Pivoting off of this discussion on whether or not a college degree is a requirement for SEOs, I'm curious how you conduct interviews for new staff, whether they be SEOs, SEMs, community builders/managers, devs, designers, etc.
I found myself referring to Rand's post on interview strategy (as well as his WBF video on interviews) quite a bit this year as we were hiring an SEO. I was also influenced quite a bit by posts like this one that mention hiring for character and culture.
In general, I think that character and culture play a strong role in any future employee's success. Not just that they exhibit the traits of being a good cultural fit, but that they have the strength of character to question assumptions and add to that culture over time.
But technical competencies are obviously an important factor in interviews and it can be hard to tease out technical proficiency (not to mention technical leadership) with just a short amount of time to speak with a particular candidate.
How do you handle interviews?
For above entry level positions, I like to ask a problem solving question that's not directly tied to SEO. For example, one I've always liked is how they would track app downloads for iOS when multiple advertising campaigns are being run for the same app. iOS doesn't let you track where the download came from directly, so it's an issue in the mobile world. Search can get tricky sometimes and may not have a straight forward solution. Asking something unrelated to SEO, means they probably haven't read a solution to the same problem. It gives the opportunity to get a genuine reaction and see how their brain works.
I have the search team meet with a candidate first. They're asking questions around professionalism and ability to work well with the team. If it goes well, then they meet with me for an hour or so - I grill them pretty hard on technical questions. The whole idea: I'm the bullshit detector. We get far too many people in the door who demand $80k salaries and don't even know what a log file is.
At Slingshot SEO, candidates (across all job functions) are screened by an in-house recruiter, subjected to a phone interview, and then an all-day on-site where they meet with their would-be supervisor, team members and representatives from other (all) departments, as well as a peer lunch. Occasionally they are brought back for a second on-site.
When I interviewed, I met with nine different people who each questioned me on different aspects of my expertise, as well as gauging whether I would be a good cultural fit.
When I interview new candidates, I spend little time on 'competencies' and more on 'culture.' I think it's more important that you ascertain if a candidate is someone who will be / is loyal, collaborative and enthusiastic. Skills can be taught.
Good timing on this since I have been doing an exhaustive amount of interviewing as of late.I always start out with a phone interview and really try to get a feel for the persons overall personality and overall experience. What are they into, how did they get into the field, what are they looking for out of a career in SEO, how do they keep up on the industry, etc. If they seem promising from this conversation I'll call them in to do an in person.
During the in-person (if they have experience) I'll drill down into overall experience and how they work as an SEO. What do they feel are some of the most important facets of SEO, how do they measure the success of an SEO campaign, what do they feel one of the hardest things SEO's currently face, how do they go about link building, keyword discovery, what onsite elements do they analyze/address when taking on a new client, etc. Its during this time that I can really get a feel for how they work what practices they use to come up with and implement SEO strategy.
Unfortunately, even with these practices I have been duped in the past. I had one hire who had great ideas, was spot on with every answer and gave detailed insight into what they did, how they did it, etc. and then later came to find out they couldn't implement any of it, and couldn't follow similar practices when not working with another SEO company. Needless to say, that particular case didn't totally work out.
That said, if I see enough potential in a person (e.g. drive, passion, creativity), but they might not have the technical skill I have been more than willing to sacrifice a little bit of time on training solely because I see the long term value in the employee. The key is they have to be honest about their competencies up front.
I'm glad this thread was started. I will start by saying I think that everyone has there own ways of doing things. But, the way I do things takes a good few hours, but it is separated into stages. First of all, I always do interviews on days where my full team are in the office, I want them to get a feel for our office environment and also my teams first impressions of someone mean a lot to me as well. I don't tolerate overly aggressive hierarchy and I ALWAYS get someone (not me) to introduce them to the office junior to check they are as polite to them as they are with me. My team IS my company and it is vital to me that they all get along.
Anyway, initially I will sit down with the interviewee with a coffee in a one on one environment and talk generally about our company and find out about there background and why he or she wants to come and work for us. I ask some general SEO questions and what their opinions are on different SEO topics that are currently hot. Depending on what level they are hoping to join us at would depend on the level of knowledge I would expect.
SEO knowledge I don't panic about for the lower levels as we train them and can mold them to be better marketers. Sometimes when they are a little too sure of there abilities it is not a good sign. Especially when they have only been around a short while. But I take this on a case by case basis.
At this point I decide whether to send them home or onto our next stage.
If they are good then I would take them through to meet one of my head SEO's who would then take them to the cafe round the corner from our office and buy them a sandwich and chat with them while asking some more in depth questions. I also want there first impressions of us at this point.
When they get back we sit them in front of a computer where we give them a list of websites normally about 3, we explain a little about each and the market they are targeting and tell them to critique each one. We give them a list of toolsets which they can have at their disposal and do not mention a few but also mention that if they cant find them to ask as there are a few things which I hope they would want to use. Also, I would hope at this stage they do not mention any form of automated link building tools as this would be a show stopper, especially if they could not see why I frown on automation.
One of the websites is good looking but fundamentally crap and has been spammed to death. I REALLY want them to find that issue and point it out. For any position higher than a trainee I ask that they jumble together a 5 minute presentation about there findings. This is important to me as my SEO's frequently visit our clients and I want to make sure they can talk to them with some sort of authority and give the client the confidence they know what they are talking about. Again, if public speaking is an issue for them I will not drop them at this point providing everything else is in order as confidence comes as they become more comfortable with their surroundings.
The next point is I like my SEO's to be good at is Excel. Whether it is a simple bit of code to create a tool which will find content on certain subjects or something more complicated. I have to confess at this point I always feel a hypocrite as I am crap with any kind of programming, but I make sure my guys know it and it is immensely useful. If they don't we will teach them providing they have shown the willingness to learn.
By the time we get to this point, I am generally left with a few very good applicants and I hate having to pick. Now, I appreciate that many people will say they don't have the time to do all this. But in actual fact I probably spend about an hour to an hour and a half with them through the whole day as the process is split between many of us. The fact is I am very picky who works with us as 1 person I hired before without looking too much into things nearly ruined my entire company. Because of this I make sure that the people that work with me are a perfect fit, in my view it is worth it because it means that they will love there job, love working with us, hopefully give them the opportunity to advance their career whether it be with us or with a larger agency but importantly it ensures our company goes from strength to strength. Now we are a very small company and many will say that it is overkill, but my only reply to them is that we will not be so small forever and we simply do not employ just anybody.
1. Screen the CV and do online checks first, you can check the history on some one pretty quickly.2. Bring them in for the first round interview (include more mid level staff) - ask them some SEO questions, get them to draw some basic on page elements (see presentation skills) also ask them questions on the spot ;)3. If they are a decent candidate, let them take home a basic SEO test which will show how they present data on paper.4. Bring them back in for round 2 interviews to go over the test and ask further questions with more senior employees. 5. Do background checks, refrence check ect and that is that.
Sorry for hijacking this since I've only been interviewed and hired in SEO but haven't conducted any interviews myself. The process I went through was:
First interview: Meet the head honcho. The questions asked helped him discover if I fit the culture, was intrinsically motivated, and if I had a healthy EQ level. Just a few questions related to SEO.
Second interview: Get grilled by two killer SEOs on the team. Several technical questions on my SEO experience (which was relatively small) and several questions about culture. The guys were nice but definitely kept me on my toes.
I loved the interview process and ensured that not only was I a good fit for the company but that the company was a good fit for me and was going to meet my expectations.
Looking forward to reading some of these responses from some of the agencies out there!
What would be great as well would be if we could attract some people from companies who have employed their own in-house SEO - and see how much different their interview process was to an agencies.
Could be beneficial for both sides to get that sort of insight, particularly companies that come to read this, as they can maybe pick up on a few pointers on what people in the industry look for, resulting in them looking for it as well.
Have a discussion, see if I like them as a person and give them problems to solve. If I leave excited to work with them and happy that I trust them, its probably a good fit
Insights from HubSpot: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/33999/how-the-hubspot-cmo-screens-for-top-marketing-talent
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