Hiring Marketers: The Three-questions Interview

Norman Guadagno
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
​What? The interviewing process, especially, is often fraught with uncertainty, lacks precision and is highly subjective

So what? Making the wrong hire could compromise any goals a department and organization is trying to acheive.

Now what? Consider asking empirical questions that increase the probability the hire you're about to make is the right fit. 

​Finding good marketers is harder than it should be, whether you’re a CMO hiring someone for your team or hiring an agency. 

The interviewing process, especially, is often fraught with uncertainty, lacks precision and is highly subjective. The best interviewers realize that capitalizing on that subjectivity is a proven strategy for making informed hiring decisions.

Having worked as both a client-side marketer and in the agency world, I have seen a lot of very different approaches to interviews. From highly structured and formal interviews to more free-form styles; from interviews that focus on practical experience and problem solving to those that try to understand work styles and individual strengths. Given all of these approaches, I have tried to create a way to focus specifically on marketers and the questions that seem to make a difference. 

So there is no confusion: I am not suggesting these questions as a substitute for understanding skills, experience, and other objective qualifications. If you want to hire someone to lead demand generation, it helps if they have done demand generation in the past. (Likewise for any specific discipline within marketing, from creative to social to traditional product marketing.) Make sure you find the most highly qualified people and agencies, and then consider the following to guide your final decision. 

1. What matters most in marketing today?

No. 1 is my “perspective” question, allowing me to understand the breadth of industry knowledge that someone brings to the table. I consider it important for marketers to be able to see that we operate in a very dynamic environment, and many forces outside of traditional marketing channels can shape the work that we do. At the same time—particularly for more junior marketers or those focused on newer channels—an awareness of traditional marketing strategy and tactics is important. 

I am looking for answers to this question that show someone looking outside of their discipline, making connections and seeing trends. Too often, I get answers that are very focused on tactical execution without a nod to the larger strategy and business goals. A more junior marketer gets cut a little slack on this, but every marketer should be able to tie execution to results.

2. How do you deal with failure? 

There are a lot of ways to touch on failure, and I have found approaching it this way avoids a lengthy discussion around the specifics of any particular failure. In today’s “fail fast” execution model, failure is common and every instance is a chance for learning. I use this question to dig a bit deeper, however, and try to find more significant failures and the way in which someone talks about the experience and their response to it.

To me, failure is always an opportunity for growth. Failure can also illuminate personal strengths and weaknesses, especially when someone sees failure as a regular outcome in our business. Talking about failure is also a chance to understand emotional maturity. I always find the way in which people at every level talk about—or don’t talk about—their emotions and the role they play in our business life to be quite telling.

3. Convincingly support both sides of an issue. 

Someone shared this question with me many years ago. This is a critical question for every marketer to be able to think about and address in real time. Marketing is about convincing others that your product or service is worthy of consideration. Being able to take a contrarian point of view helps demonstrate the ability to see all sides of something and to think on your feet.

For more experienced marketers, I tend to pose the question in a more practical manner. I choose a specific social issue they will be familiar with (e.g., soda machines in schools) and ask them to quickly build a marketing campaign in support of it. Once they give a solid answer to that (spending no more than five minutes on this), I then ask them to also build a compelling campaign for the opposing point of view. The insights that come from how effectively someone can argue for both sides and take larger implications into consideration can really illuminate how a marketer thinks.​​

Making good hires is hard work, but investing the effort to build a full picture of each candidate pays dividends later. I look forward to hearing other questions that people rely on to make their hiring decisions.  

This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Marketing News​.​

Author Bio:

Norman Guadagno
Norman Guadagno is senior vice president of marketing for cloud-based data solutions provider Carbonite, based in Boston.
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