I’m looking at you tech people. Most tech heavy SEO’s I have met ends up leaving interviews thinking a fully capable candidate cannot handle the technical side of SEO. They do this because their interview questions were focused on the wrong areas. In focusing on the wrong areas companies are missing out on great employees that can really move the dial for them.
The main problem I see is going right in for the technical questions and if they are not answered properly the interviewer assumes they will be helpless when a technical issue arises. The reason this is a problem is because most people, unless they have experienced the particular tech issue they are being asked about, will not know the answer off the top of their head. However, that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to handle it if it comes up. What you need to find out is how they approach technical challenges they do not immediately know the answer to. That is how you will truly find a great employee.
As long as you can recognize a problem and are resourceful you don’t need a wealth of technical experience to be great. All SEO’s should be monitoring their sites traffic so if it takes huge dip they can react quickly to resolve the issue. However, you separate the good from the average when the issue is not a common one. For example, if a sites organic traffic plummets randomly, most SEO’s will run through a checklist that includes the robots.txt file, checking if the site was penalized, checking the analytics tagging or checking to see if the site went down, but what happens if none of those explain the issue? This is where an average SEO will throw their hands up and seek help elsewhere. A great SEO, however, will have their competitive spirit kick in and utilize the countless resources available (Moz, Google Webmaster Central etc) until they figure it out. This is a trait you have to determine if your candidate has or not. If they do I’ll take that person over the guy who can rattle off all technical answers any day of the week.
So now that we know what we want, how do we determine who has it? The answer is simple; use behavioral interview questions incorporating the STAR technique. This will give you a thorough picture of the candidate. With the STAR technique you are looking for the answers to include the Situation, Task, Action they took and Results achieved. One of my favorite go to’s is “tell me about a time you ran into a technical issue and you didn’t know how to fix it”. This one is great to see their thought process and how they handle adversity. Another good one is “Tell me about a time you noticed site traffic dropped suddenly”. Again make sure you get the full STAR from their response and if not ask for whatever part was left out. Those are just a few examples, but there are several others to choose from. As long as you get the full STAR you have asked the right question.
In conclusion it’s work ethic, competitive drive and resourcefulness that really separate the great from the average. The best SEO’s I have managed had little or no technical expertise, but all of the aforementioned traits. Using behavioral interview questions that incorporate the STAR technique is a great way to find out who has those qualities.