Questions to ask before hiring a case study writer

By this point, you’ll have just two or three strong candidate case study writers. Spend a half hour speaking with each of them. What they say and don’t say will give you a clear idea of whom you can trust to speak with your clients. Get a sense for their experience by asking about their process. Assess their strategic thinking by asking how many case studies they recommend you produce. Check their listening skills and inclination for asking follow-up questions. If you can’t decide between two strong candidates, invest in a practical test.

Once you’ve winnowed down your pool of candidate case study writers to two or three, you’ll want to speak with them. As discussed in What to look for in a case study writer, they must have good communication skills, establish rapport quickly, and demonstrate a keen mind for business and marketing.

To get a sense for those intangibles as well hard skills, use these prompts to inspire your own line of questions for your candidates.

Interviewing case study writers? Use these prompts to assess their communication styles, personalities, and thought processes.
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“What’s your process?”

Your case study writer should have a clear, concise and readily explainable process for producing case studies. See How to ensure your case study writer’s success for a description of what you should listen out for.

“How many case studies should we produce?”

When asked this question, the case study writer’s answer will give a good indication of his strategic thinking.

If you represent a small or young company, you don’t need a ton of case studies. It’s enough to profile any customer’s success that you can. As you progress, you want to become pickier about the clients you profile in a case study. (Find more detail in Do you have customer success stories to tell?)

“Are you unafraid of asking ‘dumb’ questions?”

As we saw in Pick his brains for all they’re worth, your prospective case study writer doesn’t need to be an authority on your company’s industry or offering, but he must be willing to ask questions that may seem dumb at first.

In case study writers, a willingness to ask ‘dumb’ questions trumps subject matter expertise.
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Why? He has one shot in the client interview. Just like a reporter, your case study writer must adeptly elicit and synthesize your customers’ success stories. He’s a storyteller, not a subject matter expert. If he fails to dig into the contact’s answers, he’ll either have to make do with mediocre content (and produce a mediocre case study), or he’ll have to engage the contact for another call or a conversation over email. All of these consequences spawn from an unwillingness to ask dumb questions and get the content he needs on the first attempt.

In your preliminary interview, you want to see proof that he has researched your company. But you should also try to stump him. You want to see that he has the confidence to ask questions, even if he ‘should’ know the answer.

“Are you a good listener?”

Some of the best content from client interviews comes when the conversation wanders off the planned questions. In those moments, clients will spontaneously reveal a glint of insight or emotion. If your case study writer is more concerned about asking all of his questions than he is about the contact’s story, he may miss those gems.

Some of the best content for customer success stories come when the conversation wanders off the planned questions.
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To test your case study writer’s listening skills, give him some information and then contradict yourself. You could:

  • say that you want to get started next week, but later say ‘next month’
  • use two colleagues’ names interchangeably when describing your team’s structure
  • say that ‘cost savings’ is your clients’ highest priority, then later state that it’s regulatory compliance

If he seeks clarification, you’ll know he’s been listening attentively and he’s willing to engage your contacts in a conversation. That will be essential when your clients digress. (Everyone digresses. It’s human nature and it’s where the real gems lie.)

Invest in a practical test

If you’re having a hard time deciding between two candidates, pay them each a small sum to audit a few of your existing case studies and present their recommendations.

Struggling to choose a case study writer? Commission finalists to suggest ways to improve your existing case studies.
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If one candidate’s results amount to ‘Looks good,’ take it as a red flag. You should rightly expect to get some value out of this preliminary work. Get a one-page checklist of items that should come up in a case-study audit (forthcoming).

At this point you’re looking for substance, not style. You don’t need a well-presented report. An email reply will suffice, and will allow you to make a smarter decision sooner.

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