Shortlisting & Interviewing SEO Candidates

The recruitment process, from application to employment, is a process that could take 4 days or it could take 4 months. It's important not to rush this process and not to settle on a candidate that most fits your ideal employee. Shortlisting and interviewing SEO candidates are two of the best ways to move the process forward but deciding which candidates make the shortlist is a tricky job, our Digital Marketing Recruitment Guide has invited experienced SEO recruiters to talk about how they successfully manage the recruitment process and advice on how you can do the same.

In this section Ben Fox, Search Lead at JD Sports, identifies useful hints and tips on how to shortlist and interview SEO candidates. Ben has recruited everyone from graduates to blog writers, link-builder to senior technical SEOs and can proudly say that his teams have changed the face of at least one industry. Referring to his past work with David Ingram, founder of Bring Digital, Ben identifies three pieces of advice that have helped him throughout his career and enabled him to build industry leading SEO teams from scratch.

How do you shortlist your in-house candidates?

A couple of years ago I spent a lot of time working with David Ingram (who went on to found Bring Digital) on the very best way to interview candidates for in-house SEO roles. It was an experience that made my career and set me up to be able to build industry leading teams from scratch.

David and I found out very quickly that there is no silver bullet solution for recruitment - your ideal candidate is as unique as your company and the recruitment process needs to reflect this. However there are three pieces of advice that I would give to everyone.

  1. Target
  2. Test
  3. Streamline

1. Target

Before you even speak to your recruiter, figure out exactly what you want the role to achieve. You may be hiring for an SEO but are you hiring for someone to babysit your web development team, someone who can overcome complex analytics issues or someone who can pitch big ideas to stakeholders?

Once you understand the role, write down a list of the attributes and experience required from the ideal candidate. Don't stick to the job spec, think about your company culture and what it takes to get things done. For example here's one I've used for an outreach executive in the past.

Mock Outreach Exec Attributes

  • Web native
  • Creative
  • Good written communicator
  • Can stand up to the content team (handles conflict well)
  • Thinks on feet
  • Loves food
  • Tactful
  • Works autonomously
  • [No experience required]

Once you know what you're looking for you can start testing for it.

2. Test

You know what attributes you're looking for - now you need to test for each of them individually.

In the example above I tested the creativity of a candidate in a couple of different ways; firstly in a pre-interview task. Then in the interview I used a variant of Guildford's Alternative Uses Task and a couple of conundrums that I had developed. This meant that I could say comprehensively why a candidate did or didn't make the grade.

Don't be afraid of going off the beaten track with your testing. If you look at some of Google's interview questions they don't seem to make any sense until you realise the specific character traits they're trying to identify. However if you are interested in more middle of the road, established  methods then there's always competency based interview questions which provide a premade framework for testing for skills and attributes.

3. Streamline

You know what you're looking for (targets) you know how you're going to spot them (test) now get rid of absolutely everything else that doesn't serve a purpose. 

For example: CVs for graduate positions. Most of the time I will progress a graduate CV straight though to a written task. 

The written task shows you an example of the candidate's actual work -it allows you to candidate - whereas a CV, especially for a graduate position, gives you very little insight.

I've seen better tasks from 18 year olds who are straight out of A-levels than I have from graduates with First Class Master's degrees.  For an entry level position I don't care what you've done in the past, I only care about what you're capable and willing to do now.

So when receiving a CV it doesn't pass any value on to me - I don't read the CV. Obviously before inviting a candidate to an interview I will check their CV - but this way I'm reading 1/8th of them and saving myself days every year. 

The same goes for interview questions. You will want some ice breaker questions but apart from that every single question you ask should be testing for one of your target attributes. If not you're just wasting time.

4. Bonus hint

Always have a killer question in an interview. A question that signals to the other interviewers that this candidate isn't right for the job and continuing is a waste of time.

I've used "Why do you want this job?" or "How will your degree help you in this role?"

The Candidate… Ben's three pieces of advice (and the bonus hint!) are methods of recruitment that have been used time and time again and enabled Ben to oversee recruitment at all levels, from entry level to senior roles. These tried and tested tips can be adapted to each applicant and hopefully make the often laborious recruitment process easier for your business.