By Sujan Patel published January 4, 2017

10 Interview Questions to Help You Separate Content Marketing Rock Stars From Wannabes

content-marketing-rock-stars

Before I begin, I want to say, “Thank you, internet,” for spawning countless occupations that simply couldn’t exist without you: web designers, app developers, SEOs, and, of course, content marketers. Plenty of the roles suit both creatives and techies.

Digital careers are relatively new and exciting, both for employees and employers. That is, aside from one small problem: How do you pinpoint the best candidate to fill a role that didn’t even exist a few years ago?

We’re all familiar with the typical interview questions:

  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Where do you see yourself five years from now?

There’s nothing wrong with these questions in principle, but they reveal little about someone’s suitability for filling a digital role – content roles included.

Perhaps more worrisome, the digital industry seems to be a culture of inflated egos. It’s easy to exaggerate skill sets hiding behind a screen, and it’s understandable why someone might want to. Unfortunately, this attitude often extends offline and into the office.

Faced with the potential of having both content marketing rock stars – and the wannabes – knocking on your door, how do you separate them?

Here are 10 questions you can ask.

1. How do you generate ideas?

Does the candidate lead a monthly scheduled brainstorming session, sitting down with the team to hash out ideas? Or is the candidate thinking about the next viral hit during the commute to work, while consuming content others have created, or even as they sleep?

Rock star content marketers don’t resign idea generation to a meeting room or whiteboard. They understand that such a regimented, pressured environment rarely leads to great ideas. They know that the best ideas often arrive unexpectedly.

Rock star content marketers don’t resign idea generation to a meeting room or whiteboard, says @SujanPatel. Click To Tweet

The greatest content marketers are always prepared. They know that the concept that could lead to their next winning idea could come to them anywhere, at any time. They’re never without a way to jot it down – whether that means a pen and paper on the nightstand or an app like Evernote on their phone.

2. How do you decide whether an idea has legs?

The ability to listen to and trust your instincts is important in all areas of your life, not just content marketing. People who rely entirely on what they believe will work, however, are a liability. A great content marketer uses facts and logic alongside instinct to assess whether an idea is worth pursuing.

A great answer to this question might entail a rundown of some of the key principles of successful content. For example, great content should be:

  • Simple – It is easy to understand.
  • Unexpected – It stands out and surprises its audience.
  • Emotional – It makes an audience feel (whether that’s happiness, sadness, or something in between).
  • Actionable – It should inspire the consumer to take action on account of it (usually, that means sharing it).
4 principles of successful #content: simple, unexpected, emotional & actionable says @SujanPatel. Click To Tweet

The best content marketers will run through these principles before moving forward with an idea and should be able to explain them to you in an interview setting.

3. How do you promote your content?

Ask candidates to talk you through their process for promoting content. The right candidate should know that creating great content isn’t enough to make it go viral; that only happens when it’s shared by someone who can get the ball rolling.

Sure, once that ball starts rolling, a content marketer can sit back and watch the rewards come in. Until that happens, though, it’s full steam ahead. Sending out 20 emails and hoping for the best simply isn’t good enough to promote content successfully.

There are no set rules about how much time we ought to invest in promoting content. For some, it’s a 50/50 split. Social Triggers’ Derek Halpern recommends that marketers spend 20% of their time creating content and 80% promoting it.

Marketers should spend 20% of their time creating #content and 80% promoting it says @derekhalpern. Click To Tweet

There’s no right answer.

What matters is the candidates’ ability to talk through a variety of tactics that they employ to promote content. You want to weed out any one-trick ponies. A good answer would be composed of a variety of promotional tools and tactics.

A better answer would include an explanation of how certain tactics are best suited to particular types of content.

A great answer would cover all of the above and talk about how to divide time and budget. For example, the rock star candidate might discuss implementing a multi-tier outreach strategy – one that entails sending highly personalized emails to a small group of tier-one prospects, sending slightly personalized emails to a larger group of tier-two prospects, and finally, automating an email campaign to an even larger group of tier-three prospects.

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4. Which piece of content are you most proud of (and why)?

This question might be obvious, but it’s critical.

A candidate’s most prized piece of content tells you a lot about the individual’s potential as a content marketer and, perhaps more importantly, about his or her values.

If they cite content that sucks and can’t offer a valid reason why they’re proud of it in spite of that, you know they’re probably not going to be a good fit.

Perhaps they worked on it for a particularly tricky client and felt that the deck was stacked against them but still managed to pull a piece of content out of the bag that made the client happy and got results. Maybe it’s because that piece of content secured a mention on a site the candidate had always wanted to get featured on.

These answers tell you what that candidate values most and helps you assess whether their values line up with your own.

If candidates pull up a great piece of content and explain that they’re proud because it gained 40 links, sent 10,000 referral visits to the site, and resulted in three high-ticket sales, that’s an obvious rock star.

5. Which piece of content are you least proud of (and why)?

All content marketers have produced content they’re not proud of. Anyone who says otherwise is new to the role or lying. They’re also a surefire wannabe.

It speaks volumes when candidates can own up to their mistakes. You’ll also learn a lot from their reasons. Are they not proud of the content because they don’t like the idea, the execution, or the response it had?

Great content marketers will be open to owning up to their failures, and open to explaining why.

Great content marketers will be open to owning up to their failures and explaining why says @SujanPatel. Click To Tweet
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6. What do you know about SEO?

Every content marketer should understand at least a little bit about SEO. Neil Patel once wrote about how SEO is all about content marketing, noting that too many marketers treat the two subjects like this:

seo-content-marketing-treated-separately

As he explains, marketers ought to see SEO and content marketing like this:

seo-content-marketing-intertwined

Rock star content marketers should understand the importance of keyword research and the placement of those words and phrases within content and meta tags. They should be aware of the impact of duplicate content, know how to prevent it and, ideally, have a grasp of how their day-to-day work affects a website’s visibility.

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7. How do you measure content’s success?

Don’t automatically write off the candidates who say they measure their content’s success from social shares and links, but expect a better answer from content marketing rock stars.

Given that not all content pieces have the same goals, they should not be measured by the same metrics. For example, an infographic is almost always designed to get links, but a long-tail article’s primary goal generally is to drive traffic.

The best content marketers understand that the success of their efforts can’t always be measured the same way.

The best content marketers know #contentmarketing success can’t always be measured the same way. @SujanPatel Click To Tweet
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
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8. How do you react when content bombs?

Do candidates blame everyone else? Do they say the content was great, but everyone else just didn’t “get it”? Do they say they didn’t tell enough people about the content, or they didn’t tell the right people?

Or do they sit down, think carefully about the content they created and what they did to promote it, and try to figure out why this one failed to resonate with the target audience?

Great candidates are honest and reflective about how they contributed to the content’s bomb.

What separates the wannabes from the rock stars is how they handle that failure. Do they learn from it? Or do they blame the failure on something outside of their control and try to forget it ever happened?

The best marketers will always take responsibility for their mistakes and, more importantly, learn from them.

9. What book had the biggest influence on your approach to content marketing?

There is largely no right or wrong answer. Books are subjective. It’s not your place to dictate what someone should find influential. The key is that the candidates answer the question. It shows not only that they’re an avid reader but also that they pay attention to content they read and apply the lessons to their day job.

10. Which industry blogs do you follow?

This question is similar to the book question. Again, you’re not looking for the candidate to name any blogs in particular. What is important is that they can answer the question.

Conclusion

While you shouldn’t write off candidates for a vague answer or lack of response to one question, you should take pause to think more carefully about their responses to the other questions. By the end of the interview, your rock star candidates will have given thoughtful, insightful responses to almost all 10 questions.

What questions do you ask a prospective content marketer to help separate the rock stars from the wannabes? Let me know in the comments.

Want to be able to have a great answer to No. 10? Subscribe to CMI’s free newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Sujan Patel

Sujan is the leading expert in digital marketing. He is a hard working & high energy individual fueled by his passion to help people and solve problems. He is the co-founder of Web Profits, a growth marketing agency, and a partner in a handful of software companies including ContentMarketer.io, Narrow, Quuu, and Linktexting.com Between his consulting practice and his software companies, Sujan’s goal is to help entrepreneurs and marketers scale their businesses. Follow him on Twitter @SujanPatel.

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  • Supreme Landscaping

    Great post, very helpful. Thanks very much.

    I always did believe that 20% production, 80% distribution, spot on.

    Question, are long posts read or do they just put up your bounce rate? Frankly, if the article is good, I mean of a good quality and useful, I prefer it to be long, however, some of my colleagues say people just don’t have time to read a log post.

    My argument is that they do if it’s good. Hence the length of some of my posts.

    Best regards Peter

    • Carol Pearson

      For my clients the length generally depends on the content’s goal. If it’s a piece meant to solve a complicated challenge for the reader, then long is terrific If it’s an industry update or “need to know,” designed to get email sign-ups, then short and sweet can work great. Also agree on the 20 / 80~

      • Supreme Landscaping

        Hi Carol, thanks for your comment, good point and taken on board. The problem with my industry updates is that they’re often quite involved, especially with new products. Glad you agree with 20/80, it’s always worked for me.

        • abdou alesso

          what you think if i have the same problem my feedback is so quite but effective sometimes :/ my problem too is the i have to share 5 content marketing for my client parting from 08:00 to 00:00 what do u think abt this ?

    • http://wheniwork.com/ Sujan Patel

      Peter,

      I haven’t seen longer form content increase bounce rates. Long form content often gets bookmarked and read later or scanned and people read parts that are relevant to them.

      • Supreme Landscaping

        Thanks Sujan, appreciate your comments. I look to offer quality and detail as many of my customers need help with social media marketing and often things have to be repeated a few times before they’re fully comprehended.

        • Carol Pearson

          Yes! One of my clients is a boutique pool builder and they’ve done an amazing job with on-site social media, especially YouTube videos of them “down in the dirt.”

          • Supreme Landscaping

            Hi Carol, I know people have been saying it for years but video is sure to get bigger this year. People believe what they can see and it’s so easy to make a quick video of any construction or landscaping project, it doesn’t have be a major production; in fact I think the more simplistic it looks the more credibility it has in many ways. I made a very quick video about our last orders before the Christmas holidays, it took a couple of minutes but people like to see who they’re dealing with. I think this year will see more activity from small business with all aspects of social media as people are finally realizing it’s not that difficult or time consuming.

  • http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/author/roger-c-parker/ Roger C. Parker

    Dear Sujan:
    A fine article, you describe the kind of questions that get candidates to really open up and show what’s really going on in their brain.

    I appreciate the way you build a context in the beginning, then lead to the details.

    Writing question: I’m curious. I noticed you didn’t mention the title phrase, “What separates the wannabes from the rock stars” in the text until the fourth paragraph of Question 8.

    Was that when the idea of the “wannabes from the rock stars” occurred to you—i.e., while writing the article, or had you settled on the title before you started writing?

    Either way, of course, a very helpful article!
    Roger

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