Why do you want to work for X Company?

It’s easy for me to answer this question no matter who’s asking, I’ll explain why in a bit.

Why do I want to work for you? Besides having the required experience and skills, after writing a few paragraphs reflecting my suitability for the job, as well as my compatibility with the company and its culture, I usually end on this note (the interchanging variables are in italics):

I take pride in my craftsmanship and organizational skills, love feedback, thrive in positions involving minimal hand-holding, and I’m very enthusiastic about details. I believe my go-getter mindset and passion for effective communication would make me an excellent hire for X Company, and I’d love to work with you.

And I’m not lying, those are qualities I posses. Am I the best at CRM? Nah. Am I the best public speaker? Nah. Am I good at sales? Nope. So I only mention things I can back up.

Besides the company name variable, the other one is based on what I liked about the company or product.

For example, I might’ve mentioned my passion for effective communication for a freelance opportunity at a copywriting agency.

Because I’m a multi-passionate being, I might mention my passion for beautiful things, for elegant interfaces, for education, my commitment against gender based violence, my dislike of “Bad Tech” and dedication to leave behind a better internet, my passion for mental health, animal rights, books, language, financial literacy, culture, arts, and all kinds of things. And I mean it every single time.

Anything else you’d like us to know?

Looking for a writer? Am I going to be your girl?

If you need a writer, -and adding descriptive adjectives to describe the kind of writer I’d be, feels redundant at this point- reach out.

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