Friday, January 12, 2007

Why I don't take writing tests

A few days ago, I posted a comment on another freelancer's blog about taking editing tests. I'm not sure whether she was complaining about having to take editing tests to prove her abilities, or stating a need for proof, but I suspect it's a little of both. As my comment stated, I don't do much editing because I have a policy of not taking tests.

That's right. I don't take writing tests or editing tests anymore. Unless I'm getting paid to take them, in which case I consider them more of a "trial run" with no strings attached.

My policy has evolved somewhat over the time that I've been freelancing. When I was working full time and didn't need the income from my freelancing, I took tests here and there. But you know what? I never once got a job from a test I took, and here's why: employers who send out these tests typically send them out to everyone who responds to the ad, usually without even reading the applicants' cover letters and resumes. (And, of course, a number of them are usually scams - someone sending a different "test" to every applicant, and therefore getting work for free.) So you're giving away a portion of your time for - what, a 1 in 300 chance that you'll be chosen for the job?

As I got more and more work - and became dependent on my writing as my sole source of income - I stopped taking these tests. I now have enough work to choose between what I want and don't want, and anyone who isn't willing to pay me for my time goes into the "don't want" pile. When I respond to a job ad and receive a request to take a test, I politely explain my position, and redirect their attention to my online portfolio. (Sometimes they didn't read my cover letter to find the link.) If they still want a test, I suggest a paid "trial run." It serves both of our purposes, I think - I get paid for my time, and the client gets to find out whether my writing skill and style will work for him, without any obligation of continuing a relationship with me.

Every once in a while, though, I run into someone who takes offense at my policy of not taking tests unless I'm getting paid for them. Today I dealt with one such case. In response to his request for a writing test, I sent my usual message, explaining the dangers for writers today with all the scams running around, and noting that I wasn't accusing him of anything - I just being careful. He sent a response back that contained three words: "Sure you are," meaning that I was accusing him.

I found that irritating. I wrote back, explaining that I was merely trying to explain the reasoning behind my policy. I then said that if that angered or offended him, I probably would not have wanted to work with him anyway, and (nicely - I hope) suggested that he rethink his attitude if he wants to find a good copywriter.

The email I received in response was even more insulting, yet laughably so. He said he was a copywriter himself, and mocked my attempts to protect myself: "You are naive. 'Be careful' of what? Spending 15 minutes to write a specific sample?" ...When most writers who are active in the online writing community know full well that the problem involves more than that.

He also said, "Refusing to take a writing test is not a 'right.' It is career suicide."

I beg your pardon. I have a definite right to do whatever I want with my career. And if I'm killing my career... Well, it's keeping me awfully busy for a dead career.

I'm posting on this partly because Kathy Kehrli has inspired me to voice a public "Screw you!" once in a while, and partly because I want other writers to know that you don't really have to take writing tests to be successful as a writer. In fact, in my opinion, you'll suffer more than you gain by taking those tests. Set up an online portfolio and use that to showcase the best examples of your work, and only work with clients who either can judge writing skill by looking at previously published clips, or who are willing to pay you for any time you spend creating something custom for them.


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

Glad I inspired you! For the record, I do take editing tests on occasion but I don't take writing tests. If, by this point in my career, I don't have a relevant sample in my portfolio, chances are it's a topic I don't want to write about. And if a potential client isn't willing to accept a portfolio sample, chances are I don't want to work with him/her.

Katharine Swan said...


Thanks for clarifying your position! I should have explained it more clearly.

I agree with you completely - if a potential client can't or won't decide from a portfolio sample, they are most likely not someone I'd want to work with anyway!


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