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Recruiting an SEO Professional

Oliver Ewbank

by Oliver Ewbank on 28th January 2013

SEO recruitmentAnyone who works in the industry knows that recruiting a top notch SEO is no easy task. This post will look at what is required to find the next best thing. From sourcing CVs to conducting interviews this post will explore how to find the best candidate for an SEO role.

Create Job Description

Writing a good job spec is one of the most important parts of the recruitment process. It’s your first chance to filter out any general marketing applicants who don’t have the correct skills for the role. More importantly, you can set the requirements for the job.

At this stage it’s important to identify the exact type of SEO professional you are looking for. SEO has become such a complex industry that it’s no longer a case of one size fits all.

Do you want:

• The Solid All Rounder
• The Analytical SEO
• The Technical SEO
• The SEO & PPC combo
• The PPC Specialist
• The Social Specialist
• The Content Specialist
• The Link Guru
• The Community Builder
• The SEO Copywriter
• The SEO Account Manager
• The Blogger
• The SEO Web Designer

Once you have decided on the type of SEO professional you are looking for it’s important to outline the ‘required skills’ needed. Do they need strong HTML skills? Should they be AdWords Certified? Do they need to know a specific CMS? Are they familiar with inbound marketing? More importantly can they bring a host of contacts to hit the ground running?

Detailing the ‘desired skills’ will help you attract the candidates with the most potential. The more specific you can be the higher the quality of applicants. Vague descriptions make it difficult for potential SEOs to imagine themselves in the role.

To make your job description stand out choose a writing style that matches your company’s ethos. If your business is a startup don’t be afraid to stray from the norm. Unique descriptions attract unique applicants.

If you want to attract the cream of the crop you will need to bullet point the benefits of working for your company. Think long and hard about this. Do you offer career progression? Are there opportunities for personal development? Detailing the benefits could be the difference between attracting a newbie and poaching a candidate who is top of their game. An example of our job description can be found here.

Recruitment Agencies

In the past recruitment agencies have struggled with SEO. There was a distinct lack of understanding over what was required for a role in SEO. However, over time recruitment agencies have grown to understand the industry and the key skills of a worthwhile candidate.

Working with an agency can be made easier by giving them a list of questions to ask their candidates. This will educate the agency and make sure you only receive CVs from quality prospects.

It’s certainly cheaper to place an advert and do the recruiting yourself but there are agencies out there that can make the process quicker. If you do go down the agency route it is best practice to only have one company working for you. Having multiple agencies can lead to duplicate applicants which can be extremely time consuming.

Advertise

If you’re not going down the agency route then you have some serious advertising to do. By serious I mean targeted. There are plenty of job boards available, but our industry is different to most. You can certainly pick up a gem from an SEO specific job board but more often than not it’s better to use social media. Advertise on your Facebook page as well as Twitter. Google Plus is also full of budding SEOs so it would be worth posting here too.

Our unique industry is constantly networking and sharing information so another useful tactic is to incentivise your employees to refer a candidate. This encourages staff to spread the word to other potential candidates.

If you speak at conferences this can also be an excellent chance to reach hundreds of talented individuals.

If you are employing on a more local scale a site like Gumtree.com could be worth a punt. These classified sites tend to deliver quantity rather than quality, but you can still receive some good prospects. Alternatively you can advertise in SEO related blogs and forums.

SEO CV

CV Review

Reviewing CVs can be a time consuming process. Start by ticking off their capabilities against the ‘desired skills’ in the job description. Can they bring anything different to the team? Do they have Google AdWords or Analytics exams? Do they have knowledge on HTML, CSS and other popular technologies? These are all questions you can quickly answer.

More importantly has the candidate worked in similar environments or held similar responsibilities to those required for the role. Do you want someone that has worked client side or do you want someone that has worked agency side?

Spelling and grammar checks can be another quick way to review a candidate’s attention to detail.

Motivation

Reviewing a candidate’s CV is the first chance you get to see how motivated the individual is. Consider what the CV tells you about the candidate’s interest in the role. Ask yourself:

• Has the candidate taken the time to customise their CV to your SEO role?
• Has the candidate included any SEO specific achievements or awards?
• Do their studies and experience show they want the role (University course etc)?

Social Checks

The word stalking may be a bit strong but it’s certainly worth checking out the candidates LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Are they active in the SEO community? Would they bring a host of valuable contacts? It’s also interesting to see if their profiles are optimised. Do they use anchor text on their LinkedIn hyperlinks? Are they familiar with the latest algorithm updates? Taking a look at social profiles will give you more of an indication on personality as well as personal interest.

LinkedIn SEO Recruitment

Phone Interview

Once you have decided who you would like to meet, a telephone interview can be an excellent way to refine your list of candidates. An informal chat can help you immediately gauge their motivation for applying for the role. The conversation can be fairly relaxed allowing you to delve into their relevant SEO knowledge. Simple questions like below can quickly help you determine if they should come in for an ‘official’ interview.

  1. How long have you worked in SEO?
  2. Can you talk us through the basic principles of SEO?
  3. How does a search engine work?
  4. Do you have any account management experience?
  5. What is a canonical tag?
  6. Have you used Google Analytics before?
  7. Have you used Google AdWords before?
  8. What is a 301 redirect?
  9. Are you familiar with writing marketing reports?
  10. What can you tell us about the recent algorithm updates?

On the flip side a telephone interview is an excellent way for the candidate to ask more about the role. They may decide it’s not the role for them which will save you both valuable time and hold off the need for a proper interview. Popular questions seem to be:

  • What kind of training will I receive?
  • What would the day to day duties of the role be?
  • What kind of clients would I be working on?
  • Are there opportunities for career progression?

Face to Face Interview

The face to face interview is an excellent chance to review the candidate’s personal skills and see how they will fit into the team. It’s also an excellent chance to drill down into the specifics of their SEO knowledge. At times it may be appropriate to use a monitor so the candidate can explain themselves in more detail. Don’t be afraid of putting them on the spot with a question like ‘How would you improve our website?’

Has the candidate researched the company pre interview? This is a must and the level of detail given is a huge indicator on if the candidate really wants the job. It’s also interesting to see if SEO is a personal interest or just a job. The following questions will help determine this:

  • Were you self-taught?
  • Do you have your own site?
  • What do you love about SEO?
  • What blogs do you read to keep yourself updated on the industry?

Written Test

If you are confident in the candidates SEO knowledge it can sometimes be worth conducting a written test to confirm they know their stuff. Not only will this help you benchmark against others but you will also see where they would need training if they came on board. A simple test covering the following topics can help you make your final decision:

SEO Terminology
• Effective On Page Techniques
• Link Building Strategies
• Recent Algorithm Updates
• Google Webmaster Guidelines
• PPC Terminology
• Analytics Terminology

Conclusion

There you have it. Recruiting the right SEO candidate can be a rigorous process but if you find the right person it can also be extremely rewarding. There are numerous ways to find the right candidate. Does anyone have any SEO specific recruitment tips? We would love to hear. Happy hunting!

Image Credits:

Examining a CV from Bigstock

Recruitment Concept from Bigstock

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Oliver Ewbank

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver Ewbank has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com on SEO, PPC and Social Media Management. He has won awards for his SEO work and been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.

7 Comments

  • Jim Seward 28th January 2013

    Hi Oliver

    Interesting piece, although I think some of the “telephone interview” questions are a little in depth (not all)

    For example, How does a search engine work? To explain that one on courses I run, I go through a 49 part flow chart which takes 20 minutes and would obviously be well over the top for a telephone interview. So what do you miss out?

    Also where as recruitment people are starting to understand the process of SEO/Inbound marketing etc. What they don’t understand is how important reputation is in this industry. For example, I wouldn’t let my name go forward for a role without knowing firstly, who it was and secondly, how they operate/link build.

    Recruiters refuse to understand that, primarily because they don’t want you contacting the company directly, makes it very hard to deal with them as a job seeker A

    lso, recruitment firms are annoying by definition…I’ve been doing this job for 10 years now, I don’t want some spotty oik wasting my time and insisting I come in for a mock interview where they ask me probing questions like: What do you think are your greatest weakness? The last time that happened, my answer was “I have no patience for people wasting my time like you are” – he was gobsmacked (although I actually got the job because the company themselves loved me)

    Reply to this comment

    • Jim Seward 28th January 2013

      on reading that, I think my greatest weakness however is my spelling and grammar….oh my, I should be ashamed

      Reply to this comment

    • Oliver Ewbank

      Oliver Ewbank 28th January 2013

      Thanks for your comment Jim.

      I think explaining how a search engine works is certainly hard to do over the phone. However, if they mention relevance, links, social signals and the technical aspects then we know they are familiar with key ranking factors.

      I agree reputation is everything in our industry which is why social media can be an excellent way to recruit staff (instead of using recruitment agencies).

      Reply to this comment

      • Jim Seward 29th January 2013

        Ah, that’s a different question, if I asked someone how a search engine worked, I would expect to hear about spiders, tokenisation, stemming, reverse indexes, personalisation, local interconnectivity, algorithms, updates, Google’s cache, stop words, universal search, query expansion, their advertising method etc.

        If I’d asked how to rank a site in google, I would expect to hear of relevance, links, social signals, citations, on page etc.

        but I guess that’s just semantics ;-)

  • Jon Wilhoit 28th January 2013

    Let me offer a little different take. I don’t disagree with what’s written above but need to point out that there is a HUGE (mammoth, gargantuan, galactic) difference in taking your message to the SEO candidate pool and actually bringing the right person on board. Top SEO professionals are just that – the top of the heap. They are not recent college grads begging for a job. They expect the interview process to be a conversation, not a one-way interrogation. HR departments take the above approach of focusing on what THEY want. If you truly want to find and hire the best, approach the search from the standpoint of, “Why would an alpha-level SEO professional leave their current gig, where they have income, political capital, and a decent work environment to come here?”

    You need to be selling more than they are. Don’t assume that the opportunity you offer is better than everyone else’s. If you want the best, start every ad, job posting, and conversation with a sincere description of the opportunity that answers the aforementioned question. You will attract more and better candidates that you can then cull down to the ones who fit your desired criteria.

    Reply to this comment

    • Oliver Ewbank

      Oliver Ewbank 29th January 2013

      Thanks for your comment Jon.

      I think if you want to recruit an alpha-level SEO the interview process will certainly be a two way conversation.

      The candidate will need to sell themselves but you will also need to sell the benefits of working for your company.

      Reply to this comment

  • Simon Halkyard 31st January 2013

    Jon you are spot on. The biggest reason agencies miss out on the best SEO candidates is that many refuse to promote the position enough, or are not trained on how to do so. Search is so competitive, far more roles available than candidates to fill them. Candidates are in a strong position and they know it. Numerous times i have seen candidates take a weaker role simply because they loved the person who interviewed them and bought into them. So i suppose whilst it’s vital to have a great plan of how to source candidates it’s equally important to have a plan of what you do after you have sourced them. We run free workshops with our clients on how to improve their staffs interview techniques. I’m constantly shocked by how poor some people are at interviewing and i’m talking people at a high level, in well known agencies. A good AM level PPC candidate for example could have upwards of 20 Digital Agencies interested in interviewing them. The question is how to get them to choose you…

    Reply to this comment

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