Have you ever been asked to complete a writing test for a freelance position? Vanessa Infanzon has, several times, and she’s here to share the experience and her tips on how to make the best out of this stressful situation.
Thanks for joining us, Vanessa!
I have been freelance writing for a few years and typically my resume, portfolio and links to two or three of my stories are enough to get my pitch accepted for a paid assignment.
When I was asked this summer to complete a writing test for a permanent, yet still freelance, writing position, I didn’t know what to expect. A Google search produced a few third-party grammar tests, but nothing else of substance.
With little to no information, I went into my first writing test blindly.
On the appointed day, I received an email at exactly 2 p.m.:
Please come up with three Charlotte commercial real estate story ideas on any subject with a hard business angle that you could write today and then write one of them — while still giving us pitches on the other two.
Please write for a general audience, with extra credit for engaging writing, creativity and original reporting. Please send your materials back to me by 3:30 ET.
When I read this, I was shocked by the amount of work in the short timeframe.
I spent the next couple of hours stressed and frantic – calling sources for quotes and writing copy. I did get the job, but I wish I had been better prepared and understood the nature of the test beforehand.
A few months later, when I was asked to complete a writing test for another company, I knew what to expect and felt more in control of the situation.
Here’s how it went:
We’re always looking for great freelancers and start with a mini-assignment. If you’re interested, head to this link and we’ll get the process started.
[Link to test ]
– Your friends at Company X
The tone of this test was different. My assignment was to make a list of five to six things including descriptions and photos. No deadline, no pressure. It was as different as night and day from my first freelance writing test experience.
Writing tests are a part of a freelancer’s job, so we might as well learn how to tackle them. I enlisted the help of a few other writers to compile this list of suggestions to help navigate writing tests.
1. Set realistic expectations.
I made the mistake of not asking anything about my first writing test beforehand. I wrongly assumed the test would be third-party administered, looking for grammar and a basic understanding of writing. Obviously, I was wrong.
Other writers mentioned that many of the tests were company designed. Sometimes they were asked to conduct an on-the-spot interview, write headlines, press releases, Facebook and blog posts.
In my experience, I’ve found that the test matches the style of the company, site or magazine that you’re applying to.
2. Ask a lot of questions.
Here’s what I wish I had asked:
- How is the test administered?
- Is it a third-party test or one that the company designed?
- What is the purpose of the test?
- When do I get the results of the test?
- Are there parts of the test I can prepare for ahead of time?
- Will I be expected to conduct an interview?
- May I have extra time?
- Do I need sources for the story?
- What is the expected word count?
- Should I include a headline?
- How do I submit the story – Word, Google Docs, insert into email?
- How important is grammar?
3. Study the site you’re writing for.
Every site has its own style, so that’s what you should try to emulate for the writing test. Look over the stories and notice how they write their headlines, how often they use quotes, what length the articles are and whether they use subheadings for longer stories.
Do they use a lot of photographs?
Are listicles common for the site?
Do they use AP style or do they have their own styleguide?
4. Determine the purpose of the test.
When I interviewed with the editor-in-chief after my very first writing test, I was told the purpose of the test was to see how I wrote and made decisions under pressure. Now that I have been writing for this company for a few months, I know the test was an accurate indicator for the demands of the job.
For the low-pressure test, that writing position has proven to be steady work with less stress.
There may not always be a direct correlation between the test and the work, but it does give me cause to analyze future testing situations attached to a position.
5. Stay focused on the task at hand.
I made the mistake of answering my phone and even checking emails and social media during the two-and-a-half-hour test. It cost me valuable time and added to my stress level.
I recommend limiting interruptions in order to stay productive.
6. Be aware of time.
For timed tests, make a quick outline of tasks and an estimate of how long they each will take. Set a timer for 30-minutes prior to the deadline for edits, spell check and any last-minute details.
7. Set up your workspace.
Assuming you will take the test from your office, be sure to have your computer, paper, pens, AP style book, water and small snack ready. I had my digital recorder out as well as an extra phone. Double-check that technology and WiFi are working.
8. Be prepared for anything.
No matter how much you prepare for the test, some elements of the writing test will be unknown to you. If appropriate, contact possible sources ahead of time to let them know you may need them for a quote.
9. They like your work, now what?
Once you’ve invested the time and energy into a writing test and are offered the position, your first instinct may be to accept the job.
I recommend evaluating the experience and your interactions with the editor – if it fits your working style, then give it a try. If not, then move on to another challenge and know that you’ve added a new skill to your writer’s toolbox.
Do you have any writing test experiences you’d care to share? Any more tips you might add?