Recruiting the Right People for Your SEM - Part 2

In my last column I looked at beginning the hiring process for your SEM agency. Specifically, I explored how to evaluate whether you need to hire, and also how to determine the types of hires you'll need to make your business a success. Today, we'll look at the actual hiring process, job ads, candidate evaluation, and the interviews.

Hiring employees is one of the most challenging areas of running a business. If you decide that it's in your best interest to actually employ someone, then you have to decide what you want and get down to the nuts and bolts of hiring -- ads, applications, and interviews.

The Search Marketing Job Ad

A job ad should accurately reflect the type of individual you're looking for. The job description is usually helpful here. The ad should also include compelling information about your company and the work environment. Always try to write an ad that will pique interest and attract superior candidates.

Sorting Resumes

Once the resumes start arriving, keep track of them. I always make candidates fill out an official application to enable easy comparison. Work through the cover letters, resumes, and applications and document your findings at each step of this process. This makes it easier when you have to look back at applicants or if new openings develop in the future.

From the pile of applications, put together a list of candidates you want to interview. (If there are few suitable candidates, look over the job ad again to make sure it accurately reflects the type of candidates you're looking for.)

The Interviews

For all interviews, have your questions prepared in advance and structure the interview for the time allocated. For example, it's important to keep talkative candidates focused and on track.

Initial phone interviews help keep costs down and give you an opportunity to quickly determine the candidate's communications skills, their industry knowledge, and their personality. It gives you an opportunity to see how they react to questions and if they give off a positive 'vibe.' Those who don't come across well at this stage are eliminated; the best of the bunch earn in-person meetings.

I always give applicants two tests during the initial interview -- a personality test and a basic search marketing test. These tests give you a good understanding of the person and their knowledge of the industry. It's amazing how showing applicants how little they know can be an effective leveler for applicants who are looking for an unrealistic salary package.

The most successful hires almost always show a real passion for the industry and for working for my company. If this passion is missing, it immediately raises a red flag and usually eliminates those candidates from consideration.

At the second interview stage, I usually ask interviewees to meet with other members of my team so I can get feedback about how they think the candidate will fit in with our 'culture.' I also give them a few job related tasks to do to see how they react, if they succeed, and how well they can think on their feet.

After the interview process is completed, it's time to make a decision. Sometimes the right candidate will stick out clearly. If there is more than one good candidate, it may be more difficult. I often use my gut feeling at this stage. Every time I went against my gut feeling, either out of desperation or urgency, it went badly wrong.

Summary of Qualifications

Successful candidates show passion, knowledge of the industry, and a desire to learn and succeed. They should also be hard working, compatible with other employees, and a good fit with the organizational culture. Finding the right person for the job adds to the value of your business and helps ensure your future.

My final piece of advice: hire slow and fire fast. Small companies can't afford to keep a bad employee. I've made this mistake in the past and it cost us in goodwill, employee morale, and revenue.

This column reviewed recruitment and finding the right people for your SEM agency. Next time, I'll continue focusing on staff by looking at training your team. I'll also look at training programs for hiring college graduates and interns.

About the author

Fionn Downhill is the CEO of Elixir Interactive, a digital marketing agency that helps companies build and grow their customer relationships online. After building up a specialist agency in search engine optimization and paid search, Elixir Interactive expanded its digital marketing services in May 2008 to include social media optimization, reputation management, e-mail marketing, mobile marketing and user-experience design..

Elixir Interactive strives to leverage its experience in search to help clients create, optimize and distribute targeted content that reaches the right audience in the right place at the right time. By combining the intelligence gathered from search with the power of the social community, Elixir Interactive can help its clients better understand their customers, extend the reach of their brand, manage their online reputation and create compelling user experiences that truly connect with the target audience..

Fionn previously worked with organizations such as British Airways and Price Waterhouse. Fionn is involved in the advancement of search marketing and is a strong advocate for best business practices in the industry.

She is the Chair and a founding member of the SEMPO Institute, which was launched to provide first class training for the search engine marketing industry worldwide. Fionn is an established author and frequent speaker on search marketing. In March 2007, Fionn was elected to the SEMPO board of directors.