Interviewing For an SEO Specialist Position?
If you’re reading this, you are likely trying to prep for your first or next SEO specialist interview - and that’s great!
I’ve got loads of helpful ways for you to prepare.
On the other hand, you might also be in HR or the actual hiring manager, and left wondering how to truly vet the SEO specialist candidate. Hey don't worry, I've got some help here for you too!
How Can I Help You Prep For The SEO Interview?
After interviewing hundreds of SEO candidates throughout my entire career in digital marketing, I thought of ways to help a larger group of people who are either looking for SEO candidates and those job seekers trying to learn what they should know before embarking on their SEO specialist interviews.
I personally helped many F100 clients interview for in-house SEO specialists and I’ve also helped companies internationally. Here’s one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve come across.
SEO or search engine optimization, aka organic search, occurs when you employ various industry best practices and methods that improves the searchability of a page or pages within a website through search engines.
Therefore, an SEO Specialist, is a professional digital marketer who focuses specifically on organic search optimization of a website.
Who is This Article For?
This article was created for both the SEO Specialist & The hiring manager or HR looking to hire an SEO Specialist. I think you'll find loads of information to help you all find and either land your ideal SEO position, or hire the best SEO specialist for your particular organization.
Part I The SEO Specialist Interview
Your first order of business is to understand which kind of SEO Specialist position you are applying for. There are three types of SEO Specialist positions you find yourself in.
Before we progress any further, I want to make sure you take advantage of this free guide I developed to help people like you make the most of your SEO career.
There are 3 types of SEOs - I explain it all in the guide, and provide you with all you need to know in there. Go ahead and click on the button below and get your copy now. The playbook will also help you with your interview too!
The Corporate SEO
AKA the "in-house SEO" This position is most often found in a corporate environment, where you work for that company as their in-house SEO.
You might be part of a team or you could be the only SEO in the company. There’s a lot of research to be done, so hopefully you’ve got a few days before the interview.
I’ll provide for you a step by step process that would be the easiest for you to follow while you get ready for the interview.
Step 1: Always Read and Print Out The Job Description
Read it all the way through. This goes no matter what position you apply to. You want to know the work you’d be responsible for. What language is being used?
Review the duties and responsibilities area. The position description will tell you loads - here’s a snippet from a recent SEO Specialist position I came across
It’s important to read through it all, and find specific areas that stand out to you. Here’s another line I found interesting, that really tells you a lot about what they’re interested in.
“Success in this role requires a desire to learn all things digital, a natural hunger for driving results.. Self-motivated and have a positive attitude and work well with a strong team.”
Between the role description, where you’ll perform keyword research and develop technical audits, with a desire to learn all things digital.
If I could distill down to what you should be acutely aware of is that you should absolutely have a desire to learn, be self motivated, and you must have a positive attitude, because there will be days you’ll be challenged like you’ve never been challenged before.
Step 2: Who, What & Where Will you be Interviewing?
Always, always learn as much about the company you’ll be interviewing with. If you have a scheduled interview. You should know the name of the company, the URL of the company, the name of the hiring manager, everyone you’ll be interviewing with.
I would recommend you break this up into two parts. Learn as much about the company as you can.
What is most important to their business? What do they do, and who are their customers? Please don’t overlook visiting their website.
Make sure you have time to visually run a quick SEO audit - notice any quick wins? Do they have a secure site? What’s their mobile experience look like?
Make sure you note anything you can. You might be asked what you'd do if you were to start tomorrow.
Next, find out as much about the interviewers as you can. These are the people you’d be working for and alongside within a marketing team most likely. Research each of them through Linkedin. How long have they been with this company, and what is their role there? Find out what their past experiences are.
Step 3: Ask These Questions
They will be asking you loads of questions.
Hot Tip: Make sure you ask each person you interview with at least 2-3 questions. Please do yourself a favor and never give this response when you’re asked if you have any questions, “Oh, I don’t have any for you, I already asked everyone my questions”
I actually got that response, from someone applying to a senior executive position. That response was one of the most lame I’ve heard out of any I’ve interviewed.
How about you come up with 2-3 unique questions for each of your interviewers? Be original and stand out. Do your homework. Is this position important to you? Then show them, and ask questions.
So, what kind of questions should you ask them?
Be prepared and research the following;
- Think about their experience, and what they’re doing in their current position. You want to ask how you could help them if you were chosen for this position. How would the two of you interact?
- What is the biggest challenge you’re facing this year? Depending on the level of seniority - you’ll get different answers.
- Ask about the kind of training or education offered as a way to maintain your SEO skills. If you can attend at least one search conference each year, would that be a problem?
- What level of experience does this company have with SEO? Do they know what to expect or understand how a strategy is developed?
- Are there any external agencies that the company works with?
- When interviewing with HR be sure to ask about the corporate culture. Is it protocol to leave no earlier than 7PM? What are some musts in a company for you? Ask those.
Step 4: Be The Ideal SEO Interview
Show up at least 15 minutes early. Bring a notepad or portfolio, and make sure you have at least two hard copies of your resume. Don’t assume the digital version made its way to the interviewer. Most times it will.
Take notes, look around and get a feel for the company. Could you see yourself working there for a few years at least?
Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. Who is the person that would be your manager? Make sure you ask as many questions as possible. How does that person interact with you? Are you feeling rushed, and interrupted? Yes ? Guess what? That's a behavior you’d have to live with.
Ask about their leadership style, and what they would expect from you within the first 90 days. By now, you should have a real good idea as to whether this is the right place for you or not.
OK have a look at these resources - they range from great places to work to learning more about the job demand for SEO.
The Agency SEO Specialist
A digital search agency interviewing an SEO specialist has a much different way of looking at you. They are already well versed in what they’re looking for.
If you choose to work for a digital marketing agency, like anything, there’s good and not so great benefits.
I’ll start with a few of the good ones.
A Few of the Great Things in a Digital Agency
First, you learn from so many in your field, because they’re surrounding you everyday. You get to work on a wide variety of verticals or industries that you might not have the opportunity to if you worked directly for an employer in house.
If I could recommend the best place any SEO Specialist start their career, it would be here, inside the digital search agency. It’s a place where you have the opportunity to test, try new things, and learn from others around you.
The environment within a search agency, allows for loads of learning all the time. There you’re encouraged into a lunch and learn on a monthly basis where all the SEO team gets together to talk about learnings from other clients, best practices, and helping out teams working on other clients.
One of the best things about working in an agency environment for me, was that you could work on many projects at once. That also was one of the worst things. Trying to juggle 10 clients at once is a bit much.
Working with new clients and meeting new teams, embracing a new kick off, and saying goodbye to clients who may have caused you extreme grief. Yeah that does happen.
The Not So Great Side of Agency Life..
of working within a digital search agency doesn’t have as long a list, but understand you are not the only one. You’ll work with “SEO rockstars” who, may or may not be so inclined to share their work, or feel they need to protect their space.
As a junior person on the SEO team, you’ll be asked to do a lot of “grunt work” like spend hours and hours and days on keyword research, or analysis on a particular page within a client’s site. Writing title tags for days. Pulling keywords from Google Search Console for the last month. It may seem mundane, but its all really important work that needs to be done, and that you need to be skilled on.
Think of this as quality training time. You must perfect this and start here before you advance to a manager level discussing strategy with clients.
Being part of “RFP”s (request for proposals) or “RFI’”s (request for information), developing statements of work, and pitching a new client, while important to the overall growth of the agency, is taxing and can be discouraging if you don’t have the right sales team put together.
It’s the model for on-boarding a new client. You need to prove to that client you have the team, the right mix of skills and desire to take on the work. This is not something that’s done quickly, and requires a full team to support building the pitch deck, and owning your role in that pitch.
As a brand new SEO specialist, you aren’t likely to be involved in these sales pitches, but you should be aware that once you are promoted through the agency, you’ll be asked to contribute and even attend the “dog and pony show” aka RFP meeting.
If you haven't already downloaded the Free SEO Professional's Playbook - Go ahead and do that now. There's loads more in there for anyone considering a career in SEO.
I love SEO, teaching about it, talking about it, and sharing my knowledge. I also loved helping my clients and genuinely enjoyed seeing our efforts bring about huge growth for them. The salesy side of the RFP, was so not my jam. Some love it. Hey I'm not judging.
You should be asking yourselves the following questions as you prepare for the search marketing agency SEO specialist interview.
#1 Who is This Agency and What Clients Do They Serve?
Just as you would visit the site for a potential employer for a corporate SEO position, you should absolutely get to know this agency as much as you can by visiting their site first.
Next, find out what this agency is like - are they in the news? What search conferences, if any, do they attend? What is this agency most known for?
There are digital agencies that have an expertise or specialize in design, or user experience, or paid search. Find out what this agency does best, and whether you’d be working with a solid SEO team or not.
#2 What is The SEO Team Makeup Look Like?
How big is the team? Why are they recruiting new SEO specialists? Is it because they’re taking on more clients? (which is great because it means they know how to sell and position SEO). Or is it because they can’t seem to hold onto good SEOs and the turnover rate is extraordinary.
#3 Will You Have the Ability To Grow and Get Promoted?
Hopefully when you ask this question you get a resounding YES! But you should ask - the first 1-3 years as a new SEO specialist is critical. You need to learn process, how to work with clients, and how to advance in your career - it's all part of the early years of your career. Find the best agency to work for, and grow.
Part II How To Interview The SEO Specialist
This part is mostly dedicated to the many HR, hiring managers, and teams who need to hire an SEO specialist, but have no idea what to ask, or what to expect.
The SEO Skills required to fulfill this position aren’t as easy to understand as if you were filling the position of some other type of marketing position.
The Top SEO Skills Every SEO Specialist Should Develop
- Critical Thinking - Be curious, learning the what, how and why your rankings increased or declined - and what we should do about it?
- Speaking, Presentation & Writing Ability - The SEO specialist should be able to clearly communicate through presenting, writing or verbal skills. There will be loads of opportunities this person will need to articulate what and why something occurred and in particular in non-technical terms to the client, or senior leadership.
- Technical & Some Programming Skill - Or some ability to learn and apply these skills will also help. Additionally, the knowledge of basic programming or ow a site is built will help in identifying any technical related SEO situations, and with development teams. The SEO specialist doesn't need to be a programmer to be successful. I've heard so many proclaim that in order to be an expert in SEO you must be a programmer. I call BS on that. I've known many very expert SEOs, who do not have programming as a background.
- Analytics & Excel Skills - Required to understand how to read the analytics, preferably Google Analytics at a bare minimum. Excel is another critical skill the SEO should have and will help in diagnosing reporting metrics and reporting through pivot tables, and charts.
- Curiosity, Drive to See Things Succeed, and a Positive Attitude - I'd also like to make sure team player is also a part of this description. Finding a smart, curious and energetic personality as SEO specialist will go a long way in this very challenging and complex career.
SEO Questions for The SEO Specialist Interview
In case you have no time to read this list, or you might want to take this on the go.
Are you an SEO Specialist? I'd highly recommend YOU download this list too!
What Experience Should They Have?
Most SEO Specialist level professionals typically have between 0-3 years experience. This is generally the entry level SEO, who may or may not have a very deep level of specialization at this stage in their career.
Some of these questions will require you to know the answers to them, but if you have access to another SEO professional, you can share the answers with them to understand how much the candidate knows or doesn’t.
SEO IS NOT SEM
What is SEM? The acronym stands for "search engine marketing", which can and most often includes paid search marketing. Most often SEM professionals, are also called digital marketers, or it can also include paid search marketing. Most often it only includes paid search, not SEO.
So, what is the difference between SEO and SEM Really?
SEO, or search engine optimization, and also referred to as organic search, is when you employ various industry best practices and methods meant to improve the searchability of a page, or pages within a website across search engines.
Therefore, and SEO Specialist is a professional digital marketer, who focuses solely on organic search engine optimization of a website.
Trying to find someone who is well versed in both of these disciplines, or at an expert level, is extraordinarily difficult to find. Most typically, you'll find someone who is expert in one or the other discipline, but generally not ever both.
So, here's what its important to make this distinction. If you are looking to hire someone to perform SEO on a full time basis, that is in itself, a full time job. If you think you’d like to hire a jack of all trades, finding someone who is deeply specialized in SEO and paid search is not something that you’re likely to ever come across.
Sure you could find someone who is “familiar” with the two disciplines, but you aren’t likely to find anyone who is specialized in both.
Someone who knows “digital marketing” is also not an SEO specialist. I’ve come across resumes that had things like “knows email marketing, familiar with analytics and keywords” That’s a random list of things - but tells you nothing about what this person does or doesn’t know. I've had numerous discussions with human resource reps explaining to them this differentiation and had to weed out many candidates based on this.
The International SEO Specialist
Finding someone to manage your international SEO program, whether in-house or search agency, will require them to be fully knowledgeable in all aspects of international search.
If you are looking to hire an SEO internationally there’s a few things you should know.
- Local language is always preferred over using any translator service or Google Translate. You must have an SEO who is native to the local language you're hiring for. If your site is targeted to Italians living in Italy, your SEO specialist should be Italian, and ideally living in Italy.
- Do not expect to find a deeply specialized SEO professional in Europe, Korea, South America, India, or Africa. From my own professional experiences, these are locations you're likely to find a very basic level of SEO knowledge, but not well-practiced, or adherent to current industry best practices. Germany, Australia, Ireland, and UK are more likely to have those SEO specialists more experienced in SEO practice, tools, methods and process.
- If you're hiring an international resource or looking to "outsource your SEO" for your North American company, don't. You should always hire a North American for your N.A. company. If you are a Canadian telecom supporting only Canadians - don't hire an American living in Miami. I think I made my point here. While outsourcing is "cheaper" the quality of keyword research and content will also suffer and if you don't relate to your audience, what good is it? You must hire skilled and quality SEO professionals who ware much more familiar with local language, searcher behavior, and verbiage used in that country
- Some countries can assist with things like reporting, or analytics analysis, i.e. India, South America, and are very helpful in that regard, but should not be required to conduct keyword research and understand the user intent of someone living in Korea if you're an SEO from Brazil.
- International search strategy is a bit more complex when you consider multiple countries or regions, and domains. Unless you've actually led an international search program, this isn't anything you can read about or pick up anywhere other than having direct experience.
- There are international search standards Google has in place, that anyone who has performed SEO internationally should be well versed in. Here’s a link to Google’s managing multilingual international sites from Google Support.
Grab a copy of these two really helpful resources for those who need to consider SEO at a Global Scale. These two resources will certainly help educate you as to what you could expect from your international SEO resource and the ideal international program setup, whether in house or recommendation for agency clients.
Check out the SMX 2017 Intel SEO at a Global Scale presentation
Have a look from my own collection, where I presented to International Search Summit in NYC
My hope is that I’ve provided both the SEO professional and the hiring manager of the SEO Specialist a method or detailed outline with which to prepare for the interview.
If I left anything out, or you feel something was overlooked - tell me in the comments below.
I’d be more than happy to update this for you so its as comprehensive as possible. Share this with someone you know getting ready to interview!