"Required reading" for today's smart writer.

"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Information & inspiration to hone your craft and increase your cash...Since 2009

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Testing For Writers...? Should Writers be Screened to Score Jobs?

“Sorry, we can not find a job for you at this time."  
My eyes stayed affixed at the message in sheer surprise and disbelief.
I didn’t quite know whether to laugh or cry.

In an effort to join a placement service for freelance writers, I signed up with an agency I read about in a weekly writer’s newsletter.
It seemed easy enough. Or so the Ad promised.

But, once I logged in with my information, I discovered an online test would be required to complete the application process. No problem, I thought.

After all, in my former school days, I was a spelling bee whiz, an honors program student, a proud grammarian, and a nerd by classification. So I confidently clicked to the next page…

Then came “the big reveal“; it was timed.

Panic began to set in.
To make a long story short, in the span of 15 minutes, applicants would have to successfully answer problems in 5 different proficiency areas. They included: spelling, homophones, word scrambles, and well…the rest is a blur.

It was harder than I thought. I needed a cigarette. And I don’t even smoke.

At the conclusion, I scored 87% out of 100. Not too shabby, in my eyes. Considering I had the distraction of phones ringing in the background, and hadn’t had time to prepare for the exam. In their eyes it didn‘t matter; I would not be “graduating” to the next level.

Lessons come in many forms. And sometimes failures can develop us as much as successes.

With this in mind, I’d like to share a few things this humbling experience has imparted.

More Competition Brings Greater Screening…
Blame it on the ease of entry due to the Internet, or a struggling economy; there’s no doubt that freelance writing has become as competitive as professional sports. It seems everybody’s doing it.

Consequently, publishers, editors, and businesses are often bombarded with requests for work whenever ads are posted at popular bulletin boards and listings. For high-paying publications, the response is even more overwhelming.

To weed out the wannabes from the top writers, often tests are put in place.

Over the last few years, I have had to ace several to land good paying gigs. You will too. Here are “standard” ones you can expect to encounter.

Essay exams--More and more, top sites, (like Lifehack.org and Opencolleges.edu), are requesting that applicants submit an original, “sample” blog post, lesson, or article to demonstrate their skill and writing style. These typically range from 200-700 words. You may be given a designated topic, or the option to choose your own. Follow the directions carefully, for optimal results.

Editing tests---Often, writers rely on software programs and spell check functions to catch their creative errors. This is not always an effective approach. To make sure that writers produce quality work, (that requires minimal “tweaking”) some places provide editing tests where writers must identify grammatical errors or spelling flaws before being considered for available assignments.

Software and content management proficiency---Can you excel at Excel software? Create charts and attachments? Resize photos? Enter your work in the Wordpress platform? Lately, I’ve come across a number of writing positions that require technical mastery as part of the criteria. How would you measure up?

Now that you know what you can expect, here are some timely tips to help you score more gigs and ace more writing-related exams:

Be prepared.This is more than a Boy Scouts’ motto. It’s a mandate for writers who are serious about competing for top paying jobs. Preparation should be both mental and physical. For example, prize fighting boxer Muhammad Ali would often repeat: “I am the greatest” to give himself confidence and a winning edge. Your ritual might include a cup of caffeine and a morning prayer. Or it may simply be making sure that the room in which you work is clear of clutter, quiet and comfortable.
Hone your craft to increase your cash.
Never stop learning. Just because you’ve been out of a formal classroom for a while doesn’t mean that you should stop studying. There are an array of books and online classes to brush up on composition skills, literary techniques and grammar basics. Writerscollege.com and Coffeehouseforwriters.com are two popular online providers.
Practice makes perfect.
When blogging first came out, I was clueless on how to set up a site and work with gadgets. Technical stuff is not my strong suit. To help to overcome this learning curve, I set up a “dummy” blog, that I would use to test design, formatting, and other applications. After some trial and error, I got it right. Don’t let writing obstacles prevent you from having a prosperous career. Identify your needed areas of weakness, and continuously work on them.

Remember, a well-prepared writer is often a well-paid writer.

Thoughts? Would you take a test for a writing job? Do you think they're necessary?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net


  1. Mmmm, not really inclined to, however since I enjoy typing, yeeeeeears ago I did do a typing course, and also actually got a typing diploma.

    (even had a little more typing speed
    than the 'Standard')

    Possibly companies that are somewhat insecure about their competitive powers, might be inclined to focus very strongly on very specific qualities, and design lot's
    of hoops to jump through.

    Only chances are that when you focus to much on something, it might become somewhat the same as 'Re arranging deck chairs on the Titanic', and possibly not alway's a guarantee for getting the best people for the job.

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksAugust 23, 2013 at 5:37 AM


      Thanks for your thoughtful feedback, and for starting us off here. :-)

  2. I don't know if I'd take a test or not - it would depend on the job, I think. I've nearly given up on applying for certain writing jobs online; it seems there are so many hoops to jump through. But then, I understand to a certain extent; they often do need a way to screen applicants. It's a conundrum. :) Thanks so much for these great tips!

    1. Jennifer Brown BanksAugust 23, 2013 at 5:38 AM


      It's a new day, right? :-) We, as writers, must prepare ourselves for an ever-changing industry, it seems. Glad you liked the tips provided. Thanks!