Alright, everyone: I'm about to let you in on a few of my best-kept interviewing secrets. In this post, I'll uncover the questions I use when interviewing candidates for inbound marketing positions.
These questions are meant to assess candidates not only for their marketing talent, but also for who they are as people.
Keep in mind that the best candidates aren't just qualified to do the job you're trying to hire them for. You want to look for people who are also passionate about marketing, fit with your culture, and show potential for growth at your company.
Here's a quick look into my interview approach, followed by some of my best interview questions for you to adapt for your industry and hiring needs.
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My Interview Approach
During interviews, I put a lot of stake into each candidate as an individual. My goal is always to find someone amazing who also has great long-term potential, no matter where they are in their career.
To uncover this, I like to ask questions that get at the core of who they are, how they think about things specifically, and how they've gotten things done in the real world. I then balance these questions with case-style questions, which usually involve a hypothetical business situation, because they give the candidate an opportunity to show how they think about and work on problems.
Below are ten real interview questions I ask candidates for marketing jobs. Keep in mind that I don’t ask all of these questions during a single interview. In fact, one case-style question can evolve into a discussion lasting anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, so I often only have time to cover two or three questions during one session.
Before the interview starts, carefully choose the questions you want to use based on the person's role and background. For an inbound marketing generalist, you could ask any or all of these questions. For someone with a more specific role on a larger inbound marketing team, like a blogger, you could focus only on the questions about blogging and content creation.
10 Real Interview Questions I Ask Marketing Job Candidates (And the Answers I'm Looking For)
1) "Draw a funnel on the whiteboard showing 10,000 visitors, 500 leads, 50 opportunities, and 10 new customers (or any other numbers you think are interesting). Now, pretend you're the CMO for the company, and you have to decide what your marketing team should do to improve on these metrics. Which areas of the funnel would you focus on, and what would you do differently to change these results?"
The Follow-Up: The follow-up here is simply pushing on the candidate's answers. Typically, they'll pick one part of the funnel to focus on. (And if they don't, I like to push them to do just that.)
Once they pick one area, I ask them follow-up questions like: "Which tactics would you think about changing?," "What have you done in your past role that's worked?," "Do you think our company has any unique advantages to get some leverage out of that stage of the funnel?" I don’t just want them to tell me to "improve the visitor to lead conversion rate" -- they need to tell me how.
If I have time, I'll tell them to pretend they've implemented their ideas, and I'll ask them to go back through the whole funnel and explain how they think each of those initial metrics have changed.
What to Look For: Everyone on the marketing team needs to be able to understand how to think about and optimize the funnel. Here's where you assess their thought process, whether they have an intuitive sense of what good and bad conversion rates are, and whether they understand how the funnel steps are connected.
You'll also gain some insight into whether they understand which different tactics you can use at each step to improve that particular step. (For example, if they say the lead-to-opportunity conversion rate is bad, the right answer is not to write more blog articles.)
2) "We have two potential designs for the homepage of our website, but we don’t know which one to use. The CEO likes one, and the COO likes another. Half the company likes one, and the other half of the company likes the other. Which one should we use?"
The Follow-Up: This type of question should elicit a ton of questions from the candidate, like who the target audience for the homepage is. If it doesn't, then they're either making up their answer or don't have enough knowledge to address the situation. Follow up by answering their questions with hypotheticals and seeing how they work through the problem.
If they do pick one side or the other and give you a reason, ask them what the goals are for the homepage. Then, ask them how they'd determine which homepage meets those goals best. From there, tell them that Homepage A performed well based on one of the criteria, and Homepage B performed well based on another one of the criteria. This way, you can assess how they make choices when it's not possible to get data that's 100% conclusive, and they have to choose between two, imperfect variations.
What to Look For: While it might seem like this question is all about design, what you're really doing is understanding how candidates approach a conflict of interest. Do they care what each of these people think, or do they go to the data for their answers, such as through A/B testing, user testing, and customer interviews. The best candidates introduce logic and marketing methodology into their answers, while removing opinions. I also like when candidates say you should be constantly tweaking and improving the homepage, rather than always doing a complete redesign every nine or 18 months.
3) "Let's say you have an Excel spreadsheet with 10,000 leads from a few months back -- long enough that those leads' sales cycle has passed. The file contains information about each lead, like their industry, title, company size, and what they did to become a lead (like downloading an ebook). Also in the file is whether they closed as a customer and how much their order was for. Can you use this information to create a lead score? How would you do it?"
Note: I often start this question by simply asking, “How should you create a lead score?” This is how I sort out the people who don't take a data-driven approach. Folks who answer, “You create a lead score by talking to the sales team and then assigning five or ten points to each of the criteria they say they want” are actually wrong. That is not a data-driven approach to lead scoring, and it is way too simplistic to work effectively in most cases.
The Follow-Up: Most people will answer by talking about "looking at the data" and "sorting the data." Push them to tell you how they'd do that in Excel (or another program if they prefer something else). It's not practical to just "look" at the data when you have 10,000 rows -- you need to use statistical analysis.
They also might zone in on one factor, perhaps industry, all alone. If they do that, you should ask them what they would say if the small companies in one industry are good leads, but the big companies in another industry are also good leads? Basically, just keep pushing them until they're at a loss for what to do next.
What to Look For: This case-style question is meant to test a candidate's quantitative abilities, and I'd only ask it for people applying for certain marketing roles (like operations). Here, I'm trying to figure out how the candidate thinks about analyzing data and what their sophistication level is around data.
Most people don't get very far and are either unwilling or unable to look at more than one variable at a time, or understand how to analyze a lot of data in a simple way. At a minimum, you want to find candidates who:
- Look at the leads who closed in one group and compare them to the leads who did not close
- Look at multiple variables at a time
- Use statistical functions in Excel or another program to do that, like summary tables, pivot tables, and so on
If you find someone who starts making a coherent argument about why you might want to use logistic regression, factor or cluster analysis, actuarial science, or stochastic modeling to figure this out ... refer them to me.
4) "Why do you love marketing?"
Or, "Which aspects of our business are you passionate about?" You want to hire someone who's both qualified and has the desire to do the work. Otherwise, why would they work for you instead of the company next door?
Part of their answer will lie in their body language and enthusiasm. The other part will lie in how concrete their answer is. Get at the details by asking a follow-up question, like: "Let's say you're at home, kicking around, and doing something related to marketing. What is it that you're doing?" Perhaps they're reading their five favorite marketing sites, or analyzing traffic patterns of websites for fun, or writing in their personal blog, or optimizing their LinkedIn profile. Whatever it is, you want to be sure they're deeply passionate about the subject matter you'd hire them for.
5) "We have a new product coming out in three months. What would you do to launch it?"
This'll show you how well a candidate understands all the different tactics of inbound marketing and how to tie them together into a holistic plan. It'll also give you insight into how creative they are and whether they can come up with new and interesting ways to do marketing.
6) "Our CEO wants you to evaluate our blog. What would you say?"
Before giving you an answer, the best candidates will come back and ask you about the blog's metrics, how many leads and customers it generates, what the goals are for it, how much you're investing in it, and so on. This is also a great way to test whether they actually prepared for the interview by reading your blog.
7) "What do you read, and how do you consume information?"
Marketing is changing constantly at a rapid pace -- so anyone in a marketing role needs to know how to stay on top of and adapt to these changes. Do they know where to look for industry news? Are they familiar with and subscribed to top marketing blogs? What do they do when they see a change has taken place, like when Google updates their algorithm?
8) "What is one of your hobbies? How do you do it?"
This question will help you assess a candidate's ability to explain a concept they know intimately to someone who isn't as familiar with it. If their hobby is training for a marathon, ask them what advice they'd give you if you woke up one day deciding you wanted to train for a marathon. Are they able to communicate it clearly?
One candidate taught me how to make tagliatelle, which is hand-cut Italian pasta. She gave me the full run-down on how you make the noodles, how you form them and cut them, and which ingredients go into the sauce. She relayed the step-by-step process to me in a way that was very clear and understandable. I felt like I could've gone home and made tagliatelle myself. Not only did this tell me she knows how to convey information clearly, but it was also gave me insight into her personality and interests.
9) "Between videos, ebooks, blog articles, photos, podcasts, webinars, SlideShare, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest ... there's a lot of potential content our team should produce for inbound marketing. How do we do it all?"
The wisest candidates know you should not do it all, but rather, you should start with the content that's most important to your prospects and customers. They should also have a plan for talking to customers and prospects by way of interviews or surveys to figure out which social networks they use and which types of content they prefer.
10) "Let’s pretend we have very convincing data that shows none of our potential customers use social media. Should we still do it? Why?"
Look for candidates who understand that being successful in social media is important even if your customers aren't there today. Here are a few reasons qualified candidates might cite:
- Your customers will be there in the future, so you should get started now.
- You'll gain industry clout. After all, journalists and influencers in your industry are probably using social media -- and it's important for them to follow you even if they don't ever become customers.
- Social media activity impacts your organic search presence, helping your content rank higher in search engines.
- You'll have more control over your online presence.
- Your competitors are likely using social media.
- It may cost less to generate customers via social media.
The Candidate's Follow-Up
Most candidates know to follow up with each of their interviewers in the form of a thank-you note or email. But part of my assessment is the depth at which candidates follow up with me. The most impressive follow-ups are the thoughtful ones, where candidates call upon details of our discussion to show they're really engaged in the interview process. Perhaps they did more concrete thinking about a specific question I asked, and they send a long email including research on a question they don't think they nailed. Many times, they'll send me a light strategy document with ideas and/or research on something we talked about. These candidates tend to stand out.
Well, the cat's out of the bag. You'll have to use these marketing interview questions as a basis to create your own, similar questions that are relevant to your industry and hiring needs. Good luck, and happy hiring!
What are you favorite questions to ask during the interview process? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in January 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.