Content strategy jobs survey results part 4 – what skills/experience boost pay levels?

Aka: ‘10 ways for content strategists to get a pay rise’. How much hirers are paying for both freelance and salaried content strategy jobs was the topic of our first survey results post on pay. Now we review our Content Strategy Hiring Trends Survey* responses for what hirers will pay more for when hiring in a content strategist.

We asked: What skills/experience would bump up the pay level for a content strategist?

Our respondents replied with a list of desirables, from management experience to sector specialisation to coding abilities. We’ve gathered the responses into a list of 10 key areas for jobseekers to focus on.

1. Business/user analytical skills

“Understanding of business goals vs consumer needs”; “Strategic planning or user experience background”; “The ability to bring in new customers” – were some of the responses from our respondent hirers.

Strategising content based on both business and user needs is a key task of content strategy. Analysis to find the sweet spot between what a business wants to achieve and what customers want to know is critical in in helping to improve the performance of content and in demonstrating ROI. Job candidates should always document their successes and be able to provide examples of measurable outcomes for the business side of content strategy.

As well as having a strong understanding of business objectives, the content strategist should be fluent in speaking the client’s language and able to work across the whole organisation – coming from one silo is not viewed as enough.

2. Strategic planning

Desirable skills mentioned here were: “The capacity to help clients make business cases”, “Out-of-the-box content planning skills”; “Problem-solving”; and “Taking the utter ravings of a marketing executive and translating them into IA and CMS requirements, while still adhering to the larger business’ content governance policy”.

Several respondents also noted the need for real, practical experience – not just talking the talk – and said they would pay more as a result: “If the person had 10+ years in relevant experience (not just content strategy), we’d pay accordingly.” Again, candidates need to back up their CVs with examples and evidence of strategic planning – and, don’t forget, we recruiters do carry out checks!

3. Relevant parallel web skills

Visual/UX components, information architecture background, writing for ecommerce, analytics skills and experience of creating wireframes were all quoted as rate-raisers.

4. Relevant parallel industry experience

Similarly, competencies in video/brand content and content marketing were on a number of our survey respondents’ wish lists.

5. Technical know-how

It’s no surprise that rates often rise when a candidate also understands the technical side of content (as well as having those all-important analytical skills). Knowledge of HTML, XML and CSS, content migration planning and CMS implementation/management were all quoted in our survey results. Some hirers also required more in-depth developer skills, such as Python/Perl scripting abilities.

6. Sector experience

An increasingly common request we’re seeing in digital comms job adverts is for previous experience in a specific industry sector or niche. Our hirers were willing to pay extra, for example, for experience in gaming, non-profits, health, pharma and financials. The more highly regulated the industry, the more in-demand proven industry experience will be – good news for those willing to specialise or technical communicators coming from these types of background.

7. Social media savvy

Relevant skills cited here included: “Exceptional experience in a broad range of communication channels and multi-devices”; “A strong understanding of content distribution systems”; “SEO”; “Cross-selling capabilities”.

Essentially, content strategists need understanding of how to get content out there once it has been created – and in a way that fits the different contexts that the content will be distributed in. Content aftercare may also include planning for responses to distributed content. The ability to take part in the conversation and community surrounding a business’s offering can be very important for some hirers.

8. Project management, presentation and training skills

Quite a few of our survey respondents were looking for “excellent project management skills”. While many of the other ‘asks’ cited here are content-related, a content strategist may also have to lead the project – or at least liaise with other departments and stakeholders to achieve a final sign-off on strategy. They need the “ability to speak and present to senior stakeholders” and several hirers also cited the ability to manage other content strategists.

Strong presentation skills, cross-selling capabilities, and the ability to give trainings and workshops to educate about content strategy or business goals were also mentioned. The unspoken extra here is that job candidates ideally need to have good people skills.

9. Speaking another language

Only one of our respondents mentioned this but, as recruiters based in Europe, we find that knowledge of other languages can be a very useful value-add – especially when working for multi-nationals or involved in localisation of content.

10. Reputation

“A proven track record with us on other projects”; “Working in global accounts”; “Working with top-tier clients” – it seems survey respondents will pay not only based on a good track record but job candidates are also rated on the types of clients they have worked with in the past.

As our survey post on how content strategists are being hired showed, word-of-mouth dominates when it comes to recruitment in content strategy – so if you want to get ahead in the field, aim to develop a glowing track record and top-tier clients.


The breadth of employers’ requirements highlighted here adds fuel to Firehead’s previous review of 30 content strategy job ads, which showed high salaries but correspondingly senior and wide-ranging job requirements.

Many digital comms professionals who are transitioning into the content strategy field – from tech comm, web editing, IA, UX, marketing and so on – will need to expand their skills and experience accordingly, and we hope that these survey insights will help candidates assess where they may be lacking experience.

For those already working as content strategists, it’s an opportunity to see a wider view of the content strategy landscape and to benchmark your own skills and career.

While this list shows the current wish list of content strategy hirers, we have to acknowledge that the field is still evolving. As Richard Sheffield, author of The Web Content Strategist’s Bible, says in how to get a job in content strategy: “The most important advice I can give you regarding your job search is: Don’t believe everything you read in Web content strategist’s job descriptions!”

We also recommend reading Richard Ingram’s excellent survey of content strategy skills and his diagram on the various paths into content strategy (see finding your content strategy in).

More results to come: in our forthcoming posts, we look at what saves employers money when it comes to content strategy and some of the problems employers have experienced when hiring a content strategist.

* Our online survey questionnaire was disseminated via the Firehead blog and social networks inviting responses from anyone in a position to hire in content strategy work, from HR managers to department heads. The survey remained open from 1 March to 1 August 2012. We also contacted a number of recruiters on Firehead’s client list as part of the exercise. The 30 respondent hirers came from a range of countries and backgrounds. Further results will be shared here on the Firehead blog. Firehead is a leading recruiter in digital communications and is based in Europe.

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