Eli Schwartz

Once you have decided what type of SEO person you want on your team, you will have a better sense of the skillset you want to ensure they have. With this in mind you can begin crafting an interview process and questions to ask during the interviews.

Process

Any SEO candidate should always meet with all of their potential counterparts even if they are not on the same team. Interviewers from these respective teams should assess both hard skills – can they do the job and soft skills – will they be able to work with them. The number of actual interviewers will depend on the norms for a company, but if a large number of interviews is standard, here is my take who should assess SEO talent.

  • Product – Meeting someone on a product team is mostly applicable to hires who will focus on product and technical aspects of SEO. For these hires, product will usually act as a hub between all the different stakeholders and therefore the product person should interview the SEO candidate as if they are being added to their team. They should probe on a variety of soft and hard skills.
  • Business intelligence or data science – this is the team that will be responsible for reporting out on SEO metrics and more than likely will have to build measurement tools. This team should assess the SEO candidates analytical abilities as well as whether they will be easy to work alongside.
  • Marketing counterparts – It’s always helpful to have potential team members confirm that they are able to work with a new hire and those that will be working the closest with them should participate in the interview process. If the company is large and having many marketers meet with candidates is not feasible, at a minimum the person responsible for paid marketing should meet with all potential SEO hires. SEO and paid marketing are very similar from a performance standpoint and the paid marketer would be best positioned to assess their search skillset.
  • Content – Depending on the company, an SEO team might own the content team, be on the content team or just work adjacent. Regardless of whether the SEO candidate a technical, product, content or link hire, writing is a critical skill. The interviewers should assess the candidate’s writing abilities and soft skills on how they communicate with writers.
  • Senior executives – This is not applicable for all hires, but senior hires should be assessed on whether they have executive presence. Will they be able to communicate with executives directly or do they need to go through their manager? Most importantly around the executive interviews is that SEO should be considered a mission critical process within a company and having executives sign off on SEO hires keeps that sense of mission on the radar at the highest level.
  • Engineering – front end – Front end engineers will be building and fulfilling the requests from the engineering team. These interviews will determine the candidates abilities to communicate their requests to engineers and their abilities to make complete asks that don’t require engineers to continuously request more details. All SEO candidates except those on the link building side should meet with engineers.
  • Engineering – back end – Back end engineers are responsible for building server side code as well as handling any redirects. Only the technically minded SEO candidates need to be assessed by back end engineers and the questioning should probe how much they understand about various technology and tools.
  • QA – Any technical or product centric SEO needs to be detailed oriented and no one is better at fleshing out details than quality assurance employees. The interview should focus on whether they are a big picture thinker or can they think very granular about how things might work.
  • Design – Meeting with design is more of a soft skill interview to see whether design can get along with SEO. Rarely will SEO hires have design talent or designers have SEO talent, so they will need to work together very closely as they build sites and pages.
  • Sales – for an SEO hire that is primarily going to be focused on link building, it would be ideal to have someone from sales assess whether the candidate actually has strong sales abilities and instincts. This can be a very short interview and this can be a quick first impression on whether they have the communication abilities to make people act.

Timing

As these are a lot of people to meet, the process should be broken into at least four stages.

  1. Recruiter screen – a recruiter can ask questions about resume experience and ensure that the candidate uses the right language to proceed through the hiring process
  2. Hiring manager screen – the potential manager of the SEO hire should talk to the candidate either in person or on the phone. Aside from questions around how they will work together, the hiring manager should determine whether the candidate will be able to add value with their SEO skillset or will the manager need to fill in a number of gaps.
  3. Provided that the candidate passed the first two stages they should now be brought onsite. On site they should meet with product, content and an engineer.
  4. If they pass the first three interviewers, they should then meet with second round which should another engineer, marketing counterparts, design and business intelligence.

Stages three and four can come on the same day, but if possible, they should be split to save time for both the hiring organization and candidate if there isn’t a mutual fit. This gives the first round of interviewers time to circle up and discuss the candidate before forcing them to spend even more time with a company that may not hire them.

A bad hire is always more costly than not hiring someone, so although this may seem like a lot for one hire, SEO can end being responsible for most of a company’s revenue and the right fit will make all the difference in the world.