One of the most common questions I get, especially from those who know I do all my own link development in-house, is what someone should look for in a potential link developer and how to go about finding them.
I used to give a presentation on the topic at PubCon before I retired from presentation based speaking at large, live-blogged conferences. Plus, I never have enough time to say everything I'd like on the topic in ten minutes anyway.
First things first, none of the folks who work for me that work at developing links for our sites are called “link developers”. Link development has long moved past being a monotonous, boring, “any monkey can do it” task. I don't hire link developers… I hire Marketing Specialists in the rough – with the goal being to teach them to market a website – through link development, social media and really, any other means at our disposal. They aren't some cog in a boring process… they think, they develop relationships, they innovate, they brand.
Now, you might be picturing I mean to hire some kid, fresh from college with his marketing degree. But, I don't. I've found over the years that it is easier to teach an internet savvy individual to be a marketer than it is to teach a marketer to be internet savvy.
That said, you need someone on staff who knows what they're doing to actually teach them. If you're looking to hire someone who can handle all of your website marketing without direction, you'll need to hire a senior Internet marketer and not an entry level “link developer”. An entry level marketing specialist will usually only achieve the success they are taught and led to achieve.
All of that said, I am looking for several things when interviewing someone for a position as an entry level marketing specialist:
- Someone smart, who picks things up easily
- Someone fairly internet savvy and who can use a search engine well
- Someone self motivated
- Someone who takes pride in themselves and their work
- Someone who wants to learn and move up
- Someone who fits our work culture (i.e. if you're uptight, you won't last a week in my office)
Upon bringing in prospects for interviews, I've found that I ask the same questions every time. Below is a listing of the questions followed by an explanation of why I ask each. In no particular order:
- How familiar are you with the Internet?
- What is your favorite search engine and why?
- Can you name three search engines?
- Do you know what a blog is?
- Do you know what a message board is?
- Do you know what Digg is?
- Do you know what a link is?
- What are your three favorite websites and why?
- Do you use instant messenger?
- If you came across an adult website accidentally during your work, how would you react?
- Do you know any HTML?
- What email client do you use and why?
- Are you on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace?
- Do you prefer Facebook of MySpace? Why?
- What browser do you use and why?
- Do you worry about privacy issues on the internet?
- If you wanted to try and find an old friend you hadn't seen in years via the internet, what are some of the things you might do?
- Can you find me a Canon Powershot SD850 digital camera I can BUY?
How familiar are you with the Internet?
I'm looking for several things by asking each of the above. By asking how familiar they are with the Internet, you'll usually get a sense of their general knowledge on the topic. You'll also find out based on their answers to the rest of the questions whether they answered #1 honestly, overestimated their knowledge, etc.
What is your favorite search engine and why?
They usually have no problem naming off their favorite search engine (and yes, it is usually Google) but having them explain why usually gives me a good gage of if they have a top level understanding of what makes a search engine “good”.
Can you name three search engines?
I'm honestly simply looking to see if they can name three at all. Funny thing is, outside of Google, Dogpile is the one I hear most.
Do you know what a blog is?
Do you know what a message board is?
Do you know what Digg is?
I'm trying to gather how “into” the net they really are. It also helps to ask if they can name any blogs to see if they understand that a blog isn't always a “diary”. If the answer is yes on the forums, I'll usually follow up with asking if they have ever participated in one and how often. If they know what Digg is, or better yet, can actually explain what Digg is, they get bonus points. If not, I explain what it is and look for signs of understanding. Again, I am looking to see how already familiar they are with the things they'll be doing/becoming involved in as part of their work.
Do you know what a link is?
I simply want to know they understand, what I consider to be, the most basic fact they need to know for this line of work. Plus, hearing people try and over-complicate the definition to sound more in the know usually has some comical results.
What are your three favorite websites and why?
I'm hoping to see some variety here and get a sense of what they use the internet for. I also like to see if they have any favorite websites that aren't completely mainstream.
Do you use instant messenger?
I actually want someone who uses instant messenger. If they use it, I'll also ask which one they use and why. Not so much because there is a right or wrong, but because I want to simply get a gage for their understanding of internet culture and forms of internet communication.
If you came across an adult website accidentally during your work, how would you react?
Needed question for me. Anyone in internet marketing will eventually click on a link that used to be a baby stroller website that now is owned by a porn affiliate. I'd like to know if they going to run screaming from the room or laugh and move on.
Do you know any HTML?
In my opinion, anyone doing internet marketing work needs to know HTML. Yes, there are plugins for almost everything today. Plugins are like calculators to me. Fine to use, but you should still be able to do math without it. This is NOT a dealbreaker though. If they don't know HTML, I ask if they'd be willing to learn. Ed2Go offers a class online for a little over 100 bucks they can do in six weeks in their spare time.
What email client do you use and why?
In all honesty, I'm only curious as to whether or not they know what an email client is. Goes to the whole familiarity thing again.
Are you on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace?
Do you prefer Facebook of MySpace? Why?
If they say yes to being members, I'll often ask if they know why they are called social networking sites. I will also ask if they have any guesses as to how sites like that make enough money to afford to keep the sites afloat.
What browser do you use and why?
Same as with the email client… I want to know if they even know the word browser. If they use anything other than IE, to me, it likely shows they know enough to seek improved things out on the internet.
Do you worry about privacy issues on the internet?
I want to see if they understand how much information internet sites can really get about you. I also find it interesting to hear their theories/opinions on the topic and also whether or not they have “fears” on the topic. As an internet marketer, you'll probably be more exposed online than the general population.
If you wanted to try and find an old friend you hadnâ€™t seen in years via the internet, what are some of the things you might do?
This really gives you some insight to their ability to be resourceful and research on the internet, prior to receiving any training by you.
Can you find me a Canon Powershot SD850 digital camera I can BUY?
I turn a laptop towards the candidate immediately upon asking this with a blank desktop (I want to see if they know to click start to find the browser). The purpose is to see what they type into the box, how familiar they are with using a search engine and also to see if they can recognize a commercial site from an informational one (this is why I say “that I can BUY”). If they can't pass this test, they likely will require too much time and effort to get up to speed on the internet alone, much less becoming a marketer within its landscape.
As an added tip, I'm also sure to let the applicants know that I actually expect them to get some of these answers wrong. I explain that anyone who knows every answer is overqualified for the position. It helps them relax a little bit and not get frustrated at not being able to give a correct answer.
After seeing their application, their familiarity with the internet, their personality and their ability to think on their feet, you should have a good idea whether they are someone you see having the potential to learn what you have to teach them.
So, that is what I look for and the questions I ask when interviewing an entry level marketing specialist (aka a link developer). Hope it helps some of you out when making your next (or first) hires.