Pay attention, blog readers: I'm going to let you in on a few of my best kept secrets. In this article, I'll reveal in detail the questions I use when interviewing candidates for inbound marketing positions. Now, I've held off from publishing these for a long time because I think great hiring is a key ingredient in my secret sauce, but the desire to do great inbound marketing by sharing tips with the community and demonstrating thought leadership has finally won out, so have at 'em. All my best interview questions are here for the taking.
And if you want more background, you should also check out my post from yesterday, "How the HubSpot CMO Screens for Top Marketing Talent," where I go into more detail about the attributes you should be looking for in an inbound marketing manager, and how to screen potential candidates before the interview stage.
My Interview Approach
As I mentioned in my post yesterday, during interviews I prefer asking “case-style” questions, which is a technique I first heard about in business school since all the consulting firms use this type of interview. This method of questioning got its name from how business schools use case studies as a teaching method. Case-style questions usually involve a hypothetical business situation where you give the candidate an opportunity to show how they think about and work on problems. I much prefer this to candidates reciting the same prepared stories about the bullet points on their resume that they use in every interview.
I don’t ask all of the following questions during an 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 2-3 questions. Prior to the interview, select the questions you want to use based on the role and background of the person. 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 -- a blogger, perhaps -- you could focus only on the questions about blogging and content creation.
Question 1: Funnel Strategy
The Question: "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 their marketing."
The Follow-Up: Typically, the candidate will pick one part of the funnel to focus on. If they don't, I like to push them to do just that. Once they pick one area, I question them on exactly what the team should do to improve that part of the funnel. And I don’t just want them to tell me to "improve the visitor to lead conversion rate" -- they need to tell me how. What are all the different tactics they would try? Do they have any creative ideas? Are their ideas really ways to improve that part of the funnel, or are they just generic, high-level marketing concepts? Then tell them to pretend they've implemented their ideas and ask them to go back through the whole funnel and explain how they think each of those initial metrics have changed. If you have time, you can also dive into other parts of the funnel.
What to Look For: Here, you're looking to see how the candidate thinks about the funnel, if they have an intuitive sense of what good and bad conversion rates are, and if they understand how the funnel steps are connected. You also want to see if they understand which different tactics you can use at each step to improve that particular step. (For instance, if they say the lead-to-opportunity conversion rate is bad, the right answer is not to write more blog articles.) I also like to see if they understand that when you make changes to the funnel, conversion rates might change beyond the specific step you worked on. For instance, increasing the visitor-to-lead conversion rate might lower the conversion rate from lead to opportunity.
Question 2: Lead Scoring
The Question: "Assume 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, such as their industry, title, company size, and what they did to become a lead (e.g. downloaded 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?"
The Follow-Up: Most people will start to talk about “looking at the data” and “sorting the data.” Push them to tell you how they would do that in Excel, or in 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: The goal of this question is to see how far they can go and how sophisticated they can think about lead quality. Most people don't get very far and are 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 people 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, and use statistical functions in Excel or another program to do that (summary tables, pivot tables, etc.). 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, and I will buy you and a friend a really nice steak dinner if I hire them!
Note: I often start this question by simply asking, “How should you create a lead score?” This is how I sort out the people wrongly brainwashed by the marketing automation industry. Anyone who answers, “You make a lead score by talking to the sales team and then assigning 5 or 10 points to each of the things they say they want,” is wrong. That is not a data-driven approach to lead scoring, and it is way too simplistic to work effectively in most cases.
Question 3: Website Homepage
The Question: "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 like the other. Which one should we use?"
The Follow-Up: If they pick one and give you a reason, ask them what the goals are for the homepage. Then ask them how they would determine which homepage meets those goals best. Then tell them one of the homepages performed well based on one of the criteria, and the other one performed well in terms of another one of the criteria. Basically, push them and see how they make choices when it's not possible to get data that is 100% clear and conclusive, and they have to choose between two imperfect variations.
What to Look For: This is kind of a trick, because the answer is neither or both. The best answers start with questions that get at what the goals of your homepage are and especially how the website's customers and prospects view the two designs. Good answers will also bring up A/B testing, balancing the messaging and conversion, user testing, and customer interviews. I also like when people think you should constantly tweak and improve the homepage, rather than do a complete redesign every 9 or 18 months.
Additional Question Ideas
"We have a new product coming out in three months. What would you do to launch it?"
Look for the candidate to understand all the different tactics of inbound marketing and how to tie them together into a holistic plan. Also, are they creative? And can they come up with new and interesting ways to do marketing?
"Our CEO wants you to evaluate our blog. What would you tell her?"
Look for the candidate to ask about the metrics for the blog, how many leads and customers it generates, what the goals are for your blog, how much you are investing in it, etc. This is also a good test to see if they have actually prepared for the interview and read your blog at all.
"Between videos, ebooks, blog articles, photos, podcasts, webinars, SlideShare, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest ... there is a lot of potential content we should produce for inbound marketing. How do we do it all?"
Look for candidates who tell you that you should not do it all -- but that you should start with the content that is most important to your prospects and customers, and focus on that. They should also have a plan to talk to your customers and prospects in interviews or surveys to figure out which social networks they use and what type of content is best for them.
Let’s pretend we had very convincing data that showed 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 are not there today. Your customers will be there in the future, so you should get started now, the journalists and influencers for your industry are probably using social media, and social media success helps your content rank higher in search engines because you attract more links from socially connected audiences and because social media is starting to influence search rankings. They should understand why it's important to have social media followers who won't ever buy.
Unfortunately, because about a million people read this blog (literally), I might have spoiled these interview questions not only for me, but also for you! So, your next step is to use these case-style 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!