The SEO job market has been on fire lately!
Companies are investing more in SEO, and agencies of all sizes are scrambling to hire new SEO pros.
I know I’ve spent a ton of time interviewing candidates lately. Separating the good candidates from the bad can seem like a daunting task.
How do you ensure the person you hire will turn into a good SEO?
How do you separate the BS artists from the practitioners?
The secret is in the interview questions you ask!
Here are eight interview questions I love to ask SEO job candidates.
Doing An SEO Interview
When I do SEO interviews, I don’t ask standard questions that you’d get at your typical interview. Most of the standard interview questions bore me.
That doesn’t mean somebody from my team doesn’t ask them (we still need to make sure you actually know SEO), but once a candidate gets past that phase, I prefer to take a different approach.
While many SEOs will ask very technical interview questions like “what’s a canonical tag,” I’ve found that a slightly different approach works better.
Technical knowledge is great, but SEO trivia is easy to memorize and easy to train.
If a candidate doesn’t know how to use a specific SEO tool I can show them in an hour, so it isn’t worth it to ask questions like that during an interview.
I’ve found that most technical SEO questions are usually the interviewer attempting to show off how smart they are rather than gauge the applicant’s SEO knowledge.
Too many SEO interviews are passed simply by letting the interviewer talk about himself the whole time. I’m not that interviewer. As much as I love to talk about myself, the interview isn’t the time to do it.
Instead, I’d prefer to examine their approach to problem-solving as well as their thought process, client interaction skills, and general outlook on SEO.
You can’t train critical thinking as well as you can train SEO best practices.
But if I can find somebody who thinks rationally, critically, and logically who knows the basics and has some tech skills, then I can train them up in the other stuff.
Best Interview Questions To Ask SEO Candidates
1. Tell me about yourself. What are you looking for in your next role?
This is the first question I ask. It’s one you’ve heard in every interview.
What am I most paying attention to with this question? What the candidate thinks is important:
- Do they talk about themselves personally? Professionally?
- Do they go right into their work history?
- Do they read me stuff like a checklist?
There’s no real wrong answer here – unless they recite qualifications like a checklist.
Talking about what they’re looking for in their next role immediately lets me know if this will be a role fit for the person, or if they will hate this role and be likely to quit soon.
I want to ensure that we’re not only filling our needs for the open position but also that the candidate will be happy and have room to grow. Doing this has led to much less turnover.
2. Tell me about your biggest accomplishment at your last job.
This simple question is my favorite. This answer will, most likely, instantly make up my mind about the rest of the interview.
You would be shocked at how many people can’t answer this question.
Take a look at your average resume. Most people list what they were tasked with doing or assigned to do, but they don’t tell you what they actually did in that role.
This is the candidate’s chance to brag – to tell me about their results:
- What ideas did you come up with?
- What impact did you make on a client? (If you’re coming from an agency, I’ll rephrase it as “tell me about the biggest impact you’ve made for a client.”)
I will ask a few follow-up questions about whatever the candidate lists, but it’s basically just a conversation about the work to make sure he or she was actually involved in doing it and find out what part the person played.
Some great follow-up questions include: “How did you measure that success?” “What insight sparked the idea for that project?” and “What was the biggest challenge in accomplishing that?”
3. Why SEO?
I’ll only ask this question when hiring for any entry-level positions or if the candidate has less than a couple of years of experience.
I’m curious why they chose this profession. What motivates them?
If you tell me “I need a job” or “it pays well” you aren’t getting the job (or likely paid well.)
4. Tell me about your personal projects, websites, blog, side hustle, conferences, etc.
There are two reasons for this question:
- I want to make sure there’s no conflict of interest. I’ve interviewed a few people who wanted to keep their full-time consultancy with competing clients in addition to our full-time job.
- I’m trying to find somebody who doesn’t turn off their SEO thinking at 5 p.m. (That’s the main reason I ask this question.)
I want somebody with a passion for search and marketing and technology.
SEO is a job where you have to keep learning and growing, and I’ve found that people with a passion for it will do that on their own. I’m looking for ambition here too.
I don’t care how that passion manifests. You don’t need to have a blog or a side hustle or a personal website or speak at conferences.
Just have the passion, and show it to me.
5. Tell me something most SEO professionals think is true that you think is BS (Or, something you think is true that most SEO pros think is BS).
This is my second favorite question to ask and one I usually reserve for near the end. It’s a modified version of a great Peter Thiel (who I’m not personally a big fan of) interview question.
I had to limit this one to SEO or marketing though, as people had a tendency to go really political on this (flat earth, vaccines, the election, etc.).
While these are entertaining answers, they really aren’t relevant to work and I don’t want to discuss them in that setting.
Having said that, if you DO go off on a crazy tangent about something racist/sexist/bigoted, you can bet you aren’t getting the job offer.
This question helps a ton with evaluating a candidate’s critical thinking skills. I’m looking to see how they react when put on the spot. (I guarantee nobody has anticipated this question and it will take time to answer.)
I want to see the candidate uneasy – without a prepared answer – because that’s how many client interactions go.
I also want to see candidates defend their answers because I’m going to ask a few follow-ups asking them to do just that.
This is a great area to figure out if they’ll “vibe” with your SEO philosophy. You can go into things like subdomains vs. directories, or pet peeves like XML sitemaps.
6. Given a random URL, walk me through how you diagnose it for SEO issues. What’s your first step?
I sometimes also substitute this for “walk me through your approach for doing keyword research” depending on the role and the candidate.
For SEO-specific skillsets, I like to go open-ended.
For this question, I’ll keep asking, “Then what? Then what?”
I want to see how their thought process works.
Not everybody is the same. Some will start with research or do a crawl; others will start by understanding the business goals; others will pull out their checklist. (You can earn bonus points if you mention one of my SEO tools.)
I’m not a fan of checklists.
Also, I don’t want to hear, “I’d run this tool.” I want you to tell me what you’re using the tool to do.
For senior-level roles, I’ve often asked candidates to do a couple of slides on how they’d improve a random site.
It’s never a client site (we really don’t ask for free work). It’s usually a brand site of whatever brand of clothing I notice the person wearing or interest I see in the background of their Zoom.
Or, if they tell me they play hockey it might be a hockey equipment manufacturer, etc.
If I want to be aberrant about it, I’ll ask them to evaluate wtfseo.com or something. It’s always random.
7. Suppose the client wants to do this thing. You think it’s a terrible idea and recommend something else instead. The meeting is tomorrow to discuss. What’s your game plan for the meeting?
This is my favorite hypothetical question to ask.
There is a right answer to this. I’m looking for a data-driven and actionable plan.
Sadly, many candidates instead give what I call an “ego response” where they say something like “I’ll tell the client I’m the expert and they should trust me,” or something similar.
That’s not the person I want to hire.
8. Do you have any questions for me?
Sometimes the best interview question is to not ask a question but let the candidate do it instead!
The main goal of this is to give them more info about the job, ease their concerns, and make sure they’re the right fit – but you can learn a lot based on the questions they ask you.
For example, if they immediately ask about raises and promotions, that’s a red flag telling me that they may be a flight risk.
A better way to ask this question if you’re interviewed is: “What does success look like for me in this role?”
Often, candidates will ask a question about whether or not they have to do something they hate doing (like metadata or reporting), and this can help find out how they interact with teams.
(Note: It doesn’t matter what level of SEO you are, you’ll still do some of the “basic” SEO stuff from time to time.)
To Sum Up
The main goal of any interview is to determine a candidate’s skills, how loyal they will be to your company, and how well they will fit with the company culture and their future colleagues. With the right questions, you can make sure the most qualified candidates move to the next level of your hiring process.
Featured Image: fizkes/Shutterstock
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