Written By: Adam Dince
Over the past two years, our beloved digital marketing industry has evolved more than ever before. Massive changes with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Bing, influencer marketing, big data, mobile—I could go on and on, but I’ll be respectful of your time. All of these changes have forced people who have specialized in one niche to broaden their skill sets to encompass other areas of expertise. This holds particularly true for those of us who started as SEOs. In my opinion, I believe that Moz’s T-Shaped Web marketer construct best represents what the modern day SEO should be.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to find in an entry-level/junior job candidate with these skills unless you strike gold and find a needle in a haystack. And honestly, if you’re looking at internship experience as a sign of what skills they might have–good luck. So what qualities and skills should you look for in an entry-level candidate that’s predictive of future success in our industry? Here are some of my thoughts;
Curiosity: Personally, I prefer to hire referrals from my networks. This gives me the ability to have more informal conversations with a candidate to get a better sense of who they are. This year I had the opportunity to speak at an AdFed student advertising conference, at the University of Minnesota, where I met an impressive graduating senior. We spoke a few times and she asked a lot of thoughtful industry questions. By no means did we ever meet under the guise of an interview–they were purely information sessions. However, I knew within our first meeting that I wanted to hire her. And she’s been one of my best hires–ever.
Passion: When I speak with entry-level candidates, I want to feel passion. Not just passion about something, but passion about digital. I’ll never hire anyone that I sense is just looking for a job. I look for people whose passion will inspire me to become more passionate about what I do.
Writers: We no longer live in a world where we can simply drop a few keywords on to a page, get a few links and expect success. We’re now communicating with influencers, customers, prospects and the media. We expose our content to a greater audience than ever before. As we grow in our profession, we’re expected to present, publish and be ambassadors of our companies/agencies. Because of this, it’s important to know that our candidates have the ability to write well and use proper grammar. Asking candidates for a few writing samples is a great way to assess a prospect’s abilities.
Builders: I get ridiculously excited when I interview a candidate who has built their own blog or personal Website. If a prospect has customized the CSS (even if it’s through a GUI), added plug-ins, thought about content, and put it out there for the public to see, I’m likely to consider them seriously for a role. I’m not looking for a masterful job by any means, just someone who tried to build something and has given serious thought to its construction.
Critical Thinking: If a candidate makes it past the first round of interviews, I’ll typically assign a project for the second interview. For entry-level applicants, I’ll typically find a keyword that’s not ranking on the first page of Google and ask the candidate how he or she would get it there. I’m not looking for the right answer, I just want to see that the candidate has a well-thought out response. I can gather a lot of insight about someone based on their solution.
Polish: Polish is so important. To have long-term success in our industry, we’ve got to have tight presentations, speak well and come across professionally. While first interviews don’t always provide a good sense of polish, second interviews can–especially if you’ve provided them with an assignment. During your candidate’s presentation, pay attention to the look and feel of presentation, eye contact, speaking ability and likability. Also, ask several questions and see how they respond. How do they perform under pressure?
Confidence: In online marketing, we live and die by our recommendations. Taking it one-step further, we live and die by our ability to implement our recommendations. In a profession where we’re competing against other departments for resources and priority, confidence can be a difference maker. Sure, an entry-level candidate might not have confidence in their online marketing abilities yet, but you want to try to judge how confident they might be once they learn more. You want to have some level of comfort that they’d be able to walk in to a room of executives (with or without you) and make a solid pitch.
Optimism: As the great Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.” In online marketing, it’s not uncommon to see a recommendation fail. In my experience, I’ve worked with people that become Debbie Downers and get negative when something doesn’t quite pan out as they’d hoped. In all honesty, I’ve been there too. We all have. However, it’s important that we believe a candidate has a can-do, and a can-do-better attitude. Not to sound corny, but we should want to hire a “glass is half-full”, not “half-empty” person. You can get a sense of a candidate’s optimism by asking about their past jobs, and about what they liked, what they didn’t, what their vision of the future is, etc.
Keep in mind, you may not find these qualities in a lot of the applicants that you have for your roles, but if you can, it’s well-worth the effort to hold out until you do.
Would love to hear what types of qualities you look for in your entry-level marketing hiring decisions.