SEO professionals start their careers in so many different and unconventional ways.
Most people don’t come in on day one being able to identify SERP features or optimize a header.
That means some of your hiring decisions for SEO roles will be based on what your candidates can learn, not just what they already know.
Spotting good SEO candidates based on their potential abilities, not just their current experience or skills will get you a broader pool of candidates. You’ll also end up with a team of people who bring diverse approaches and perspectives.
Make a list of non-negotiable skills
Start with your job description and prioritize the most important skills.
- Which skills take up the highest portion of this person’s time?
- Which skills have the biggest impact on our key metrics?
- Which skills are most important for this role in the first 90 days?
- Which skills are missing from the team that we need an expert in?
Your list of non-negotiable skills might be a mix of technical and soft skills.
The strongest resumes in these areas can go to the top of the list. Resumes without these skills can probably be skipped.
For example, consider an SEO role focused on testing and optimization. You might need someone who can use data analytics tools, run tests, and analyze and present results on day one.
But you probably don’t need someone who’s used every tool your team currently uses. Someone who’s comfortable with advanced reporting in Ahrefs could quickly learn Semrush, Accuranker, Stat or other keyword tools.
Decide your bare minimum level of ability
Along with your list of critical skills, consider the level of each skill that would be absolutely necessary to have.
- What level of ability would be reasonable to expect for this role?
- What were previous people in the role able to accomplish?
- What level of experience have we seen with similar roles?
An SEO specialist focusing on conversion rate optimization (CRO) should probably have some experience creating good test hypotheses, launching tests, analyzing results and rolling out the winner.
You might decide it’s okay for junior-level candidates to learn how to use your A/B testing tools on the job. For a more senior level, you might expect someone who’s already familiar with tools like Optimizely, Crazy Egg or Adobe Target.
If you ask candidates to do an interview assignment like a writing assignment or a technical audit, ensure it includes a test of these abilities. Asking every candidate to do the same work assignment can also help prevent bias in the hiring process.
If your hiring process doesn’t involve a work sample, you can do a quick check during the interview process. For example, pull up a page on your website and ask candidates to talk about what they like and dislike and why. Then, ask many follow-up questions to understand their thought process behind any recommendations.
Consider potential dealbreakers
Some skills are easy to train on the job, and others might take up too much time.
- Which skills would take too much time to teach?
- Which skills are too difficult to teach?
- What skills should a candidate at this level come in with?
For example, say you’re hiring for an SEO role where 80% of the job is writing and optimizing content. You probably want someone who’s comfortable doing writing and basic keyword research so they can hit the ground running.
That means candidates need to be able to write great content. You probably don’t have time to fix copy filled with spelling errors and run-on sentences.
For an SEO writer, looking at writing portfolios will be especially valuable to gauge their ability. You may also want to ask for a new writing sample in the later stages of the interview process to see how they write without an editor’s help.
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Skip candidates without essential soft skills
Some abilities are essential in most SEO roles but can’t easily be taught on the job. Ensure your candidates check off the soft skills they’ll need to build technical skills.
- Critical thinking.
- Learning mindset.
Candidates without these skills might not have enough potential to be successful in SEO.
For example, a new hire can learn your brand’s tone of voice or what matters to your audience if they’re curious, open-minded and creative.
However, a candidate without solid critical thinking skills probably won’t be able to master user intent or run A/B tests.
It can be tough to test these skills just by looking at someone’s resume. Your interview questions should help you decide whether each candidate can demonstrate these skills.
Dig deeper: 13 essential SEO skills you need to succeed
Look for people with the interest and capacity to learn
Candidates who demonstrate they’re good at learning and are self-aware about their current knowledge often have a lot of potential.
At the interview stage, ask questions to determine if candidates are passionate about learning new things, taking on new challenges and developing their skills.
Interview questions to test learning ability
- Tell me about a time you had to learn something difficult or outside your wheelhouse.
- What’s something you researched in the last 6 months? Walk me through your research process.
- What are you considered the team expert on? How did you become the expert?
- Tell me about a time you had to overcome a weakness.
- Let’s say your boss came to you and asked you to become an expert on a new tool/system and teach the team about it. What questions would you ask to learn about it?
Consider candidates with translatable experience that’s similar to the role you’re hiring for, even if candidates don’t directly spell it out.
For example, a candidate with a background in customer support might be good at problem-solving and understanding user intent. A graphic designer could have an advantage in learning UX and user testing.
Then, ask interview questions to confirm which experiences are relevant. For example, you can ask how each of their previous roles will give them an advantage in this role.
Build an onboarding plan based on your new hire’s skill portfolio
After choosing your new hire, you should have a good sense of what level of skills they’ll come in with. Use that to build your onboarding itinerary.
- Which skills are they strongest in?
- Which skills are they weakest in?
- Which skills are critical in the first 30 days?
- Which skills do we have training or documentation around?
- Who’s the team expert or trainer for each skill?
Your onboarding plan should be tailored to the position and level. But even if your new hire seems to have many basics covered, it’s always helpful to start with standard training sessions to set expectations and teach new people your best practices.
Don’t assume your new hire can skip essential training just because they have a skill listed on their resume.
Maybe it’s been years since they worked with a certain tool, or your team’s process is completely different from how they’ve done something before.
A clear, thoughtful onboarding process is just the start of bringing out the potential in your new hire. Continue to develop their skills on the job using everything you learned from the hiring process.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.