Key questions to ask potential marketing/analytics hires
And also the flipside, questions I hear frequently while giving lectures at universities and to young professional associations
I loved the lede of a previous New York Times story on data: “Good with numbers? Fascinated by data? The sound you hear is opportunity knocking.” Since then, we’ve continued to see a growing trend in the need for qualified analytics professionals at all levels in an organization, including leadership.
The need is painfully real: analyst firm Gartner predicts big data demand will reach 4.4 million+ jobs globally, but only one-third of those jobs will be filled. So it’s no surprise that finding top analytics talent, as with any specialization in-demand, can be challenging.
The benefits of having a data-savvy team at all levels, including leadership are significant. Organizations skilled in data analysis optimize marketing and sales results like a well-oiled machine. They bust bureaucracy and focus resources on the things that matter. They fix most IT problems before workers ever experience them, improving productivity. Their team members own their results through hard numbers as opposed to “gut feel.” Everyone has results dashboards to track results of their work, not simply activities completed/boxes checked. Still to this day, the number of teams with this as core part of company culture (with exceptions of course) are in the minority outside of major tech hubs like New York, Austin and Silicon Valley. We absolutely do still live in a business world that’s on the whole greater parts emotion/HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) than logic-driven. But that’s not the future. The future is data-driven leadership and teams.
Data chops can no longer be locked away in pockets of your organization. It needs to be a part of a company’s culture from the top-down. It needs ongoing reinvestment and education to understand how to use new data sources, what opportunities they unlock, as well as best use of the tools and technologies available. It’s a big step, but one companies need to take to become digital-first and unlock the invisible opportunities they currently miss daily.
While there is clearly increasing demand for analytics talent with obvious benefits for your team’s success, you still need to source carefully to ensure you are getting quality hires. To help, today I thought I’d share some potential interview questions to ask candidates, and the types of responses to look for, when bringing on new digital team members. Having viewed things from the perspective of managing agency teams as well as senior roles in-house for the more recent part of my career, I hope this is a balanced perspective and useful for you.
Some interview questions I like, and types of answers to look for
Question: We have several (varying) groups that need access to analytics insights, from product to marketing/PR and customer service. How would you efficiently get them all what they need?
What to look for in an answer: If someone can share their process here for efficiently getting each group specific reports and analysis that goes with it, that’s a great first step. But ideally, your hire would go beyond simply giving others their analysis and information. It’s powerful to train different stakeholders to be proficient with the tools you’re using and able to conduct their own analysis at whim. Your analytical lead should always be thinking of how she is going to democratize her knowledge throughout the organization. While it’s probably not realistic to get everyone to be an A-list analyst, it is possible to get everyone to think like an analyst and have at least a basic understanding of what your team does.
Question: How do you see a breakdown of time spent on analytics between data capture, reporting, and analysis?
What to look for in an answer: According to digital marketing evangelist at Google and my former work colleague Avinash Kaushik, the ideal breakdown is roughly 15 percent data capture, 20 percent data reporting, 65 percent data analysis. Of course, what to look for isn’t the exact same numbers from Avinash. The point is to understand the importance of focusing a majority of time on analysis and providing insights for the rest of your team to take action on. Someone who articulates and understands that the reporting and capture – while important – are just the basic things to get right. That’s the easy part that should be made as efficient and automated as possible. The real value lies in effective analysis that leads to action: the creative, human element that can’t be replaced by scripts.
Question: How do you plan to be data-driven in improving your digital marketing efforts?
What to look for in an answer: Ideally, the candidate would take you through the process of metrics > hypothesis > experiment > act > repeat. She would outline how she plans to establish all the elements of this, from implementation and analysis to developing theories to acting and iterating on key strategies a brand has. But in addition to understanding how to actually succeed with data in theory, the candidate should share how she did this while on the client side or walked brands through establishing a data-driven practice while on agency side (or both). Theory is nice, but experience is everything, as there can be roadblocks at all of the steps and you want someone leading versed in what she’s doing and how to navigate roadblocks both technical and political. At this juncture any candidate worth spending time talking to should have multiple case studies that include specific results such as numeric ROI improvements via analysis work, efficiency gains through optimizations identified by their processes etc. In this exercise I am less concerned with the case study brand itself and far more interested in getting a sense of how a candidate thinks about problems and creates winning solutions (not just technically, but also navigated politics/resources/people challenges).
Of course, these are just a few ideas to get you thinking/questions I personally like that discern how someone thinks about core tenants of measurement. I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive on your cohesive list of interview questions, because every organization has different culture and needs. And anyway, I find the best interviews go off script after first question or two and morph into a proper dialog and conversation (always sign of an interview going well). But hopefully helpful to share some of what I look for in answers (and again, for candidates, we’re always trying to understand how they think more than being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’).
Speaking of candidates, let’s now go through a bit of the opposite of the above - and share questions young people looking for guidance frequently ask me.
Questions from young pros just getting started (and some quick responses)
Question: What are some of the essential tools every marketing student should know going into their first marketing internship/job?
Of course, as I used to work on it I believe Google Analytics is one critical tool. There are even online courses and a demo account to help new users get up to speed quickly and become proficient at making decisions with data.
But while understanding specific tools is great, it’s still by far more important when first starting out to understand how to create a digital marketing strategy, as that always comes before tools and tactics. This way, you don’t just understand doing the work tactical execution, by why you are doing it.
Still, from tactical perspective being proficient with not just Analytics, but CMS (content management systems), CRM (customer relationship management) tools, programming languages like HTML, dashboard creation in Data Studio etc would all be smart ideas and core to what we do. If you have at least a basic grasp of technical requirements and major martech software, you’ll immediately be a much more enticing hire, even if you don’t have much formal work background just yet. If you don’t know everything, don’t worry, that’s normal. No one does, not even the pros (the people at the top of their game are still learning daily).
Question: What do you think makes certain interns or brand first-time hires stand out from the crowd?
I think the best thing you can do is begin building a sandbox project (a place you can test and tinker on ideas without worry or oversight) from the ground up, without help or requiring to ask permission.
Create something real and tangible you plan to grow long-term in your free time such as a blog, an app, an e-commerce store selling something you’re passionate about, or another side project. Find a friend if you want to have someone to collaborate with (totally optional) but also document your process and be sure to be involved at every step (so you can write a blog on your journey and share lessons with the world to help others - potential employers will also love this, as it puts your thinking on display).
You’ll learn so much as the result of experimenting on your own and be forced to go through the entire process a start-up or brand will when conducting digital marketing, including creating the actual end product you’ll be sharing with world – something far too many marketers skip. You can’t get the same, real life, hands on experience in school or through certification. Testing ideas in the wild is now free, don’t sleep on it
Smart, driven leadership at brands, the type of folk that are really essential to work with early in your career (go out of your way to find them!) will value this greatly.
Question: What are the habits you believe a successful marketer should have?
Keeping your analysis/creative skills in top shape as well as following industry and sector trends together are two of the most important thing you can do.
Beyond this, great marketers know not just how to record metrics and what KPIs matter, but how to use that data to influence decisions at the strategy table and get buy-in for new projects. They’ve baked this into their thinking, so it is definitely something which requires work to build as an unconscious habit for how you process the world as a marketer. If you’re not working on any active brands just yet, case studies from industry trades and blogs should help you start to think in the right way about this.
Also becoming proficient with data-driven storytelling requires lots of practice, so working on it daily is helpful (why not start a Pinterest board sharing examples of creative data visualization you find clever or articulate, or analyzing the ones you feel could be improved). Regardless of how you go about this, there’s big demand for analytics-savvy professionals, so having daily habits to keep your skills and thinking fresh will provide a leg up.
Question: What kind of things should I be reading?
To be an effective marketer or analyst in a world of constantly-changing communications trends, it is essential to stay at the edge. Embrace this and take the charge personally to follow sector news.
Read books from luminaries like Seth Godin, case studies, industry trades, relevant blogs – consider creating a system (email subscriptions + labels, RSS, Twitter/lists of folk you admire, whatever you find most helpful) to get the right information and data coming to you every day without spending much time trawling for it.
I’m less concerned with where you follow our sector, the social networks used or the trades you subscribe to, just that you do follow and are a part of at least some of the conversation. It’s important that all marketers do put in the effort to stay informed as things change fast, but after enough work here you’ll start to get a sense of which trends matter, which do not and how/when to take advantage of them. Building that skill is a requisite to one day becoming a senior leader in our sector.
Question: How do I choose between going agency and going in-house?
This is a personal choice. I personally started my career on the agency side and think it’s a great decision because you get a view into many different types of companies, sectors and styles of manager. You also get to implement all different types of strategies and tactics, as your different clients’ marketing needs are unique and specific.
Agencies are a great way to get your feet wet in our sector and gain a diverse skill set. But if you find a company you really love right out of college, go for it. Your first roles will be great learning experiences no matter where they are. Just realize if you do end up at a FANG type company out the gate, it likely will not be representative of future professional experiences (megacorps are outlier companies and work environments for a number of reasons, and on certain teams there you might end up spending more time on politics than craft which is not great, so just be aware of that and ask lots of questions up front).
Question: How do I make my resume really stand out?
There are countless articles on making a great resume so I’ll offer another idea: do something creative, in addition to the resume, which gets noticed by targeted companies or key executives. I recently wrote an entire post on this very subject.
On the web, it’s “show me, don’t tell me.” Showing dedication through consistency is a powerful way to demonstrate you’re a cut above the rest.
For brands building teams: While many organizations (and particularly the marketing operations within) still operate on “gut feel” as opposed to data-driven, the opposite will be true tomorrow. And tomorrow’s leaders are already here today, pushing things forward with a passion for data and interest in moving the needle for their company. To sort the wheat from the chaff, ask the really tough questions and look for in-depth answers and experience from potential marketing and analytics team members. Don’t be afraid to hire smart and ambitious people and get out of their way, let them thrive and do their best work, enabling and supporting where necessary (and never micro-managing, by far the most efficient way to lose your best talent). Investing in the right team today is almost certainly the best step you can take to set yourself up for future success.
For new marketing/analytics pros: our industry is still growing rapidly and the demand is there; everyone who puts their mind to it can have a great, fulfilling career as a digital marketer or analyst. Think critically, make a career plan and start executing on it. If you try, I am almost certain you’ll succeed. Also, if you have specific questions, young digital pros message me all the time with questions on Twitter and I nearly always respond - never be afraid to reach out to myself or anyone else in our sector for guidance.
Bonus: I touched on this topic (and much more) during a keynote presentation to Moz users in Seattle, which you can watch on YouTube here.