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8 competency based interview questions for hiring SEO professionals

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I recently wrote an article published on Moz.com regarding competency based interview questions for hiring SEO professionals. If you have yet to read the article, it would be good to digest it first before reading on:

Having seen a shortage of quality competency based interview questions in the SEO industry, I thought I would provide further examples that attempt to raise the bar and to try and help individuals who are plunged into the hiring line but have had no formal interview training.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), only 11% of those you hire using only an interview as a source of selection will be the best person for the job. Even though interviews are popular, they provide poor reliability. This suggests that the process of hiring and firing becomes expensive and extremely hit and miss.

Competency based interview questions are a good predictor of candidate behaviour and provide a level playing field for all persons involved. In addition to bringing good candidates to the forefront, employers can also avoid expensive employment tribunals, because they focus on the skills and abilities of the individual, rather than age, gender, appearance and other subjective matters such as experience and personality.

Competency based interviews use scalars to determine the level of behaviour evidenced, along with probing questions to aid the interview process. Probing questions, seek to extract the information and behaviours you are asking them to evidence. You should give each candidate 5 minutes (total) to provide their response, and its good practice to give them a copy of the interview question as you go along. This negates the need for them to continually ask you to remind them of the question. Do not give them a copy of the probing questions, these are only to be used is the candidate is not providing sufficient evidence.

If a candidate exceeds 5 minutes, you simply stop them by telling them the 5 minutes is up, and you move to the next question. Only ask probing questions if they have failed to provide evidence of their behaviour. Each probing question should only be asked once. A good candidate will be clear, concise and provide strong evidence of their behaviour within 5 minutes. A weak candidate will be unclear, unstructured and will lack the fine details, often waffling and going off subject.

It is good practice to provide them one or two sample interview questions beforehand and explain the interview process. I.e. you will be asked 8 questions and you will be provided 5 minutes to answer each. Every candidate will be asked the same questions, this is to ensure fairness and transparency for all involved. The interview will last 40 minutes. During the interview, you may see the interviewer taking notes, this is perfectly normal. You will not be given the opportunity to ask questions about the role during the competency interview.

Before I proceed and provide some good examples, it is important that you understand what a bad interview question looks like. Future based interview questions are where you ask an individual to explain what would you do? These are hypothetical answers and when individuals are faced with real life situations, their behaviour will often be somewhat different. Competency based interview questions ask about past behaviour, as these are a better predictor of how you are likely to behave in the future.

Poor Examples:

  • Please give me an example of how you would analyse the back link profile of a website?
  • How would you go about sourcing inbound links?
  • Please tell me how you would go about analysing a web page for on-page SEO ranking factors?
  • How long have you worked in the SEO industry?

The latter question I list above is a common question put to individuals. Often a job advert will indicate that a candidate must have at least 2 years experience working in the SEO industry. The main issue here lies with age discrimination laws. By indicating that a person must have 2 years experience, this can often preclude individuals applying straight from school, college or university. This is very dangerous territory because an employment tribunal will often find you guilty of age discrimination, because you are in fact (whether you are aware or not) screening candidates based on their age. The same applies where job adverts indicate you must be mature, or you get feedback from an interview saying you lacked experience or you lacked maturity.

What you are really looking for is individuals with the correct skills and abilities to carry out the role. It is quite feasible that an individual still at school or perhaps and under study could have the skills and abilities for the role (they may have been involved with the educational establishments website), but have never formally been employed for 2 years. It would be safe to ask for SEO experience and list the desired competencies, but it would be best to avoid asking for a specific number of years.

By asking competency based questions you are assessing the performance of an individual solely based on their skills and abilities. Why else would you want to employ them?

Good Examples of Competency based Interview Questions that you can use for hiring SEO Professionals


Question 1.
Please provide me an example of when you carried out analysis of a web page for on-page SEO ranking factors? What issues did you encounter and how did you overcome them?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 gave details of website involved
1.2 explained keywords and phrases be evaluated
1.3 outlined starting rank
1.4 identified issues (keywords missing in title, URL, within content
1.5 provided details of changes made to rectify issues
1.6 provided evidence of software used
1.7 provided closing rank and outcome

Probing questions:

What was the name and type of website in question?
What issues did you face?
What exactly did you do?
How did you overcome the issues?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


Question 2.
Please provide me an example of when you analysed the back link profile of a website and you used the information to successfully acquire a inbound link?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 gave details of website
1.2 provided details of software used
1.3 reviewed the information gathered
1.4 made decisions which took account of relevant factors
1.5 used a variety of sources to analyse and gather information
1.6 gave details of the inbound link and domain

Probing questions:

What was the name and type of website in question?
What did you do?
What information did you have?
What other information did you need?
How did you use the information and how did it help you acquire the link?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


Question 3.
Please provide me an example of when you established a partnership with a relevant third party, that resulted in a link that featured in a newsletter or email? (This is often referred to as a Stealth Link). How did you encourage click throughs?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 gave details of both parties involved
1.2 explained the benefit of the partnership
1.3 gave details of the type of link i.e. newsletter, email etc
1.4 explained the link context* e.g. offer, discount etc
1.5 gave details of benefits*

*offer, discount, quality article
*increased traffic, new customers, brand awareness

Probing questions:

What was the name of the two parties involved?
How did you go about securing the link?
What was the purpose or aim of establishing the link?
What exactly did you do?
What issues did you face (if any)?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


Question 4.
Please provide me an example of when you contributed to a niche forum and secured a link? What was the subject matter and how did you encourage click throughs?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 gave details of the name of the forum
1.2 provided details on how they identified the niche forum
1.3 explained how they secured the link
1.4 provided details on the subject matter
1.5 explained the link context*
1.6 gave details of the inbound link and domain

*offer, discount, quality article

Probing questions:

What was the name and type of forum in question?
How did you identify the niche forum?
What research did you do to ensure the forum was of significant quality?
How did you go about approaching the forum owner?
How exactly did you contribute to the forum?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


Question 5.
Please provide me details of a recent website that you were involved with. What outbound links did you incorporate into the content and how did you decide which websites would receive the link?

 Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 gave details of website they were involved with
1.2 provided details of any software used i.e. opensiteexplorer
1.3 explained the importance of careful link selection
1.4 explained the benefit of the outbound links*
1.5 gave details of any anchor text* used and the reasoning

* benefit the website readers
* negative indicators include exact match anchor text

Probing questions:

What was the name and type of website you were recently involved with?
What did you do?
How did you identify which websites to link to?
How did you use the information and how did it help you decide which sites to link to?
What anchor text phrases* were used?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


Question 6.
Please provide me an example of a high quality piece of content that you created on either a blog or website that resulted in a relevant natural inbound link, share or mention?

 Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 gave details of website that featured the content
1.2 gave details of content
1.3 explained why they thought the content was of high quality
1.4 gave details of how they encouraged natural links, shares or mentions
1.5 gave details of inbound link, share or mention

Probing questions:

What was the name and type of website you were recently involved with?
What did you do?
How did you ensure the content was of high quality?
How did encourage the natural link, share or mention?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


Question 7.
Please provide me an example of a specific time when you have taken responsibility for making something happen within an SEO project that achieved results?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 commitment to achieve a satisfactory result
1.2 a thorough and meticulous approach
1.3 perseverance with the task
1.4 takes pride in their work
1.5 demonstrate initiative

Probing questions:

What did you do?
Why did you take responsibility?
What did you consider when taking on the responsibility?
Did you face any difficulties?
How did you overcome these difficulties?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?


Question 8. 
Please provide me an example of a time when you volunteered to work on an SEO project. A project that you were passionate about that resulted in a positive outcome?

Scalar
Strong evidence 4 3 2 1 Weak Evidence

Desired Behaviours
1.1 the benefits achieved by the project
1.2 explained how they positively contributed to the project
1.3 explained their enthusiasm for task/own role
1.4 their commitment to completing the task
1.5 that they took on a task without being asked

Probing questions:

What did you do?
Why did you volunteer for the role?
What things did you consider before volunteering?
What did you enjoy about the project?
What would you do different next time?
What was the outcome?
You still have time remaining in your five minutes, is there any further information you would like to add to the example?

Takeaway

The objective of using competency based interview questions is to determine a candidate’s suitability for the role by analysing their past behaviours, as these are a better predictor of future behaviour. It is important that interviewers fully understand the skills and abilities required for the role, and they set competency questions that aim to elicit the desired behaviors from candidates.

By using a scalar, it provides you with an objective overview of a candidate’s performance and when all interviews have been completed it allows you to compare results. If you have a number of vacancies, you can set a specific benchmark, i.e. a candidate must achieve 60% or more of the overall marks to be shortlisted, or, if you have just one vacancy you can appoint the person with the highest score.