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How to Interview Marketers (who are often good at marketing themselves)

3 March 2020

Here’s how to pressure test the depth and substance of what they actually accomplished.

Marketing is becoming so specialized that just because a leader has been successful at one company does not mean (s)he will be successful at another. A marketer’s success depends on a number of factors such as growth stage (do they need to build vs. optimize), primary marketing channels, and how well they fit with the culture.

Many leaders find it hard to effectively evaluate Marketers because they are often good at marketing themselves – telling compelling stories, using buzzwords, and taking credit for a team’s results. These “storytellers” are common in Marketing and Sales roles.  So how do you evaluate their “true” marketing depth – the strategy, execution, continuous improvement, and scaling of programs that grow the business and build the brand? How do you know they will drive results for your business?

It all starts with getting clarity on what kind of marketing leader you need and the specific outcomes you expect over the next 1-2 years. We recently delved into this in detail in our article How to Scope a Marketing Leader Role, and we’ve published our Guide to Frameworks for Scoping Key Marketing Roles that introduces 9 role frameworks.  You can use these to define the most critical marketing roles, including B2C and B2B Marketing Leaders, Brand Marketing, Performance Marketing, Lifecycle/CRM, Analytics, Product Marketing, E-Commerce, and Business Development/Sales. 

Next, here are some insights around pressure testing the depth and substance of what marketers have accomplished once you start interviewing them.

1. How “hands-on” are they? 

Whether you are looking for a hands-on marketer or someone who is going to manage teams and resources, here are some suggestions for assessing how hands-on a candidate is likely to be in their next role. If performance marketing was a part of a candidate’s responsibilities, ask whether it was staffed in-house or through an agency. If in-house, the candidate is more likely to be more hands-on. Were they there in the early days standing up new campaigns and channels, or did they hire a team of experts that were senior and just managed them? How did they think about optimizing and scaling what the people on that team were already doing? Can they talk about the specifics of the platforms they’ve used and the variables they were optimizing or are they talking about the program only at a high level?

Keep listening for the level of detail the candidate provides when describing their experience. If they did the work or were intimately involved in the projects, they’ll talk about second order metrics, nuances of what worked and didn’t work in campaigns, challenges they faced in data flows or implementation, and specific insights learned. On the other hand, watch out for people talking about just top line metrics and generalities around the nature of their programs (as if they were simply watching the work get done).

Another approach is to ask open-ended questions about what their onboarding plan would look like. Listen for clues – are they talking about building teams and spending money, or do you hear a bias towards action, testing, interaction, or specific channels and tactics?

2. Have they been successful in your size/stage of company before?

In a startup, you need to accomplish a lot with few resources. You are developing hypotheses and structured tests informed by your previous experiences. You are building a playbook from scratch and that often means being a “doer” consumes more of your time than managing people.

At a large company, you are thinking about scale – what will move the needle. Managing several direct reports and teams with big budgets. And you often have to work with many constituents, so your ability to sell your ideas internally is as important as the programs and initiatives themselves. 

If you hire someone who’s only been successful in companies that are a different size or stage than yours, then there’s additional risk. A candidate who’s been successful in both environments – startups and large companies – is ideal, but can be hard to find. They can be scrappy, flexible and innovative in the less defined, unstructured environment of a startup, yet when the company grows over time to be a late-stage private or public company, they have the inter-departmental communications skills and experience to build consensus and scale programs.

3. Were they driving the impact, or were they just in the room where it happened?

When hiring key marketing roles, it’s easy to default to pursuing people with hot companies and successful brands on their LinkedIn. 

It’s easy for these candidates to talk about the accomplishments of the company or their group. But were these candidates just in the right place at the right time, or were they the ones leading strategy and driving impact?

You need to take the time to keep digging and “double-click” for the next level down of information. Every time you get an answer, ask several follow-up questions. For example: “What were the results? What was your role? What technology and tools did you use and why? What did you learn? What do you wish you did differently?”  Answering these questions requires a level of detail that’s hard to keep providing if you weren’t intimately involved. If you (as the interviewer) don’t know the subject matter, ask open-ended follow-up questions such as “tell me more” or “say more about that.” With time and patience, you’ll usually get to a point where you have a good sense of what the candidate did or didn’t do.

4. How deep is their functional knowledge and expertise in your priority areas? 

You’re hiring a Marketer to grow your business in the next one to two years, most likely via a known set of core channels and initiatives. The growth strategy and required marketing mix should match the Marketer you hire. For example, if you think you’re mostly going to grow by Facebook and Google, the candidate should have extensive experience with those channels. If brand is important but not critical, then you can have a Director of Brand that supports the marketing leader. 

How do you assess the functional knowledge and expertise of candidates, when maybe you’re not an expert?  Include in the interview process someone who knows the desired marketing functions well and can drill-down. This could be an internal or external resource or a talent firm. You want someone who can assess the relative strength of their skills across the marketing spectrum because no one is equally good at everything.

For example, when assessing performance marketing, ask which performance channels are they strongest in? Which channels did you implement, or scale, in past companies? Then “double-clicking” further – if the candidate said they launched a given program, ask about what key metrics were tracked, what was the technology stack, what two things didn’t work, etc.  You’ll learn the level of their functional knowledge pretty quickly in these deep dives.

5. Do their leadership skills and behaviors fit with your company culture and your executive team? 

From our hundreds of marketing placements each year, we’ve discovered that companies tend to hire on skills, but fire for culture. Skills and experience are absolutely necessary but are simply not sufficient for success in a high growth environment. To develop high-performance teams and reduce churn, the personality, interpersonal skills and resulting behaviors of your senior hires need to mesh well with your existing team and culture. It’s critical to evaluate this in the recruiting process – before it’s too late.

You could start to address this with typical interview questions about a candidate’s personality, skills and behaviors. But we believe this is too important of a topic to just “scratch the surface” on, in part because some candidates may provide prepared responses that they think you want to hear.

Fortunately, there are sophisticated personality assessment tools available today that don’t take long to complete, can be positioned as a learning opportunity for the candidate, and provide insights into your initial hiring decision and subsequent onboarding and integration of new leaders into your organization. We recently partnered with OAD, the leader in this space. We found the OAD tool to be the most modern personality assessment on the market, providing actionable insights on key talent decisions such as:

 

We hope that some of these suggestions, tools, insights and tips prove helpful as you interview marketers who are good at marketing themselves.

Good luck with your search, and let us know how RevelOne can help.

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