The first time I was tasked to hire a Tech SEO to join my team, I googled "SEO interview questions". I had no idea what I was doing and I stressed over the idea of "getting it right". For some reason, I was convinced that it would reflect badly on me if I didn't hire the *right* person who would be perfect for the role. This goes hand in hand with my typical response to most things - being hard on myself.
This was 3 years ago and the person we ended up hiring turned out to be one of the smartest SEOs I've ever had the chance to work with, I learned so much from her. Ever since, I've hired, onboarded and trained a total of 6 team members, both agency-side and client-side and I've interviewed a countless number of SEOs.
I wanted to write something up for people who are currently in the position I was in 3 years ago - ones who are frantically googling "SEO interview questions" and needing some guidance on where or how to start. So I hope you find this helpful =)
Getting your job ad found
First and foremost, you need to make sure your job ad will be found - and when I said found, I mean found by a large number of diverse applicants. I wouldn't be me if I didn't bring this up. It's far too common for Technical SEO roles to be heavily dominated by white male applicants and it's on companies to ensure they have a diverse pool of applicants applying to their roles. This means 'active outreach' and putting your job ads forward in the right places.
Getting the job ad in front of communities such as Women in Tech SEO and B-DigitalUK is essential. If you're working with recruiters, ensure that they've got access to diverse applicants and challenge them to come back with more options if they're putting similar candidates in front of you. If you have a remote role, get your job listed on remoters.net - a website founded by Aleyda Solis who understands the market inside out and her website gets lots of traction from candidates.
A recent Twitter poll conducted by Abby Reimer came back with a shortage of SEO skills with a lot of people specifically stating there's a shortage in experienced Tech SEOs. Personally, I voted 'No' but I know how competitive it is to find experienced Tech SEOs, it once took me 4 months to find the *right* candidate (and they turned out to be perfect so they were worth the wait!)
Here's why this is a problem - lots of studies, such as this one, have confirmed that men feel fairly comfortable applying for roles where they don't meet all requirements whereas roles that are written up in this way would deter women from applying. I really like how SearchPilot position their job ads, in the 'Preferred Experience' section - below they list out the requirements, they always add this:
"We’d love to meet anyone who ticks any of the following - note that you do not need to have deep experience in all of these areas to apply."
Okay so a few CVs come through! If you work in a big company where things get screened by the HR Team initially, I'd encourage you to be involved in this process. Things to not look out for include candidates who worked for a 'brand', there are lots of knowledgable Tech SEOs who have worked for fairly small agencies or companies. Working for 'big brands' shouldn't be a deciding factor to one's experience and knowledge.
Instead, look out for examples and wins mentioned in their experience. Extra curriculum activities they're involved in, whether it's communities or voluntary projects. Don't be fixated on years of experience - focus on terminology used and tools and platforms they show off.
First round interview
As the hiring manager, this is a call you should absolutely be involved in - it shouldn't simply be the HR team. Reason being is there's so much you can find out through this call and it saves both your time and the candidate's time for a longer interview process down the line.
This is usually a fairly quick call, 30 mins at most where you can learn more about their current role and *why* they're looking for a new role. Take the time to explain to them the job role and team structure in detail and answer all the questions they have. The purpose of this call is to feel comfortable that they've got the knowledge and experience you're looking for to take them to the second round.
Second (and final) round interview
The reason I have (and final) is because two rounds is more than enough. I've seen companies that have far too many interview stages that were unnecessary for both candidate and interviewer. It's understandable if there's an additional HR/Culture process for example required by the company but two interview rounds to assess their SEO capabilities is more than enough.
The ultimate question: To give a task or to not give a task.
Personally, I believe that a panel interview where the candidate meets several people from the team and wider is more than enough to decide if they're the right person.
There are lots of companies who take the piss and expect fully fledged out audits and pieces of analysis to be presented back in a matter of days. That's a lot of free work that you're not paying them for and as an industry, we need to steer away from this.
The way I do it is I schedule in a number of back to back interviews for this round. I usually structure it as follows:
- Knowledge: Technical SEO
- Process: Problem solving and project management
- Growth: Personal development
- Culture: Being part of a team
Each round doesn't need to be longer than 30mins and as the hiring manager, you shouldn't be in all of them because you should trust your team's opinion. Personally, I choose to lead the first one, I ask my team to conduct the second one (my team = the new team member's peers), I ask my line manager to conduct the third one and the final one is led by someone from the wider team, not directly in our SEO team.
This helps with the decision process because several people get to meet the candidate but it's also helpful for the candidate. The more people they meet in an interview process, the more it'll help them decide if this is the right place for them.
Below, I'll split out how I carry interviews for mid-level SEOs and for junior SEOs. The examples of interview questions listed are for subject expert matters, not for people managers.
I ask the candidate beforehand to spend some time on our website (if we're client-side) or a specific client's website (if we're agency-side). I don't ask for slides or an audit, I simply ask them to make notes of any observations they come across. This helps with the first part of the interview - the knowledge part.
Over time, I've written down a number of questions that can help steer our interviewing panel when interviewing candidates. Below, I'll share some of these questions within each section.
1. Knowledge: Technical SEO
As the hiring manager, I choose to lead this interview myself. Here are some of the questions that help me steer the conversation:
- What do you think are some of this website's main technical SEO challenges?
- How do you go about diagnosing a rank drop?
- What are the main KPIs you report on to clients?
- How have some of the latest Google updates affected your client sites?
- What’s your proudest achievement in SEO?
- What do you enjoy doing the most in SEO and what do you dislike the most?
- How do you go about making sure your recommendations get implemented?
Be sure to include questions specific to the type of website or industry you work on - for example, if it's e-commerce or marketplace, it's essential to understand their Tech SEO knowledge and experience when it comes to dealing with these.
2. Process: Problem solving and project management
For this round, I ask my team to take the lead - this is other SEOs within the team who will be the candidate's peers. This section is all about understanding how they solve problems, their efficient workflow and their work quality. Here are some of the questions that can help the team steer the conversation:
- Tell me about the most creative business solution you have developed.
- Tell me about the last time you had an idea to improve the way things work.
- Tell me about when you have challenged the status quo in your workplace. Things to cover can include how did they identify that needed improvement and what actions did you take.
- People often say the simplest solution is the best. Tell me about a particular complex problem you solved with a simple solution.
- Tell me about a time when you have been faced with a challenge where the best way forward or strategy to adopt was not clear cut.
- Give me an example of a situation when you had to complete a task or project with fewer resources than you needed.
A lot of these are situational questions - the type of examples shared can tell you so much about the candidate. Things to watch out for are 'I' versus 'We' responses.
3. Growth: Personal Development
For this round, I ask my line manager to take the lead. This section is all about their curiousity, personal development and continuous improvement. Here are some of the questions that can help the interviewer steer the conversation:
- Tell me about how you go about developing yourself, personally and professionally.
- For your current role, how do you go about organising your workload and setting priorities?
- Describe the most significant continuous improvement project that you have led.
- How can you balance speed and thoroughness?
- Tell me about a time when you have taken the lead role in a project, which helped to improve the outcome for your team.
- Can you tell me about a time when you have worked under pressure and against tight deadlines?
- Tell me about a time you took a risk and the result wasn’t as successful as you had hoped it would be.
4. Culture: Being part of a team
For this round, I ask someone from a different team to lead the interview. This section is all about their collaboration style, communication and working with other teams. Here are some of the questions that can help the interviewer steer the conversation:
- Tell me about a time when you have successfully delivered a project through working as part of a team.
- Tell me about a time when you found it difficult to build an effective working relationship with a colleague. How did you deal with this?
- Tell me about a time when you got feedback from a colleague or client who was unsatisfied with the level of service that they had received from you. Things to touch on are their immediate feelings on receiving the feedback and how they responded.
It goes without saying that in all these rounds, make sure that you're giving the candidate enough time to ask their own questions - this is a two way process, they should be bought into you as a team as much as you're bought into them as a candidate.
I find interviewing junior SEOs more difficult than experienced SEOs as they won't be able to share examples of frameworks or processes or results they've achieved. Instead it's all about having the right attitude. The attitude and willingness to learn and a deep level of curiousity.
For the technical SEO section - prior to the second round interview, something I do is share with them Moz's Beginner Guide to SEO and ask them to read through it. One of the points of discussion we have in the interview is I ask them to talk me through what they learned as they read that. No presentation - let's just have a chat about it. I had one candidate once who started drawing spiders on the whiteboard and explaining the crawling process - she was a fresh grad. I offered her the job on the spot and she turned out to be a terrific hire. This very simple task shows off their curiosity, their ability to explain new concepts and how interested they are to learn more about it.
As for the other rounds, it's quite easy to tie some of the situational questions to experience they've had with their studies, in school or in voluntary projects they were a part of.
The reason I involve several people in the interviewing process is because it makes it much easier when it comes to decision time. For each section, I ask the interviewer taking the lead to score the candidate between 1 - 4, 1 being unsatisfactory and 4 being great. The reason behind this is we won't end up with lots of neutral 3s. The candidate scoring could end up look something like this in the end:
- Knowledge: 3
- Process: 4
- Growth: 3
- Culture: 4
I wouldn't be comfortable hiring someone who scored a 2 or lower in any of these aspects but at the end of the day, it's a balancing act. When hiring someone, it's important to hire someone who has skills the current team doesn't have. For example, if you have a highly analytical team, then maybe you're striving more for a creative thinker and vice versa.
Don't attempt to hire someone who's a carbon copy of your existing team - you should aim to welcome diversity of thinking across your team.
If you've made it this far, thank you and I hope you've found it useful!
In a way, this was the easy part - because now you need to ensure they get the best possible onboarding. Over time, I've come to create an onboarding process for new team members that I feel fairly comfortable with - alongside probation period plan and personal development plan. I'll write up about those in future posts =)