Interviewing candidates for a Digital Marketing role can be tricky. Marketers don’t typically have a portfolio and, whilst case studies are handy, they normally show the results of a team effort rather than the work of a single person. If your skillset is less technical than the person you’re hiring it can be difficult to understand exactly how skilled they are. Having hired several members of the team at Optix (and helping some of our clients to recruit) I have developed some techniques and a few standard questions to help me assess candidates in a fair and consistent way.
Disclaimer: While I have some experience recruiting I can’t claim to be an expert. I have no HR training and people who spend their entire careers working in this area would no doubt be horrified at my lack of skills. One thing I definitely know about is Digital Marketing and, over the years, I’ve figured out some good techniques for figuring out how much other people know.
When recruiting for client-facing Digital Marketers (E.G. Account Managers, Digital Strategists and the like) I’m typically looking for experience plus three main things:
- Technical Knowledge
- People Skills
- Teamwork and Attitude
These skills are also important for client-side roles but in slightly different ways. Each of these elements can be drawn out by asking particular questions. If, as an interviewer, you have any concerns about your interviewee in relation to these areas you can spend more time on these types of questions until you have enough information to make a decision. It’s important to cover all areas however, rather than making assumptions.
My number one tip for interviewing Digital Marketers is to avoid asking them if they know how to do X or Y. Instead, you should ask them questions which allow them to demonstrate their knowledge (or lack of knowledge). This might be startlingly obvious for those who are experienced at interviewing potential candidates but it took me a while to figure out. There are two main reasons you shouldn’t ask someone if they can do something:
1) They can simply say “yes”
2) They might not know how much they know.
Reason 1 doesn’t matter too much – you would just need to ask follow-up questions but 2 is something which deserves a little more thought. Candidates, particularly those who are starting their career in Digital or are moving from client side to agency side, will often have a limited understanding of how much there is to know about a subject or channel. For example, person A may have created a few AdWords search ads and consider themselves to be someone who “knows PPC”. Person B may be an expert at the nuances of Search ads, Google Shopping and Remarketing. They may have an in-depth understanding of scaling campaigns and optimising for lifetime customer value. They probably write their own AdWords scripts for fun.
In this example person A isn’t trying to deceive you when they say that they “know PPC”, they just have a limited understanding of what they know in relation to what they could know. They’ve mistaken the tip of the iceberg for the whole thing. If you ask them to talk you through the most complex PPC Campaign they’ve run you’ll soon get an idea of how much technical knowledge and experience they have.
Question: Can you talk me through a Campaign you’ve run which you’re particularly proud of?
If the role you’re hiring for is client-facing then Account Management skills or, more broadly, people skills will be very important. A Digital Marketing Account Manager will need to clearly communicate complex ideas and quickly build trust and rapport. The good news here is that these are the easiest skills for applicants to demonstrate in an interview situation. An interview is essentially a performance so, If someone can handle themselves well in an interview they will be showing skills which will help them with a client-facing role.
One thing to note here is that the interview starts the second the interviewee steps foot in the building. How they interact with your receptionist (or, in our case, our office dog Spud) and the small talk which happens before the interview formally starts is just as important as the main discussion. It’s important to give people time to warm up (otherwise you might end up with a company of only extraverts which would be hard work) but they will need to have built some rapport with you by the end of the interview.
Question: Did you find us okay?
Teamwork and Attitude
Attitude or temperament is arguably the single biggest factor to consider in a recruitment situation. Although skills are important, particularly in the short term, hiring someone with the right attitude is vital. Skills can be learned and experience gained but if someone has a bad attitude they’re more trouble than they’re worth. It doesn’t even need to be anything as drastic as a bad attitude – they just might not have an attitude which fits with the rest of the team and that will cause tension.
The difficulty here is that everyone knows roughly what type of attitude employers are looking for and most can fake it. As with the technical knowledge example above it’s important to get the person you’re interviewing to show you that they have the right attitude rather than asking them directly.
Question: Can you tell me about a time that something has gone drastically wrong in a previous role?
With this question, you shouldn’t be too concerned with what went wrong but rather what they did about it. Did they admit responsibility (if relevant) and did they take the necessary steps to resolve the issue? Or did they point the finger and hope everything worked out in the end?
Hopefully these questions will help you to get the information you need from potential employees in order to see how well they would fit in your organisation. If not the questions should at least help you to understand how to structure questions which allow your candidates to show you how suitable they are rather than tell you.