6 tips on finding the perfect digital marketing candidates

Having worked in the online industry for 14 years now, I’ve conducted countless interviews in my search for the best online talent. Increasingly, traditional marketers are upskilling to ensure they have the knowledge and skills to be considered for an online marketing role, however, not everybody is suited to work in the space. Regardless of your skills and experience, I can usually identify those that will succeed based on a standard list of six questions.

Question 1: Can you provide me with three on-page and three off-page SEO techniques you have used as part of a successful SEO campaign?

While many people are quick to add to their CV that they are responsible for running an SEO campaign that has resulted in ‘X & Y’, the reality is that they have often done little more than hire an SEO agency for what I would consider an extortionate amount of money.

I could hire an agency myself quite easily, so what I’m trying to assess here is what value will you add? Do you know enough about the estimated 200+ ranking factors that Google uses as part of its algorithm to challenge the agency, assess their work, make sure they are adapting their techniques to the latest Google algorithm change, and generally push them to get the best result possible?

And if you don’t know what I mean by on-page and off-page then we have a real problem at this point, as these are common industry terms used by most SEO agencies.

Obviously this doesn’t just apply to SEO and can also apply to areas such as PPC, usability testing or any other area where an agency can be used.

Question 2: Which website do you find most impressive from a commercial perspective and why?

If I was to highlight one negative about the career I’ve chosen it would be that I’m not able to look at a website without de-constructing it in my head and figuring out how it can be improved, or why it provides such a great user experience. It’s not something I consciously do, it’s now just an instinctive action for me and every member of my team.

Far too often I get the answer of “It would be Amazon.com, I bought a book on Amazon and had a great experience…” Well good for you. But can you explain why you had a good experience? Using Amazon as the example, I would be looking for you to mention topics such as user centric design, personalised user experience, advanced recommendation engine or simple check-out process.

This isn’t technical knowledge. This is understanding how a user interacts with the site and what elements work together to provide you with a good experience.

Question 3: If you were given $2million to start a business, what type of business would you start and how would you make it successful?

This question is particularly relevant if I’m recruiting a customer or business-facing online professional.

This question is designed to tell me several things. Firstly I’m trying to assess your commercial awareness. Do you have basic knowledge of how a business operates? Often people will say “$2million isn’t a lot to start a business!” I always challenge them on this point, as I have several friends who have started successful online businesses with under $1,000.

The other elements I’m looking for are passion and vision. I love what I do, so if I was given the chance to start a new business with that sort of money it would be an online business. I’m not looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg, but most online professionals have at one point or another come up with an idea for an online business.

Question 4: Which online industry blogs do you follow and what was the last useful article you read?

Due to the speed at which things evolve in the online industry, the ability to ‘self-teach’ and stay on top of the latest developments is critical.

Your knowledge of current platforms, trends and techniques is one hundred times more important to me when making a hiring decision than your marketing degree or an SEO training course you attended two years ago.

You would get bonus points for this question if your answer is a site I haven’t heard of that I subsequently visit and find useful.

Question 5: Explain how you would measure a return on investment from your social media channels.

Although social media is often handled by the communications team, in many mid-sized companies its increasingly becoming part of an online marketing manager’s responsibilities.

Again, I’m looking for commercial awareness. Firstly, I want to know that you understand what your business categorises as a return. Secondly, I want to know that you either have a top level plan on how to generate leads, or that you acknowledge that for your particular company, social media is more of a brand engagement or customer service tool than a lead generator.

Question 6: Which analytics tool do you use and what do you find is the most actionable metric available?

Analysis of data underpins every single thing that we do as online professionals. Whether it’s in-house or external data, it should be what you are using to shape your strategy, measure success, and improve your campaigns.

This is a bit of a trick question in that the most actionable insights rarely come from a single metric and instead come from advanced segmentation of data (Read Avinash Kaushik’s blog for more info on this).

So ideally, I’d want an example such as “We analysed the number of conversions (or pages per visit if it’s an information based site) to measure the ROI from each traffic source.”


There are many people out there looking for jobs in digital marketing, so dividing the wannabes from the real geniuses can be a challenge. With a few questions, you can sort out the people who mean business from those who are still growing and learning.

  • Ask the candidate about their on-page and off-page SEO techniques
  • Enquire about the blogs and communities the individual follows
  • Ask them what type of business they would start with $2 million
  • Ask about the analytical tools they use in their daily work
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