Hiring is one of the hardest jobs you have as a manager, team builder and even coworker.
I have a distinct memory of hiring my first SEO employee at Uber over five years ago. The search took months, and the pressure to fill the headcount was overwhelming (lest it be taken away).
The fact of the matter is I just take hiring with great care. And it looks like I’m not the only one.
One of the hottest Twitter topics this year was when Lily Ray, Senior Director, SEO and Head of Organic Research at Amsive Digital, shared her favorite hiring question during the Search Central NYC Meetup.
Ray revealed that when interviewing potential employees, they asked them to explain the difference between a few critical search engine processes: crawling, indexing, ranking and rendering.
While the onus of hiring at first felt daunting, I now love identifying and interviewing special SEO talent many years later and have contributed to finding a large portion of the SEO teams at Uber and Square.
Hire the right team and I believe you can surmount any SEO challenge. Hire the wrong teammate, and the whole team and morale suffer.
So how do you weed out SEOs in a 30- to 60-minute interview and figure out who is all bark and no bite? What if they’re more of a snake oil salesman than a spider crawling expert?
I asked some of my favorite SEOs their favorite SEO interview questions. Find out the answers below.
10 SEO interview questions to ask and why
1. “Have you done this before? How did you overcome the biggest challenges?”
– Kevin Indig, Former SEO Director at Shopify
Why Indig likes this SEO interview question
- “You learn more about how the candidate approaches things in general and how they’ve dealt with your specific issue in the past. Since you’re always hiring for a specific problem, that’s the best way to gauge whether a candidate is right for the job or not.”
2. “Imagine we wanted to rank #1 for <insert keyword>. What should we do?”
“…and then every time they answer say something along the lines of, “and what if that didn’t work? What would you do?” And see how long they keep going.”
– Tyler Reardon, Global SEO Lead at Chewy
Why Reardon likes this SEO interview question
- “I think it’s useful to see how persistent someone is and how deep their SEO knowledge is. A lot of good or bad things will come of this question. If they end up saying, “Well we don’t have enough links” after you ask what else a couple of times they’re probably not the right candidate.”
3. “You’re a vending machine repair specialist. You walk into a room and see a dark vending machine. What’s the first thing you do?”
– Jamie Indigo, Senior Technical SEO, Deepcrawl
Why Indigo likes this SEO interview question
- “It walks through basic problem-solving. The ideal answer is, “I check to see if it’s plugged in.” It shows the ability to logically address an issue step by step.”
4. “How do you go about making sure your recommendations get implemented?”
– Areej AbuAli, Head of SEO, Papier / Founder, Tech SEO Women
Why AbuAli likes this SEO interview question
- “Even though this isn’t an SEO question per se, it’s one of the most important ones for me to ask. Simply giving out recommendations is just the ‘first’ part of our job, making sure they get implemented is the ‘core’ of our job. This question helps me understand how the candidate works cross-functionally, how they prioritize their recommendations, how they communicate what needs to get done and how they work alongside different stakeholders in the organization.”
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5. “How would you set up an SEO test?”
– Jackson Lo, Sr. SEO Lead, Growth, Shopify
Why Lo likes this SEO interview question
- “One of the biggest lessons I learned during my time at TripAdvisor came from our CEO Steve Kaufer, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring.’ If you’re just doing things, no one will know if your actions are contributing to the bottom line. As SEOs, we need to be able to measure impact from our work and testing is a great topic to further understand their thought process on setting up and measuring results.”
6. “Organic traffic is down – walk me through how you would diagnose its cause.”
– Victor Pan, Head of Technical SEO, Hubspot
Then follow up with:
“You checked x, y, and z and that wasn’t it – what else could it be?” I keep going until they hit the bottom of the barrel. I want to know how they respond to uncertainty. So I throw a hint e.g., “so I noticed our rank showed Y, so the interviewee has a chance to react to new information. I get to understand how they approach problems (bonus points if they look at it differently from the team).”
Why Pan likes this SEO interview question
- “You need to test hard skills in SEO, look for a candidate with a growth mindset, and this question also allows you to challenge them just enough to bring out their best self and want to work to learn from you.”
7. “Describe a complex SEO challenge you’ve encountered, and walk me through step by step how you approached trying to solve it, and why you chose the route you did.”
– Kyle Faber, Founder and Head of SEO, Snark Digital
Why Kyle likes this SEO interview question
“The reason I like this question is that it:
a. Gives me a basic sense of what they feel is complex and/or challenging and why.
b. Lets me see their thought process on how they try to solve problems.
c. Gives me insights into how they rationalize their decisions.
At the end of the day, there are multiple ways to approach a challenge, so this question
– Gives me insight into whether or not they’re a strategic thinker.
– Can speak to how they create processes for implementing their strategies.
– And if they are able to back up their decisions with credible reasoning.”
8. “Tell me about a project that you’re particularly proud of, why you’re proud of it and what you learned from the project.”
– Niki Mosier, Director of Digital Marketing and Content, AgentSync
Why Mosier likes this SEO interview question
- “I like this question because it gives candidates an opportunity to talk about something they are really proud of and usually gives me a good idea of what types of projects they get excited about. This question also allows us to dig deeper into what kinds of projects the candidate has had experience with. It also gives me a good sense of how they take ownership of projects.”
9. “What’s the most important SEO initiative?”
– Eli Schwartz, Author, “Product Led SEO” / Former SEO Lead, SurveyMonkey
Why Schwartz likes this SEO interview question
- “I love this question because it’s so vague the answer forces the interviewer to explain and defend and thereby I get insight into what they are thinking and how they think.”
And my personal favorite question to ask when interviewing SEOs is…
10. “What was your most difficult technical SEO project and what was the business impact?”
Why I like this SEO interview question
Assuming this role is a little senior, I expect them to:
- Figure out how to execute challenging technical SEO tasks.
- Understand what the business impact was.
Best case, I’ll selfishly learn something interesting during the interview about something I didn’t know was possible. I’ll also learn if they understand how to look at analytics, how they think through attribution and other critical skills related to being part of a successful SEO team.
Worst case, they’ll reveal that they do not focus on the business metrics or do not understand how to tell the narrative of their business impact, disqualifying them from a senior role in the organization.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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