At a recent conference, I was talking with some other SEO professionals about hiring for some open positions on my team when the conversation turned from “do you know anybody looking?” to “how do you find good SEOs?”
As a profession, we’re pretty good at bullsh!tting and marketing speak and selling – so there’s no doubt we can all apply those skills to selling ourselves.
So how do you see through it? How do you find a good SEO professional?
The secret is in the interview questions you ask.
Here are eight interview questions I always 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.
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 (I’m just that guy at the bar).
In general, though, most SEO knowledge can be taught pretty quickly. If a candidate doesn’t know how to use Screaming Frog I can show them in an hour, so it isn’t worth it to ask questions like that on an interview.
Instead, I’d prefer to examine their approach to problem-solving, thought process, client interaction skills, and general outlook on SEO.
Basically, 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.
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.
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 for 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 followup 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.
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 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 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.
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, abortion, etc.). While these are entertaining answers, they really aren’t relevant to work and I don’t want to discuss them in that setting.
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 answer because I’m going to ask a few followups asking them to do just that.
6. Given a random URL, walk me through how you diagnose it for SEO issues. What’s your first step?
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 clothing I notice the person wearing, or if they tell me they play hockey it might be a hockey equipment manufacturer, etc.
If I want to be an ass, 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. 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. What did you hate most about your last job?
This question comes from my days as a Wendy’s manager in college. It was required to ask of all applicants and I liked it so much that I stuck with it.
Again, there’s no right answer here, but there are plenty of wrong ones.
At Wendy’s, I’d get answers like “my manager was always yelling at us for being on our phones” and I’d know the employee had some motivation problems or wasn’t a hard worker.
In the SEO industry, it’s different.
A recent interviewee told me he hated doing keyword research and reporting and was looking for a job where he didn’t have to do that. (Hint: that job doesn’t exist in SEO.)
To Sum Up
I ask a few more questions, but I won’t reveal all of my secrets here. There’s a good chance my next interview candidate will read this, so I’m going to have to save a few.
However, if you buy me a beer at an upcoming conference, I’ll gladly share them with you.
In general, the goal is to evaluate the candidate’s thought process and critical thinking skills and whether they’d be a good attitude/culture fit for the team.
I’m super confident in my team’s training abilities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t know what you’re talking about either.
I just won’t try to show you that I know more than you or trick you with some crazy technical issue that in real life you’d probably just Google anyway.
In fact, that’s how I feel about all those crazy Google-style interview questions like “how would you weigh a Boeing 737?”
Sure, you could build an amazing water displacement device and tow the plane onto it or sum up all the individual parts – but I’d rather hire the engineer who calls Boeing for the answer instead of wasting all that time.
Best of luck to you, whether you’re interviewing or hiring.
Also, I highly recommend reading this great piece on interviewing by Mike King.