I’ve never been a fan of judging a job candidate’s qualifications by their degrees or certifications. Sure, those can provide some helpful overall insight, but they usually have little relevance to a candidate’s real-world SEO experience, which is what I really care about.
True experience also means more than just years on the job. In fact, that can be misleading as well. Someone with only one year of “experience” can have more applicable know-how than someone with five, which means there needs to be another way to measure any job candidate’s true job experience.
The following interview questions are designed to do just that — at least for those seeking a job in the SEO industry.
1. What is it that interested you in applying for this position?
This is my favorite first question to ask in an interview as it cuts to the heart of why they are here. The answers can be wide-ranging as they discuss their knowledge or experience in SEO. Or they may have been drawn to your company, having little background in SEO but a whole lot of interest in working for you and taking on the challenges of the job.
2. How long have you been studying and performing SEO?
I have found that years of experience in SEO bears little relevance to a candidate’s actual job knowledge and ability to get results. Nonetheless, this is a good question to gauge not just how long they’ve been in SEO, but what brought them to it.
3. How do you think your specific experience will benefit us?
This question cuts to the heart of the question above. You want to know what value the candidate brings to your company. If they don’t know the value they bring, maybe they don’t have much value to bring at all.
4. Describe your perfect/dream digital marketing (or any) job.
Let the candidate tell you exactly what they would love to be doing every day to see if this bears any resemblance to what they would be doing for you. If this dream job has little in common with the job you’re hiring for, you likely want to add the candidate to the “No” list. However, if the two align, you just might have found yourself an extremely good match.
5. What is it about SEO that you like? Why do you do it for a living?
This is a great question to assess the candidate’s longevity in the industry and possibly with your company. If they don’t love SEO, perhaps they’re applying for this job as a stepping stone to another job they would really like. Whether that matters is up to you.
6. What does an average day/week at work look like for you?
This is where the candidate outlines what they expect the job to look like, or what their current job looks like. Get a sense as to whether the candidate is happy with what they are doing and if it in any way resembles what they will be doing for you.
7. What is one thing you most look forward to doing each day at your current job?
Whether candidates are a good fit — or if they are willing to perform tasks they don’t enjoy — not being in a place where they can do something they do enjoy can lead to problems. You want to make sure that what they most look forward to in a job is something they can look forward to doing when working for you. Unless, of course, the answer is “leaving,” in which case they can do that right now!
8. What is your particular area of expertise, or something you are particularly good at when it comes to SEO?
Likely the answer to this question and the one above will be the same, but not always. If it’s not then this is probably the one thing they would love to most look forward to, provided the opportunity. The question then becomes whether you can give them that opportunity.
9. What specific verticals of SEO do you have experience with?
This gets to the overall breadth of their experience in SEO and its related verticals. You’re not looking for expert status in all of them, but just to see what their experience and competency is.
10. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself as an SEO?
I love self-assessment questions. Based on all of these questions, you’ll have your own assessment as to their skill and experience. See if that lines up with where they think they are. If you have someone that over-values themselves you could have some issues later down the road.
11. What do you need to do to get to the next level?
Assuming they didn’t rate themselves a 10 out of 10 in the question above, there’s always room for improvement. This is where you find out whether they know just how much room there is for them to grow. It also sets the stage for the challenge for them to achieve it.
12. How do you stay organized and on task?
Learn a bit about the candidates’ process for tackling SEO tasks. The lack of organization or a fly-by-night mentality can be a huge red flag.
13. What types of sites have you worked on and to what extent?
This question will help you get a first-hand understanding of the work they have done in the past. They should be able to pull up some sites for you to review, show you specific results, and outline how their participation helped achieve those results.
14. What programming languages do you have experience with?
You want to know more than just the languages, but the depth of their experience and understanding with each. None of them may be a deal breaker for you, but this knowledge can help you assess their overall value to your company.
15. What CMSs do you have experience with?
In the knowledge-based interview questions, we asked about candidates’ favorite content management system. Here we want to know what systems they have specific experience with and, again, to what extent. A well-rounded candidate will have experience with multiple CMSs, even if they prefer a specific one.
16. What SEO tools do you use and why?
Every SEO has their favorite tools. They may or may not be the tools you use, but this is a good opportunity to find out their reasons for choosing one tool over another. You also want to explore whether they would be able to do their job effectively if that tool was no longer available to them.
17. What technical SEO skills do you have?
Is the candidate only capable of performing a review and making recommendations, or are they able to implement the recommendations themselves? Not every SEO has developer-level skills, but they should have some technical SEO skills they can apply.
18. What non-technical skills do you have that are relevant to SEO?
Can the candidate write instructive blog posts? Do they have a keen eye for spotting bad links? Are they good at working with other developers to see things through?
There are a lot of non-technical skills that are valuable to SEO. This is where the candidate gets to tell you what they are and why they are important.
19. What is your specific experience with social media, content development, and analytics?
You want to know the candidate’s experience outside of SEO. Even though you’re not hiring someone for those other positions, there may be times where some of those jobs need to be performed by the SEO themselves.
Their level of proficiency in these areas can tip the scales in their favor. But be careful; if their proficiency in any other area is significant, it likely comes at a cost to their SEO skills.
20. What experience do you have with link building?
Unless you have a dedicated link builder on staff, this is one area that the SEO should demonstrate both knowledge and skill in. You should hear how link building is a part of the SEO’s ongoing approach to a successful SEO strategy.
You also want to get a feel for their link building strategy. Press them for specifics that give you an idea on what kind of link building they do or don’t go after.
21. What has been your experience getting content featured in answer boxes?
Even if the candidate hasn’t been successful at getting content featured in an answer box, they should have some knowledge and experience in how to do it. Let them outline what they have done in the past in this regard and the results of their efforts.
22. How have you utilized structured data to earn featured snippets?
Structured data has become increasingly important to SEO. Let the candidate tell you what schema they have utilized and show you the results.
23. Have you ever performed a detailed SEO audit?
Unless they are fairly new to SEO, every SEO job candidate should have experience performing a highly-detailed site audit. Use this question to discuss what types of things they look for while performing their audit. Even better, get a hold of an audit they have performed.
24. Have you ever set up Analytics? To what extent?
Being able to set up a Google Analytics account isn’t required knowledge for an SEO, but it is a valuable skill for one to have. You want to see if they have done more than installing the code, such as setting up various types of goals and tracking in the Analytics account.
25. What are the different ways to keep a site out of Google’s index? Which do you use and when?
There are multiple ways of doing this. They should have been able to outline the various methods when answering the knowledge-based questions. This is an opportunity to go a bit deeper to find out why they would use one over another and in what situation.
26. Have you ever built any tools of your own to assist with your SEO efforts?
Most SEOs are not advanced enough to build their own tools, so no worries if they haven’t. But if the answer is yes, find out what the tools did and whether they would be bringing those tools with them.
27. If you could build one tool that doesn’t exist today, what would it do?
Regardless as to whether the SEO can create their own tool, they should have had some ideas for tools they would like to see built that currently don’t exist. This answer can give you some insight into multiple areas of the SEO’s experience, knowledge, and even skill.
28. Take an average e-commerce website. How many hours do you think you would need to invest monthly for a successful digital marketing campaign?
The answer will depend on a great deal of factors, but let the candidate outline those factors and take a shot at producing an answer. Based on the factors they outline, the number of hours should fall within the realm of reasonableness.
29. How do you adapt to the needs of different clients?
This question is relevant for agencies, but it could also be important for an in-house SEO that will be managing multiple brand sites. Some SEOs have trouble bouncing from one client or brand to the next seamlessly. You want to find out if this candidate can handle these transitions, which can happen multiple times a day, if not an hour.
Also note: If you’re hiring for an in-house position, a candidate with an agency background may get bored by the monotony of a single client to work on. Suss this out here.
30. How often do you communicate with clients and/or management regarding your progress?
This is where you find out if the candidate wants to work alone in a vacuum or has experience communicating with those overseeing their progress. Strong communication skills may not be important to SEO, but they are almost always important to the position.
31. What do you do when you cannot get a critical recommendation implemented?
This question gets to critical components of both temperament and problem solving skills. Find out how they react, who they blame, and what they do going forward. This can give you great insight into how the candidate takes responsibility for things outside of their direct control.
32. How closely do you adhere to Google’s guidelines?
You may or may not care about Google’s guidelines, but every SEO has an opinion on them. You want to find out if their adherence to Google’s guidelines will be a hindrance or a help to the work you want done.
33. How much weight do you apply to things Google spokespeople say about the algorithms?
SEOs put different weights of reverence to the things Google’s spokespeople say. Where your candidate falls in that spectrum will provide additional insight into their thinking and how they operate.
34. Have you ever had to get a site removed from a Google penalty? How did you determine it was penalized and what did you do to fix it?
Almost every SEO has come across a site that has fallen into a Google penalty. The candidate’s answer to this question will help you learn more about their assessment skills as well as their ability to fix other people’s problems.
35. Have you ever been responsible for a site getting penalized by Google? What did you learn from that?
Don’t worry if they have. Getting penalized may have been a turning point in their career… or it may have been just another day at the job.
Find out what the candidate has done in such circumstances, both to reverse a site penalty and to prevent it from happening again. Use that information to assess their risk to your company.
36. Tell me about your biggest SEO screw up, what the results were, and what you did about it.
Aside from getting a site penalized (if that is the case), the candidate should be able to be honest about a truly embarrassing screw up. Give them room to talk about what they did wrong and what happened after.
37. What is your most significant success in SEO?
This question should be easy for them to answer so you want to look at the depth of the candidate’s success. See if it’s truly something worth getting excited about.
38. What metrics do you use to measure SEO success?
This is one of the most important questions to ask. Ultimately, you want to make sure the candidate is looking at metrics that truly matter and make a difference rather than superficial metrics that just help them feel good about themselves.
39. Can you provide me with some sample reporting you provide clients?
Aside from the site audit you may have asked for above, you want to get a hold of other reports the candidate has put together for clients or their bosses. These reports will provide an additional evaluation tool.
40. If you ran your own agency, pick two of the three that best describe how you would operate: quick, quality, or low cost.
This is a telling question. There is no wrong answer, but it can tell you a lot about the candidates’ mentality and how they work. For good or for bad, that mentality will feed into how they implement the work they do for you.
41. If SEO wasn’t a thing, what do you think would you be doing instead?
This is a great question that will give you some additional insight into what types of things the candidate loves to do. Often you will find that the skills required in this other thing they would do can translate into the SEO work they do.
Understanding your candidates’ experience is critical to the hiring process. You may not have to ask every single question posed here to every candidate that walks through your door. But you do need to ask enough to give you a satisfactory understanding of the candidate’s real-world experience in digital marketing.
The more knowledge you have about their experience, the better. Keep asking questions until you are satisfied as to whether the candidate will be a good addition to your company.
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Author: Stoney G deGeyter
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