Test assignment for a copywriting job?

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Dr. Freelance, I am a new, part-time freelancer in the midst of interviewing for a copywriting job and was given a 200-word test assignment by the prospective client to complete in order to make it to the next round. The instructions in the email say that “points are given to creativity,” so I’m trying to decide whether to do a simple mock up, even though the job I’m being considered for does not require any graphic design. I am spending the majority of my time before the deadline on writing creative copy, but I just wanted to see what you think about trying to push that creativity into fleshing out the concept.—The Prospector

Prospector, to me, it sounds like they’re asking just for content in a Word doc. That said, if you wanted to do a very basic design (i.e., making head/subhead a little bigger, etc.) to show how it would function, it’s kind of a judgment call. I am a lousy designer, so I always just tag the components with text — [head], [subhead], [call to action box] — in the same way I would convey the information to a graphic designer. Doing something like that conveys that you know the language, without going overboard. There’s always the risk that someone doesn’t like your design, which would undermine your copywriting.

Personally, for a copywriting job, I would put the effort into making the copy great (offering a couple of different headline options), and not spend the time/energy pretending to be a graphic designer — but, as I say, it’s a judgment call, and I have no way of knowing what’s in the decisionmakers’ heads!

I realize you didn’t ask, but I feel obligated to add a general comment about doing a “test assignment” as a freelancer. 200 words isn’t outrageous as far as creating a sample of your copywriting skills, but it leaves all the advantages to the prospective client, who gets a bunch of free samples to choose from. (It’s akin to my issue with freelance bidding sites.) Early in your career, doing a test assignment may be a necessary evil; eventually, you’ll want your freelance portfolio to do the talking.

Two final strategic thoughts:

  • If you don’t get the gig, you should follow up with the prospective client and find out if they’ll give you any feedback that can help you craft future presentations. They might not, but it’s worth a shot.
  • If you do get the copywriting job, great! But don’t forget to charge a little extra for your first paid writing assignment or two to account for the time you spent working for free.

Happy prospecting!

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  1. says

    Great advice, Jake. I’m not a fan of unpaid samples, but there are cases like this where it’s warranted. I might, if I were Prospector, push back a little. “Well, normally I do provide samples for a small price — I can do this one for $25.” It’s small, but it shows you’re not a pushover on the free stuff.

    My fear would be they’d come back saying something like “You’re still in the running! For this test, we’ll need 1,000 words….”

  2. says

    Interesting tactical thought, Lori. And yes, it crossed my mind to bring up “what happens in Round 2?” but I was already at 400 words. I’ve asked Prospector to keep me posted on what happens, and will share if he gets back to me.