Have you ever finished an interview completely gutted? I have.
A few years ago I was interviewing for a position at Hanapin Marketing. I was on my final interview with Jeff Allen, the President of the agency, after a full morning of interviews and meeting the team. We had 30 minutes scheduled together after which I was scheduled to catch a shuttle straight to the airport. So there was no room for error.
Jeff is an intense interviewer. You can tell he’s already three moves ahead of you with his line of questioning. And he wears his best poker face showing no emotion when listening to your responses. So after 25 minutes he asks me his last question about my past agency experience. I proceed to provide what I think is a great answer. But he just responded with a simple, “Ok.” And that’s how we left it.
Cue the mind bomb that detonated immediately after I walked out of his office. Ok? Ok? That’s it? That’s all he had to say. What did that mean? Did he agree with me? Did he like it? Did he think I was a dummy? Was it the wrong answer? Maybe I should have said something else . . .
Ugh! I spent the entire trip back to Denver contemplating my answer and how I could have improved it. He completely threw me off with his response that I was sure I wouldn’t get the job.
Fast forward and I did get the job. But I never got the peace of mind regarding my answer. In light of the newly launched PPC Hero Job Board, I thought I would provide my top four interview questions so you don’t experience my pain.
1) PPC Nerd. The digital marketing industry moves fast. What blogs/people do you follow to keep up with the latest changes, news, and trends?
Why this question: This is usually my first and favorite go-to question when interviewing someone for a digital marketing role. The interviewee’s response will tell you a lot about how they operate and work on campaigns. Are they the type that seeks out the latest trends and knowledge or do they wait for information to trickle down from co-workers?
What I’ve heard: I’ve heard a few head-scratching responses to this question. Answers ranging from “I love Mashable,” to “I only read the Wall Street Journal,” to “I don’t read blogs.” These answers reveal when someone does or does not follow the digital marketing industry.
What I look for: Personally, I want people who are hungry to grow their knowledge. Keeping up with our industry is challenging — which is why I love hiring PPC nerds. A good answer should easily and confidently identify industry leading blogs like Marketing Land, Search Engine Journal, Social Media Today, and ad network blogs. Bonus points if they can rattle off a few specific industry influencers. And it’s ok if someone messes up or mispronounces a name (i.e. Ron Fishkin or Kurt Williams).
2) Growth Mindset. Where do you see digital marketing headed in 2019? What are your trends and projections?
Why this question: How do they think about the industry? Are they able to talk about trends and provide insightful opinions backed by data and experience? That’s what this question will reveal.
What I’ve heard: Most of the time, I’m peppered with responses from the latest blog post they read — which is perfectly fine, in my opinion. I just make sure to dive deeper into their answer to draw out their opinion and understand the why behind their answers.
What I look for: Typically, more tactical responses come from people just starting out in their career with more strategic, big-picture answers from directors and above. With that in mind, I take careful note of the level of response from each candidate in relation to the role they’re applying for coupled with their past experience. If I hear directors giving specific tactical keyword answers then I get a little worried about their ability to think strategically. Ultimately, I think the response should be in-line with their experience, background, and role.
3) Grit. Tell me about a time when you’ve failed. What did you do? How did you handle it?
Why this question: When faced with adversity, how do you respond? Do you fold up shop when you initially discover that a goal is too difficult or do you grind your way to that goal through hard work or by taking a more creative path? Grit is a tough trait to interview for which is why I like the situational nature of the question.
What I’ve heard: Answers have varied for this question based on previous experience and career level. That said, I’ve heard people start blasting their previous company or manager, which I don’t recommend. Others have said that they have never failed. For me, it’s a huge red flag when someone can’t think of a time when they’ve failed, articulate what happened, and provide key learnings from the experience.
What I look for: Failure will happen in digital marketing. We’re all learning as we go, because there’s not this one-size fits all playbook to follow. I like when people fail, because it means they’re testing and experimenting with their marketing. However, failure is unacceptable when it’s not coupled with learning.
I look for someone who has dealt with tough situations and came out the other end stronger. The more someone fails, the more often they are likely to succeed if they have grit. As Seth Godin says, “The person who fails the most wins.”
4) Working with others and collaboration. Tell me about time you’ve worked with someone who you didn’t get along with.
Why this question: People are difficult and we don’t always agree or get along with our co-workers. This is a leading question design to be open-ended in an effort to draw out those past situations and reveal how the candidate handled it.
What I’ve heard: Get your BS detector ready for this one. I’ve listened to interviewee’s tip-toe around political landmines in an effort to remain aboveboard with respect to their previous companies. Kudos to them. On otherside, I’ve watched people throw co-workers under the bus and point fingers at previous managers. Remember, our industry is small so be very careful speaking negatively about someone or a previous company. It only reflects poorly on you.
What I look for: Beyond navigating the office politics, I look for how quick they answer this question. Do they immediately jump to a negative situation or do they take their time thinking of an appropriate incident. Next, I want to see if things got better. If so, how did that come about? Did they initiation it or was it resolved by someone else? A fantastic answer will tell me the story of working with a difficult co-worker, how they overcame the problem, and how things changed (hopefully for the better).
5) Bonus: Thinking on your feet. What’s a product/service that’s marketed poorly? What would you do differently?
Why this question: Can they think on their toes? Do they have an opinion and can they justify it? It’s so important for digital marketers to be able to take a stand, clearly state our opinion, and then justify our reasoning. And this question really draws that out of the candidate.
What I’ve heard: This one always drums up interesting answers. For example, the obvious one is Google Glass to the more controversial Kaepernick ad from Nike. I remember one candidate couldn’t name a single marketing campaign or brand after spending a few minutes thinking. They did follow up via email after the interview with a fantastic answer. Her response showed me that she was someone who needed more to think about their answers.
What I look for: Again, I’m not looking for a right or wrong answer. I want to know how someone thinks on their feet, how they view marketing campaigns, and how they justify their reasoning. You have to decide for yourself if you want someone who can think on their feet or someone who needs more time to process their answers. Both are vital in digital marketing.
In summary, interviewing is nerve-racking and stressful. Whether you’re the interviewer or interviewee, I hope these questions help you when looking for your next digital marketing position.
If you’re the interviewer, they will help you determine where someone is in the career, how they handle tough conversations, and if they’re a team player. You should know what a fantastic answer looks like so you can properly grade the interviewee’s answer.
If you’re the interviewee then make sure you’re able to answer these questions confidently and through stories during the interview. Be sure to practice your answers/stories beforehand and have a few different ones so you can tailor your response to the interviewer.