How to Hire an SEO – 10 Things to Look For

Posted on 28. Sep, 2011 by in Digital Marketing, Thoughts



We have been doing a lot of recruitment lately and it’s not easy. There is only so much you can ascertain in an interview and there is always the fact that you will not know what a candidate is going to be like in the job until they are actually doing it for a while. Nevertheless, there are things that you can and should find out at the interview stage before you find out that your SEO stud is really a dud.

SEO magnifying glassThe best SEO account managers have a wide ranging skill set. At the interview stage I need to find out the level of each of their skills. Here are  some of the skills that I look for and how I try to gauge the level of the candidate:

1.    SEO Knowledge: An obvious no-brainer. Getting to grips with the level of the candidate should be at the heart of an SEO interview. There are many ways to assess a candidate’s level of SEO knowledge but I like to put this in the candidate’s hands. I ask them to place their SEO knowledge and experience on a scale of 1-10. Then I test how honest they are with some follow up SEO questions. Worst case they have overinflated their knowledge level. No one likes a boaster.

It’s good to have SEO knowledge, even better if that is padded out with experience but it’s also necessary to see how well they can formulate their own opinions on SEO. Where do they think SEO is headed in the next 5 years? What has happened in the past year that has made the biggest impact to SEO? What do you think are the biggest implications of HTML5 to SEO? This is the good stuff. This is where I can see if the person reads and regurgitates SEO banter on the web or has opinions and a finger on the pulse of digital marketing.

2.    Preparation: It’s good to find out how much the candidate has prepared for the interview. I can always ask “What do you know about bigmouthmedia?” but this is too easy. Surely every candidate I see has at least visited the website (they are in for an SEO job after all). Starting off with “Tell me about yourself” is always a good one. Surprisingly this catches most interviewees off-guard so it’s always interesting to hear what they have to say. This also gives you the opportunity to learn a little more about them. This question is in most “prepare for interview” websites so it also shows interview prep. If they can’t prepare for an interview you can get a good idea of how they would prepare for a client meeting. There are loads of resources for SEO interview prep as well which I expect candidates to have perused.

3.    Client facing skills: Firstly ask yourself “Would I be comfortable putting this candidate in front of a client?” Sure some people won’t be as experienced as others and this is where you need to go into “potential mode”. This is where you have to try to judge a person’s potential. Not the easiest of tasks. To gauge this ask them to describe how they handled a tough situation and the outcome.

4.    Team fit: This is where pulling in members of your team will be necessary. Ideally, the guys that the candidate will be working alongside. I am always surprised how often after interviews when we discuss the candidate that the two interviewers have vastly different opinions of the candidates. Unfortunately, here I think that the gut is going to tell you more than any answers to questions.

5.    Motivations: I know bigmouthmedia  is a great place to work. We have an excellent work environment, interesting people and an altogether amazing atmosphere. There are also loads of opportunities and training available. I don’t ever question why people want to work for us. However what I am interested in is what they are going to bring to the table. When I feel a candidate is a potential leech I ask them “What have you got that other candidates don’t have?” or even “Why should I choose you over the other candidates I am interviewing?” Beware of blank stares here.

6.    Communication: Communicating SEO is important; actually it’s vital for every SEO Account Manager. The ability to explain SEO concepts to people with varying levels of knowledge is also important. Can the candidate explain SEO elements and recommendations equally well to a CEO who knows nothing about SEO as to an in house SEO Manager? Simple client scenario questions work well here. “I am the client. You are the SEO. My retail website has loads of duplicate content. You want to recommend the canonical link element. Sell that recommendation to me.” A few things come out of this – how well the candidate can explain the situation, how the candidate can relate the situation to results the client is seeing, how clearly they can explain implementation and how they conquer discussing potential results.

7.    Initiative: No one likes a freeloader. I want people that are going to question, challenge and seek to change for the better. I want people determined to find solutions when they find issues and this is something I ask candidates about. I urge you to as well or you will find yourself employing tagalongs.

8.    Organisation: A disorganised person is going to sink in an Account Manager position. When asked about how they organise their time if they don’t mention lists, priorities, and deadlines I steer clear.

9.    Innovation: Can the candidate think outside the box? Can they identify innovative sites or marketing strategies that are around now? Ask questions around this, it can give a lot of insight. Beware of candidates that can only talk about how Facebook is the coolest thing since Friendster.

10.    Why SEO? Why do they work or want to work in SEO? Answers can range from “Great career progression” (read: me want £££ and prestige) to “I like gaming Google” (read: spammer! run away) to “I love getting my clients great results and helping them achieve their goals” (that’s more like it).

Despite all of these points it is inevitable that every SEO Agency or SEO In-House team is going to be looking for different qualities. If we were all looking for the same exact thing, well that would make things a bit boring. No two people are the same however, within a team it’s important to get a range of skills and strengths. People may work brilliantly alone but get the right mix of people and you will see a team at work instead of people working in silos. The individuals I want on a team need to work excellently autonomously but when together they need to buzz and that is only created by building a balanced team.

Tips for the interviewee: in the next instalment!