Alright, everyone: I’m about to let you in on a few of my best-kept interviewing secrets.
In this post, I’ll uncover real questions I use when interviewing candidates for inbound marketing positions and the answers I’m looking for.
Keep in mind that the best candidates aren’t just qualified to do the job you’re trying to hire them for. You want to look for people who are also passionate about marketing, fit with your culture, and show potential for growth at your company.
Here’s a quick look into my interview approach, followed by 14 excellent interview questions I recommend adapting for your industry and hiring needs.
My Interview Approach
During interviews, I put a lot of stake into each candidate as an individual. My goal is always to find someone amazing who also has great long-term potential, no matter where they are in their career.
To uncover this, I like to ask questions that get at the core of who they are, how they think about things specifically, and how they’ve gotten things done in the real world. I then balance these questions with case-style questions, which usually involve a hypothetical business situation, because they give the candidate an opportunity to show how they think about and work on problems.
Below is a list of 14 questions that make for an effective marketing job interview, the majority of which I’ve asked candidates with whom I’ve personally gotten to meet.
Keep in mind that I don’t ask all of these questions during a single interview. In fact, one case-style question can evolve into a discussion lasting anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, so I often only have time to cover two or three questions during one session.
I also don’t limit these questions to the position levels you’ll see in each section below. This list is just one reasonable way to organize your job interviews based on the average experience of an intern, coordinator, manager, and director. Depending on the candidate and the needs of the role, a question to a marketing manager candidate might be a good question to ask a marketing coordinator candidate as well.
Before the interview starts, carefully choose the questions you want to use based on the person’s role and background. For an inbound marketing generalist, you could ask any or all of these questions. For someone with a more specific role on a larger inbound marketing team, like a blogger, you could focus only on the questions about blogging and content creation.
Learn more in the following video, and check out some of my favorite interview questions below.
The Follow-Up: The follow-up here is simply pushing on the candidate’s answers. Typically, they’ll pick one part of the funnel to focus on. (And if they don’t, I like to push them to do just that.)
Once they pick one area, I ask them follow-up questions like: “Which tactics would you think about changing?,” “What have you done in your past role that’s worked?,” “Do you think our company has any unique advantages to get some leverage out of that stage of the funnel?” I don’t just want them to tell me to “improve the visitor to lead conversion rate” — they need to tell me how.
If I have time, I’ll tell them to pretend they’ve implemented their ideas, and I’ll ask them to go back through the whole funnel and explain how they think each of those initial metrics have changed.
What to Look For: Everyone on the marketing team needs to be able to understand how to think about and optimize the funnel. Here’s where you assess their thought process, whether they have an intuitive sense of what good and bad conversion rates are, and whether they understand how the funnel steps are connected.
You’ll also gain some insight into whether they understand which different tactics you can use at each step to improve that particular step. (For example, if they say the lead-to-opportunity conversion rate is bad, the right answer is not to write more blog articles.)
The Follow-Up: This type of question should elicit a ton of questions from the candidate, like who the target audience for the homepage is. If it doesn’t, then they’re either making up their answer or don’t have enough knowledge to address the situation. Follow up by answering their questions with hypotheticals and seeing how they work through the problem.
If they do pick one side or the other and give you a reason, ask them what the goals are for the homepage. Then, ask them how they’d determine which homepage meets those goals best. From there, tell them that Homepage A performed well based on one of the criteria, and Homepage B performed well based on another one of the criteria. This way, you can assess how they make choices when it’s not possible to get data that’s 100% conclusive, and they have to choose between two, imperfect variations.
What to Look For: While it might seem like this question is all about design, what you’re really doing is understanding how candidates approach a conflict of interest. Do they care what each of these people think, or do they go to the data for their answers, such as through A/B testing, user testing, and customer interviews. The best candidates introduce logic and marketing methodology into their answers, while removing opinions. I also like when candidates say you should be constantly tweaking and improving the homepage, rather than always doing a complete redesign every nine or 18 months.
Note: I often start this question by simply asking, “How should you create a lead score?” This is how I sort out the people who don’t take a data-driven approach. Folks who answer, “You create a lead score by talking to the sales team and then assigning five or ten points to each of the criteria they say they want” are actually wrong. That is not a data-driven approach to lead scoring, and it is way too simplistic to work effectively in most cases.
The Follow-Up: Most people will answer by talking about “looking at the data” and “sorting the data.” Push them to tell you how they’d do that in Excel (or another program if they prefer something else). It’s not practical to just “look” at the data when you have 10,000 rows — you need to use statistical analysis.
They also might zone in on one factor, perhaps industry, all alone. If they do that, you should ask them what they would say if the small companies in one industry are good leads, but the big companies in another industry are also good leads? Basically, just keep pushing them until they’re at a loss for what to do next.
What to Look For: This case-style question is meant to test a candidate’s quantitative abilities, and I’d only ask it for people applying for certain marketing roles (like operations). Here, I’m trying to figure out how the candidate thinks about analyzing data and what their sophistication level is around data.
Most people don’t get very far and are either unwilling or unable to look at more than one variable at a time, or understand how to analyze a lot of data in a simple way. At a minimum, you want to find candidates who:
If you find someone who starts making a coherent argument about why you might want to use logistic regression, factor or cluster analysis, actuarial science, or stochastic modeling to figure this out … refer them to me.
This question will help you assess a candidate’s ability to explain a concept they know intimately to someone who isn’t as familiar with it. If their hobby is training for a marathon, ask them what advice they’d give you if you woke up one day deciding you wanted to train for a marathon. Are they able to communicate it clearly?
One candidate taught me how to make tagliatelle, which is hand-cut Italian pasta. She gave me the full run-down on how you make the noodles, how you form them and cut them, and which ingredients go into the sauce. She relayed the step-by-step process to me in a way that was very clear and understandable. I felt like I could’ve gone home and made tagliatelle myself. Not only did this tell me she knows how to convey information clearly, but it also gave me insight into her personality and interests.
This is another casual but useful question, as it can tell you both about a candidate’s personal interests and how they perceive marketing content on social media. The best answers go further than which companies a candidate likes buying from — they indicate why he or she trusts certain companies, what about their content strategy appeals to the candidate, and what specifically about those companies the candidate looks up to (and maybe wants to emulate in their own work).
If you need a candidate to elaborate, follow up by asking them to describe a post from a brand they like or follow, and what made that post so memorable to them.
Marketing is changing constantly at a rapid pace — so anyone in a marketing role needs to know how to stay on top of and adapt to these changes. Do they know where to look for industry news? Are they familiar with and subscribed to top marketing blogs? What do they do when they see a change has taken place, like when Google updates their algorithm?
Not every marketing campaign you run generates the same type or quality of leads. This is what makes this question so interesting. It’s a chance for you to see how a marketing candidate thinks about the buyer’s journey and what that journey should look like in your company.
If you do pose this question to a candidate, don’t expect him or her to know exactly how your business generates its leads. The ideal answer simply demonstrates an awareness of your customer and perhaps some on-the-spot brainstorming the candidate might be asked to participate in while on the job.
Expect follow-up questions from the interviewee, too, especially if you pose this question to a more experienced candidate. For example, they might ask how qualified the leads should be, or how leads are scored as a result of this hypothetical campaign. The specific parameters matter less than the follow-up question itself — a positive sign of an analytical marketer.
There’s no “right” answer to this question — a digital marketing strategy thrives on more than three things — but certain answers show the candidate is up to date on how businesses attract and delight their customers today.
“A Facebook page,” for instance, isn’t a wrong answer, but it doesn’t give you context around how a business would use this page in their marketing strategy. Here are a few sample answers to this interview question that are on the right track:
You won’t learn everything about a candidate from just these terms and phrases. But you should listen for them as the candidate responds — and expect more sophisticated answers if you pose this question to managers or directors.
Ultimately, the value you place on each of these inbound marketing components will depend on how important they are to your business and what the candidate would focus on as your employee. Before asking this question to anyone you interview, talk to your team and define your marketing strategy. Otherwise, you won’t have an accurate measure on which to evaluate a candidate’s answer.
Or, “Which aspects of our business are you passionate about?” You want to hire someone who’s both qualified and has the desire to do the work. Otherwise, why would they work for you instead of the company next door?
Part of their answer will lie in their body language and enthusiasm. The other part will lie in how concrete their answer is. Get at the details by asking a follow-up question, like: “Let’s say you’re at home, kicking around, and doing something related to marketing. What is it that you’re doing?” Perhaps they’re reading their five favorite marketing sites, or analyzing traffic patterns of websites for fun, or writing in their personal blog, or optimizing their LinkedIn profile. Whatever it is, you want to be sure they’re deeply passionate about the subject matter you’d hire them for.
The wisest candidates know you should not do it all, but rather, you should start with the content that’s most important to your prospects and customers. They should also have a plan for talking to customers and prospects by way of interviews or surveys to figure out which social networks they use and which types of content they prefer.
Look for candidates who understand that being successful in social media is important even if your customers aren’t there today. Here are a few reasons qualified candidates might cite:
This’ll show you how well a candidate understands all the different tactics of inbound marketing and how to tie them together into a holistic plan. It’ll also give you insight into how creative they are and whether they can come up with new and interesting ways to do marketing.
Before giving you an answer, the best candidates will come back and ask you about the blog’s metrics, how many leads and customers it generates, what the goals are for it, how much you’re investing in it, and so on. This is also a great way to test whether they actually prepared for the interview by reading your blog.
The relationship between Marketing and Sales is known for its unrest (Sales wants better leads from Marketing, and Marketing wants Sales to close more, faster).
Similar to question #8, there’s no right answer here, but there are answers you should listen for. “Marketers are the lead generators and salespeople are the lead closers” isn’t necessarily wrong, but the candidate who ends his/her answer here might not be someone who can align both departments around a single, unified approach.
The best answers describe the responsibilities that Sales and Marketing have to each other, and the duties each commits to as part of this partnership. They have a plan for forging consensus on what makes leads marketing-qualified versus sales-qualified, creating a shared Service Level Agreement with agreed-upon metrics, and using content at different points in the marketing and sales funnel to turn strangers into customers.
Most candidates know to follow up with each of their interviewers in the form of a thank-you note or email. But part of my assessment is the depth at which candidates follow up with me.
The most impressive follow-ups are the thoughtful ones, where candidates call upon details of our discussion to show they’re really engaged in the interview process. Perhaps they did more concrete thinking about a specific question I asked, and they send a long email including research on a question they don’t think they nailed. Many times, they’ll send me a light strategy document with ideas and/or research on something we talked about. These candidates tend to stand out.
Well, the cat’s out of the bag. You’ll have to use these marketing interview questions as a basis to create your own, similar questions that are relevant to your industry and hiring needs. Good luck, and happy hiring!
Want more interview tips? Learn about some of the questions candidates should ask hiring managers.