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


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:


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


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
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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.


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.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute