I have interviewed many people for SEO roles during my time as a manager.
I can say that certain mistakes are made during interviews that can easily be avoided.
Unfortunately, all of those generic “top tips for interviewing” guides out there don’t tend to address them due to the specificity of SEO interviews.
During the heat of an interview, it can be easy to lose focus, ramble, and appear unsure of your SEO knowledge.
If you are looking for a job currently or want to brush up on your interviewing skills for your next opportunity, take a look at these SEO interview-specific tips.
I’ve approached them from the perspective of a hiring manager who has seen her fair share of probably great candidates lose out on a role due to a bad interview.
1. Research The Role
This may sound like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how many people will turn up to an interview with little knowledge of what they are interviewing for.
If you are in the position where you are being interviewed for an SEO role, this can be even more important. Our industry is a multi-faceted one; “SEO manager” means something different at every company.
It can be obvious when a candidate has been referred to the role through a recruiter who doesn’t really understand what an SEO professional does.
If you are in a position where the job has been explained to you by the recruiter, make sure you do a bit of further research yourself.
In general, it’s a good idea to check the following;
- What are the key skills the company requires for the role?
- Does it lean toward any particular SEO focus, e.g., local SEO, technical SEO, or digital PR?
- What is the current team structure – is this the only SEO pro or one of many in the company?
- Does the role report to a manager with SEO experience, or will this role be the most senior SEO pro in the business?
In addition, you may want to find out:
Why Is The Role Available?
In your initial conversations with recruiters or contacts at the company you have applied to, try to ascertain why the role is available.
Is it a new role due to expansion, new markets, or new clients? This will help equip you during the interview to answer questions from the right perspective.
For example, if you are asked about a time when you have successfully completed a technical campaign, and you know from conversations that the role is coming about due to the company’s expansion into Europe, it would give you the right context to talk about that tricky hreflang tag implementation or French keyword research that you had success with.
Who Has It Already?
Is there someone else in the company that does this role already? Are you expanding the team or taking over from an incumbent?
If so, see if you can find out some information about what sort of experience they have. This might mean looking on the company’s website for their bio or even looking on LinkedIn.
Be respectful, though; not everyone wants a ton of new LinkedIn contacts from people who are after their job!
Are You Taking Over From An Agency?
If the role you are applying for is at a brand, you may find it useful to identify if the role has been created due to the company bringing it in-house.
For example, is the work this new employee would be doing replacing that of an external agency?
If so, it would be prudent to know so you don’t end up talking about how much you would want to rely on agencies for support if you land the job.
One of the most important pieces of research you can do is around the industry, or industries, the company operates in.
If you are applying for a role at an agency, their website is a good place to start to see what industries they work in.
They may specialize in one vertical, for example, or their case studies may show a variety. This knowledge will allow you to tailor your answers with their target industries in mind.
2. Reach Out To The Hiring Manager To Ask Questions Ahead Of Time
Some hiring managers love this approach. Others do not.
Ask your recruitment contact at the company if the hiring manager is happy to take questions before the interview before you go outside of the prescribed hiring process!
I’ve had some great conversations with candidates via them reaching out on LinkedIn or through SEO groups we’re a part of.
It has allowed both me and them to get an idea of whether they might be right for the role before they go into the trouble of applying.
3. Prepare 5 Examples Of Successful Projects
During the pressure of the interview, it’s easy for your experience and knowledge to fly out of your mind.
A good tip for anyone interviewing for an SEO role is to write down five examples of clients or projects they’ve worked on that directly relate to the skills and requirements listed in the job advert.
This has saved my bacon personally when interviewing for SEO roles!
It can help with your confidence when answering interview questions and will likely result in you providing an answer that is clear and directly applicable to the question.
This will help you to avoid the dreaded situation where waffling takes over!
4. Be Specific And Use An Answer Structure
Be specific when you are answering questions. It is horrible as an interviewer to have to dig through a verbose answer for the piece of information you are hoping is there.
I’ve had candidates answer in such a confusing manner that I’ve struggled to identify if they answered the question or not. This can often result from nerves or not fully understanding the question. It doesn’t have to happen, though.
There are several techniques for structuring answers to interview questions. A well-known one is “STAR,” which stands for “situation,” “task,” “action,” and “result.”
It allows a candidate to ensure their answer includes the key details needed.
Whichever one you choose, make sure you are picking up on the intent behind the interviewer’s question.
Remember, interviewers often have no training in interviewing skills. We can be quite bad at it! It is okay to ask clarifying questions if you’re unsure of what the interviewer is trying to ascertain.
Once you are clear about what skill or experience they are trying to uncover, you can directly tailor your example to showcase the relevancy.
This is particularly important during SEO interviews because the projects we might want to use to showcase our experience can be complex, containing many stakeholders, activities, and results.
Using an answer structure can make sure you include everything that is pertinent to the question.
Choosing a technique and practicing answering questions with it can help you overcome the initial panic during an interview. It will enable you to provide clear and structured answers.
5. Be Prepared For Not Having An Answer
You may be asked to give an example of a time when you have carried out an SEO task that you simply haven’t done before.
Don’t worry. No one matches a job description 100%.
What I look for during interviews, especially with candidates who are new to the industry, is their ability to think around a problem.
This is especially the case if they haven’t directly encountered a situation before.
Some of my best hires have been people who have said, “I haven’t dealt with that before, but this is probably the approach I would take.”
You can use examples from case studies you have read about or draw from presentations you’ve seen at conferences. You can talk about how you would go about finding an answer to that issue or resources that you might use for help.
SEO is an incredibly broad discipline. It’s unlikely you have encountered every SEO issue out there! However, theoretical knowledge applied well can be just as effective as experience.
Draw on your knowledge and understanding of a situation if you can’t draw on your experience of it.
6. Consider Your Answers To Probable Questions
You are likely to encounter similar questions across SEO interviews.
Typically, you will be asked to give examples of times you have worked well with stakeholders or solved a complex technical issue.
You may be asked about a time when a project did not go to plan and how you handled it.
If you have been interviewing for a while, you might want to list some of the questions you notice you get asked often. Practice those answers. Ask your wider SEO network to help you refine them.
There will always be nuances to how interviewers interview, but there is a limit to how off the wall the questions are likely to be and still be relevant to SEO!
7. Don’t Criticize A Potential Colleague’s Work
Sometimes, interviewers will ask candidates to audit their company’s or their client’s website. You may choose to do so unprompted.
Be careful if you are likely to be pointing out errors or missed opportunities with a site someone on the interview panel may be working on.
As we all know, there are often internal processes and problems that impact an SEO pro’s ability to fix glaring issues.
When answering these types of questions, just be aware that you don’t have the full context of why the hreflang tags are missing, or there are terrible cannibalization issues.
Don’t be afraid to highlight these improvements and opportunities; just do it sensitively. Lean on the side of caution.
Assume that you are not uncovering some previously undiscovered technical issue. Presume that the SEO expert in charge of that client’s account isn’t lazy or incompetent.
Even if you are correct and they have missed an issue or made a mistake, no SEO pro wants their work criticized on a call with their superiors. Instead, take an empathetic approach.
Don’t forget, it’s not just your practical SEO knowledge that is being tested at the interview, but your approach and team fit also.
8. Tailor Your Answers To Who Is In The Room
It is a good idea to be aware of who is interviewing you generally, not just so you don’t accidentally criticize their work but also so you can tailor your answers appropriately.
There is a big difference between being interviewed by someone with specialist SEO knowledge and without. It is likely that you will be interviewed by both during a company’s hiring process.
If your interviewers are SEO pros themselves, you can afford to go more into the technical details of your experience.
You can discuss the impact a content pruning exercise had on the crawling and indexation of your site. Or explain how you handled a tricky website migration. You can discuss these with some assumption that they will know what you are talking about.
If your interviewers are not au-fait with SEO, you may want to focus more on the business impact your changes made.
They may not want to hear about how going from client-side to server-side rendering impacted the visibility of your pages in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
They may be more interested in how you brought stakeholders along on your project and the impact on revenue your changes had.
You may need to explain the activity in a bit more detail than you would with another SEO.
9. Demonstrate Your Desire To Learn And Develop
Our industry is one that is changing a lot. One thing I tend to look for when interviewing SEO candidates is their attitude to learning and development.
I will ask questions to see how they solidify and expand their knowledge.
Good answers will often show that a candidate takes responsibility for their own learning and growth.
Everyone learns differently, but good SEO professionals are always trying to learn more about their discipline.
Whether you are an avid reader of case studies or listen to all the SEO podcasts out there, just be ready to explain your process for keeping up with industry developments.
10. Use It As An Opportunity To Learn About The Company And Refine Your Choices For Your Career
You’ll often hear it said that interviews are just as much about the candidate deciding if the company is right for them as it is the other way around. In SEO, this is extremely important.
You could be fighting a battle to get your recommendations implemented. You may be faced with strong stakeholder opinions and push-back.
Whilst you are interviewing with a company, use it as an opportunity to understand what level of SEO-literacy the team has.
- Is SEO something that is new to the company, and your focus will be on training and selling in the benefits once you join?
- Are they already aware of the importance of SEO and have been working towards a goal for a while?
- If so, are your ideas going to be welcomed, or will you be expected to just continue your predecessor’s work?
Questions you could ask during your interview include:
- “What is your company’s current approach to SEO?”
- Or, “What importance does the senior management team give to SEO as a growth lever?”
The answers will help you determine whether the issues and opportunities at that company are the sort you want to face.
SEO interviews can feel overwhelming.
There are so many aspects to SEO that it can feel impossible to showcase your strengths in all of them.
Take some time to review the above tips and practice your interviewing where possible.
Most mistakes in interviews seem to be the result of nerves. Good interviewers will understand that.
Do yourself a favor and prepare for these interviews so that you can reduce the nerves as much as possible and feel confident in your ability as an SEO professional.
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