Talent is hard to find. Good talent is nearly impossible, especially when it comes to SEO and digital marketing where there are far too many people who can talk the theory but come up dumbfounded when it comes to the execution.
You aren't just hiring someone who can optimize a site, build a couple of links, and mull around your analytics. That's what an SEO professional does, and showing they can do those things and more is important.
But above all, you're hiring a culture fit. You're hiring someone you can depend on. You're looking for someone who you know will do the right thing when you aren't there looking over their shoulder.
Here are nine questions you can ask applicants that separate the good talkers from the good talent.
1. What's your specialty? Tell me about it.
Basic, but tells a lot. You're looking for someone to fill out that T-shaped marketer – we call them "general specialists" – someone who understands the breadth of all digital but has immense focus in one area. Pry them on their specialty. You'll be able to see who's really passionate.
2. What blogs do you read? Tell me about an article you recently read that stuck out to you.
You want to see that keep up with the industry, but asking about a specific article will let you know they actually read them rather than naming a laundry list of blogs they've heard of. Probe them on the article's details.
3. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses? Why?
This question separates the single-task people and the multitaskers, but it catches people on their toes. Either answer can do depending on what you're looking for, but make sure they back it up.
4. A client asks you to build a strategic plan for their website. What steps would you go through?
You're looking for consultative here. They mention a few questions they would ask clients to understand the business goals. Bonus points if they ask you to clarify if it's for a new or an existing website.
5. How do you measure success?
If they say rankings, you can immediately cross them off your list. Bonus points if they talk about different things they've tried measuring and explain what worked and didn't. If you really want to get deep, have them log into their analytics and walk you through what they see.
6. How do you scale?
SEO professionals and digital marketers could spend 1,000 hours testing different things. Sadly, we have to adhere to these pesky things called budgets. Here, you're looking for examples of tactics they've implemented that can scale to multiple clients, and it's not just a one-and-done thing.
7. Explain to me how you make a BLT.
You're looking for detail here. If they just slap the bacon, lettuce, and tomato between two slices, they're probably not great at details. If they launch into a 3-minute explanation that leaves your mouth watering, you've got a detail-oriented person on your hands.
8. Tell me a story in 90 seconds. Your time starts now.
Clients put us on pressure all the time, and you have to be ready at a moment's notice. This question will show you if they're prepared to handle it. Look to see they're well spoken and can talk comfortably, even if it isn't the most exciting story.
9. What's your favorite website? Analyze it for me.
A live website audit is harsh but could tell you more about the person than any of the previous questions. Have them talk aloud while they analyze the site, showing what they look for and why and what their finding. Sometimes, I'll even pull up my company's website and ask them to walk me through an audit.
The biggest thing to note is if they're carrying on a conversation. It shouldn't be a one-way barrage of questions. Talent will talk to you, ask you questions, get your thoughts and opinions on what you asked them. Remember: You can only blame yourself for bringing on the wrong person.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!