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5 Interview Questions to Help You Hire the Best Marketing Candidate

Kaitlyn Witman
at Rainfactory
Nov 18, 2019

Learn how to determine whether a marketing candidate is really qualified for the job.

Hiring for any role can be frustrating. You comb through hundreds of resumes looking for a perfect match, interview top candidates, and go through extensive negotiations, only to discover on the other end that you didn’t land the employee you really needed. You’re often left wondering if there was a question you didn’t ask that could’ve saved you the headache – and the high cost. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the average cost to companies per hire was $4,129 in 2016, and that number has only gone up. When the role you’re searching for is in marketing, new strategic developments in areas like paid media might not be reflected well in a candidate’s degree or experience. 

I’ve seen business leaders hire marketers who are far too senior for the roles being filled, and the advanced salaries lead to skyrocketing budgets. In other cases, a company hires someone who doesn’t spend time learning how the company got where it is, leading to conflicts with the existing team and creating internal rifts. People who come in and try to prove themselves at the expense of other team members hurt the company culture.

We made a similar mistake. We hired someone with industry expertise, who claimed to be an expert in search engine optimization and client management, and a high-impact leader in a small, effective, agile team. He had an MBA to boot. Within his first few weeks, though, he just sat there – idle – waiting to be told what to do and never asking any questions. He had to be shown tasks multiple times and just didn’t get it. After turning away promising candidates with “less” experience, we wasted so much time on this hire, and our team morale took a hit.

When you’re hiring for a position, there’s a real concern that the candidates you’re interviewing are falsely representing themselves. An OfficeTeam poll found that 46% of respondents knew someone who had lied on a resume, primarily in the areas of job experience and duties. Likewise, more than half of senior managers suspect the candidates they interview are stretching the truth.

So where does that leave you when the time comes to find your next marketing hire? Are there questions you can ask – or red flags you can spot – that will help you sort the diamonds from the duds?

Weeding out resumes

The first step begins before candidates even come in for the interview. Eagle-eyed hiring managers can spot certain buzzwords or vague terms that point to a candidate’s embellishment. You should already know that phrases on a resume like “familiar with” or “involved in” could betray a lack of real experience. On top of this, there are also marketing-specific phrases to watch out for.

When you see the following phrases on a marketer’s resume, it might indicate that the candidate is trying to pull a fast one on you:

  • Programmatic advertising: This is a classic go-to buzzword that is rarely backed up by actual experience. We once interviewed a candidate who put “programmatic advertising” on her resume, then we asked her to explain it in her own words. When she began to clarify that she never actually had done programmatic advertising and had only put data into spreadsheets to analyze, we knew to toss out that experience altogether.
  • PPC: Almost every marketer will put “PPC” on their resume. While this person might have heard the phrase “pay per click,” they might not know how to actually run and launch a campaign. I would bet only a handful of people who put this term on their resumes have ever implemented PPC in a campaign of their own. Ask them to specify discrete metrics that indicate good performance. Bonus points if they can recall a recent scenario in which they had a test that didn’t achieve this metric and what they did to optimize.
  • SEO expert: An expert in search engine optimization shouldn’t be looking for a job – at least not in marketing. SEO is really about understanding machine language, the robot that crawls your site, and how to talk to it. Few candidates know the nuances of metadata, latent semantic indexing or robot.txt files. It’s about more than just website optimization. As popular as the buzzword is, being good at SEO doesn’t really impact the potential hire’s ability to be a good marketer or advertiser. Just toss that one out and move on to the next resume.
  • Account strategist/developer at Google, Facebook, etc.: Don’t be fooled by the big brand name. An account rep from Facebook or Google is actually on the sales team, which is a very different animal from advertising. Just because the candidate has worked around or even advised other companies to pump more cash into Facebook or Google, it doesn’t mean that person has actually used the platform as you’d imagine. Advertisers are the end users of these platforms and have intimate knowledge of features and metrics that these account strategists are only tangentially familiar with.
  • AdWords/Facebook/Analytics certifications: I have recommended to people that they get certified. It’s a nice box to check, especially if the person is fresh out of college and eager for a first real-world experience. But having a certification does not mean a candidate has managed a campaign. In fact, we’ve hired people who have run campaigns and never completed their certifications, and they are experts in every right. Don’t toss out a candidate simply because they haven’t taken the test.

Just one of these buzzwords on a resume is not an automatic indicator of a poor candidate. But it does require some extra finesse in the interview stage to ensure you’re actually speaking to the dream employee you hope the person is.

Acing the interview

How can interviewers discern whether their marketing candidates are truly qualified? All it takes is asking the right questions.

For those who are beginning the hiring process for their marketing team, here are a few questions you should include to ensure you’re properly vetting your candidates.

1. What’s your story?

This is always the first question I ask during an interview. Marketers are storytellers. Sure, I have a resume in front of me, and the recruit can walk me through it, but they should truly shine in telling the story behind the job history. This shows me how good the candidate is at controlling the narrative and tailoring a pitch to an audience. Ideally, it gives me the ability to see that the candidate can translate that storytelling ability to the necessary work.

A good story is concise, passionate and memorable. A great story is persuasive and connects with the audience. More often these days, businesses are being built on powerful brand stories. The ability to tell a story is an essential asset for your marketing team.

2. What makes our company the natural next step on your journey?

This is a follow-up to the first question. A candidate’s answer to this question tells me whether the recruit has researched our company. Good marketers understand not only the company but also the competition. Depending on the breadth of the answer, it’ll tell me whether the candidate is capable of being self-sufficient and able to really hold his or her own through research and homework.

Other important reasons to ask this question are to find out whether the candidate really fits in with the company culture, what their overall career goals are, and what their priorities and preferences are. In other words: Will this person be motivated to get the job done?

3. Explain [insert buzzword from resume] in your own words.

If I see a sophisticated term or buzzword on a candidate’s resume, I ask the recruit to describe it in their own words. If the candidate really does have those skills and is a specialist in those areas, the person will be able to tell me without trouble – and provide examples of their work in it. If the candidate can’t, I know I need to look elsewhere.

4. What’s the first thing you do in [X situation]?

When a candidate says they understand PPC, I’ll ask, “What’s the first thing you do after launching a campaign?” If the answer isn’t, “Go into the dashboard to see if we’ve got impressions,” then the potential hire has never managed a campaign and doesn’t have a working understanding of PPC. It’s amazing how many people answer with “I don’t know.” It’s not a trick question!

5. What’s something you failed at recently?

In a digital marketing context, advertisers are creating, testing, pivoting and moving constantly. We fail daily, in small, incremental ways. This is how we get better. At Rainfactory, we talk about something we’ve failed at every week. This also is not a trick question: I’m looking for the candidate to tell me about an assumption they had made that was proved wrong and what they learned from it. I’m not looking for someone who tells me, “My greatest weakness is that I care too much.”

Hiring a marketing team doesn’t have to be about getting whoever is “good enough” and hoping for the best. With an eye for red flags and an ear for the right answers in an interview, you can feel confident knowing you’ve landed the best candidate possible.

Image Credit:

Comstock Images / Getty Images

Kaitlyn Witman
Kaitlyn Witman is the co-founder and director of product marketing at Rainfactory, an award-winning full-service digital marketing agency that provides go-to-market strategy and advertising for growth-stage startups. Witman leads a team of digital marketers, designers, and developers to strategize everything needed for a successful product launch and brand growth online.