SEM Interview Tips For 2013 and Beyond

Dec. 28

I originally started this blog with the sole purpose of providing career advice for those in the SEM career path. Since then, I have branched out to cover a variety of topics including tactical SEM tips, conference recaps, affiliate marketing studies, and more. However, I wanted to get back to my roots today and offer some SEM interview tips that are sure to turbocharge your SEM career in 2013 and beyond. January is the start of the big hiring season. New budgets are in place and companies are hiring. I hope these tips help you score your dream search engine marketing job.

Interview In Progress

  • Know your SEM. Whether you are fresh out of college or you’re applying for a management position, make sure to know your SEM inside and out. You need to go above and beyond. Get your hands on tutorials, become well versed with platforms, and get certified. Arrive at your interview with specific examples and case studies that prove your knowledge of the space.
  • Stay humble. SEM is a team sport. If you come across as too cavalier, you will not be perceived as a team player. I’m not saying you need to change your attitude and personality. You need to be yourself because you want to get hired where you mesh well with the team. However, I do feel those that are super cavalier would be better suited to work on their teamwork or start their own (small) company. Corporate marketing (or running a larger business) is all about teamwork and staying humble.
  • Make sure you have mentor(s) in the search marketing industry. Make sure to drop a few names. Our industry is growing at a rapid pace. Your network is everything. If you know and study under the right people, that will score you instant credibility. I currently mentor several aspiring SEM superstars and personally owe my continued success to my network of mentors. Mentors are for marketing professionals of all levels.
  • Practice math exercises. Make sure you can complete mental math (simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) rapidly. Also, make sure you can answer more difficult questions on paper. Those that cannot perform mental math are going to face headwinds in the analytical field of SEM so make sure to be ready for math questions.
  • Go beyond SEM. Our industry is evolving. Search marketing professionals are now being asked to manage display, remarketing, social media, email, and affiliate marketing programs. The more you can bring to the table, the more likely you will get the job. Just remember: Depending on the job don’t be too well-rounded. Make sure to flex your deep expertise in the specific focus on the job. If you come across as too diversified, you may appear to lack depth in your knowledge.
  • Do a practice interview with your mentor. Take your interview seriously. Make sure the questions asked during the practice interview are of great difficulty, especially the math and case questions. Be prepared for anything. Also, practice your speaking so you come across with maximum confidence.
  • Offer your prospective employer flexibility. In any new position, you will need to earn respect. One way to do this is to work nights and weekends. SEM is a 24/7 trading landscape. If you’re able to take some pressure off the existing team and fill in during odd hours, this will go a long way. If you’re not willing to do this, SEM may not be the right career path for you since it’s truly a 24/7 discipline.
  • Know the SEM platforms. These days, it’s not enough to understand search engines, APIs, and desktop editors. Now, it’s all about getting leverage and sophistication via SEM platforms such as Inside Vault and Kenshoo. Learn about the platforms as much as possible and bring deep experience to the table.
  • Bring strong P&L experience to the table. SEM is a fun career path because you get to manage a P&L, especially as you get more senior. When you manage P&L there is zero margin for error. Bring a strong track record to the table. Explain specific instances of your contribution to the top and bottom lines.
  • Highlight your Ivy League resume. I’m not only talking about your college here. I’m talking about companies on your resume that had significant liquidity events. If you have a strong track record of working at companies that have achieved rapid success, you are typically going to be a more qualified candidate.
  • Send out thank you notes. This goes without saying. Always send out written (and email) thank you notes following your interview. Even if you don’t score the job, that’s ok. It’s all about building your network and people remember this type of gesture.
  • Arrive early. Again, one that goes without saying. SEM is all about punctuality. It can be difficult at times to keep pushing 24/7. Arrive to your interview early to show your prospective employer that you have what it takes.
  • Bring technical expertise. Are you a CS graduate? How about EE? SEM is a technical field. To the extent that you can help build tools and automation, this will go a long way. Demonstrate your knowledge of search engine APIs and your ability to build programs around those APIs. At a minimum, try to master Excel macros.
  • Perform an SEM audit. Of course this is difficult without direct account access, but nonetheless you can spend a few hours and bring some insights to your interview. Perform an SEM audit of your prospective employer and bring great ideas (with plans to back them up).
  • Know the company. It’s not enough to know SEM. You need to also understand the company and industry you are targeting. Spend the time to truly research the company at which you are interviewing. Tie this research into your SEM audit (prior point). Industry-specific ideas are often the best ones.
  • Be ready to build campaigns. There is no better way to test knowledge than to have a candidate build bulksheets. Get ready for tactical questions and exercises.

I hope these tips help out and best of luck in securing the SEM job of your dreams in 2013!

Image of Interview In Progress © iStockPhoto – FugeSpot

Search Marketing Interview Tips

Jan. 09

I recently wrote an article highlighting my favorite paid search interview questions. The article focused on the PPC interview from the interviewer’s perspective. Today, I want to flip the tables a bit and discuss my favorite tips from the interviewee’s perspective. While these tips are applicable to any PPC job interview, they’re especially relevant to those of you interviewing for a PPC role at a larger company. 2010 is here. Is finding a new online marketing job one for your 2010 goals? If so, I hope the following tips help you find all the success in the world.

PPC Interview Tip 1: Focus Exclusively on PPC

PPC Dream Job

If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you most likely know that my interests within online marketing are quite varied. While my heart is in large corporate PPC, I’m also an SEO and domaining entrepreneur in my spare time. Given that context and the general perception that a varied skill set is better, the following tip may seem a bit counter intuitive: Focus exclusively on PPC in your interview and avoid expressing an interest in dedicating significant time to SEO, email, and display advertising.

At large companies, there are separate departments for PPC, SEO, email, and display, typically reporting into the CMO or VP of marketing. The pay per click budgets are large enough that 100% PPC focused employees are mission critical. Without exclusive attention, the campaigns will fail. I’ve been in a plethora of interviews where the interviewee talks at length about their plans to learn the other marketing channels, almost to the extent that shows they’re bored with PPC and looking to move on. My advice to you: Avoid giving this impression at all costs!

I’m certainly not advising you to lie (ethics is everything in this world). If you truly have interests in diversifying your skill set and moving on from PPC, I highly suggest interviewing for a general marketing position at a startup. However, if you’re interested in becoming a Director of Search Marketing at a large company, it’s all about focus.

Of course, it’s important to show that you’re an expert on multiple fronts. As you get to the Director or VP level, a varied skill set is critical. However, it’s important to portray yourself as someone who knows all of the different channels (learn them during your spare time), but is interested in a heavy PPC focus (95% or more of your time). As a real life case study, my personal exclusive focus on PPC over the last 5.5 years has propelled my career from Marketing Associate at a startup to Director of Search Marketing at a large publicly traded company.

Pay Per Click Interview Tip 2: Dress Professionally

A while back, I wrote a post all about the benefits of dressing up for your search marketing job. I truly believe in the power of PPC perception driving reality. No matter how good of a job you’re doing, you can’t ignore perception and the game in general. Since perception and first impressions are everything, please dress up for your interview. Even if you’re interviewing at lunch and have another job try to change before you arrive and then change back before going to your old job. The power of professionalism is often overlooked in my opinion.

Search Engine Marketing Interview Tip 3: Passion Is Everything

The first post on PPC Ian was all about my passion for PPC. This was my first post for a reason: Passion is everything in this world. Whether you’re interested in becoming a pay per click corporate leader, a successful entrepreneur, or a world class athlete, you won’t get too far without passion. For this reason alone, passion is one of the first things I measure when conducting a pay per click interview. Sometimes we’re all low on energy. I can totally relate as someone who’s routinely up late at night. However, take control of your mind and get hyped up for your interview. Get rest the night before, eat a good meal, drink an energy drink, do whatever it takes! Passion will get you very far in the corporate world.

SEM Interview Tip 4: Polish Up On Your Mental Math Skills

As an interviewer, I place a very big emphasis on math. From experiences at other leading companies in the space, I know I’m not alone. I like to ask mental math questions starting on the phone interview, building all the way up to large half hour case questions during the in-person interviews. If you’re a bit out of practice, make sure to polish up on your math skills. The investment will not only help your interview, but will pay dividends in your PPC career in general. The ability to perform quick mental math can make the difference between looking unconfident and like an absolute PPC superstar.

Pay Per Click Interview Strategy 5: Proactively Demonstrate Your PPC Skills

At the end of the day, pay per click is a highly technical trade. There are many moving parts and skills are critical. While I always do my best to get a comprehensive understanding of the candidate’s Google AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter skills, sometimes time will run out and I’m not fully convinced of the candidate’s ability. I’ve been able to get around this by sending follow-up questions via email. However, what always impresses me are candidates that take the time to clearly spell out their skills proactively. I’m always excited to interview candidates who talk at length about their experiences with the various platforms and the PPC levers: Keyword generation, keyword deployment, negative words, ad copy testing, landing page testing, reporting, analysis, technology and automation, and niche tricks. One of your greatest assets is your trade specific knowledge, make sure to spend the time showcasing it!

Online Marketing Interview Strategy 6: Highlight Your Investment Hobby

This is a simple, yet powerful tip. The vast majority of great corporate PPC employees I have known over the years enjoy investing during their spare time. When they’re not investment hobbyists, they at least know the companies in the space extremely well. As a general way to retire young and accumulate wealth while also looking like a strong businessperson in your PPC interview, I recommend building up an expertise in investing and showcasing it a bit during your interview. From the interviewer’s perspective, we’re hiring SEM managers to basically run an operationally intensive business. Investment experience is a great way of showing judgment and maturity.

Search Marketing Interview Strategy 7: Research The Company and Interviewers

The competitive benchmarking aspect of PPC is very high leverage. If you’re really good at research, you’ll uncover nuances that others miss and make the company a ton of money. For this reason alone, I really like candidates who do a thorough job researching the company and the actual interviewers. Some candidates recently have even mentioned that they read PPC Ian and like it a lot. While some would say that has nothing to do with the job, I’d argue that it does. Candidates who have researched me on the Internet are making sure their future manager is right for their career (see next section) and also are demonstrating their ability to benchmark. Take the extra time and do your research!

Online Marketing Interview Strategy 8: It’s All About You

At the end of the day, the main person looking out for you is you. Make sure to ask the questions that are important to your happiness and career. One of my personal favorites is finding out as much as possible about my future boss. As I blogged about a while back, your manager can make or break your PPC career. My advice: I’d rather have a great boss at a not so great company versus a poor manager at a great company.

It’s still a hot job market for PPC right now since PPC is a recession proof career. Take advantage of this situation to find the absolute perfect match for you. I know from my perspective as an interviewer, I always want the match to be perfect from both sides. I want to hire employees that will be at the company at least a few years. For that reason alone, I always want to ensure the fit is ideal for both parties.

As a closing tip, I’d also recommend keeping your interviews extremely confidential. Again, it’s all about you and your job security. Don’t let your current employer think you’re interviewing. Don’t start slacking off and doing poor work at your current gig. Many times, interviews take longer than expected or don’t work out at all. Your first responsibility is to you and your current employer. Your second responsibility is to your exploratory discussions with other potential employers. Of course, should you decide to leave, please leave gracefully. This will be the topic of a whole other PPC Ian post in the future.

Image of Dream Job © iStockPhoto – exdez

Paid Search Interview Questions

Dec. 24

Over the years I’ve conducted more pay per click interviews than I can count. Interviewing is extremely important in the world of search marketing, even more so than other roles. Just think about the extensive training you’re going to invest in your new employee. From my experience, it will take a good three to six months to get a strong positive yield out of your new hire, with the months increasing the more junior the candidate. Precisely because of the large "ramp up period" in paid search (even for candidates that already have experience), I place the highest possible importance on the interview process. Today, I’m excited to share with you some of my favorite interview techniques and questions in an effort to help you get the most out of your PPC interviews.

PPC Interview Strategy 1: Screen For Math Over The Phone

PPC Interview

Here’s a fun tip that will save you an immense amount of time: Ask the candidate math questions during your first phone call. In fact, I don’t even wait for my first phone call – I ask my recruiter to ask math questions during the first phone screen. PPC is both technical and creative. Unfortunately, many candidates are very creative but cannot perform mental math. Right from the beginning, ask some questions such as:

  • What’s 3% of 2,000,000?
  • What’s 9 * 350?
  • What is the sum of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5?

Some candidates will immediately ask if they can use a calculator. You’ll want to explain that the purpose of these exercises is to understand their mental math ability and that calculators are not allowed. Reassure the candidate and let them know there’s no rush and to think the questions through. (I’m not testing how well they can work under pressure here but am simply trying to the get to the bottom of their basic math abilities.)

At the end of the day, this strategy is invaluable because it will save you a huge amount of time. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve gotten a candidate to the late stages of the interview pipeline only to then find out they cannot perform mental math.

Paid Search Interview Strategy 2: Don’t Delay The Long Case Question

During the SEM candidate’s first in person interview, I always like to start off with a long case study question, one that involves analytical ability, judgment, and of course math. Here’s what I’ve observed from some other interviewers: They either delay the case so much that there’s little time for it or they forget to ask the case altogether. In pay per click search engine marketing, you’re hiring someone to operate on the front lines of your business. The case question is everything, in my opinion!

For this reason alone, I always start with the case during the first in person interview and I allocate it a good half hour of more. Like the first tip, this one can save you a ton of time. Most candidates will pass all of the fuzzy, subjective questions. However, case studies are either right or wrong. Make your pay per click candidate pass all of the difficult hurdles first and save yourself and your organization time in the PPC interview process.

SEM Interview Tip 3: Everyone Needs To Interview The Candidate

PPC is like sales in that we’re directly driving revenue for our company each and every day. Like sales, we make the big bucks. Also like sales, the pressure is on! For this very reason, it’s absolutely essential everyone meets the PPC candidate before an offer is made.

I’ve seen it too many times: Everyone meets the candidate except the one person that is on vacation. Don’t make this mistake! Retaining your current employees is everything and this is not always easy in a high pressure environment. Before someone joins your PPC family, make sure everyone is on board. The last thing you want is to bring someone new on board who may not mesh well with the existing team. Moreover, you want to give your existing team the authority to have a say in the decision as an overall tool for empowering and growing your team.

Search Marketing Interview Tip 4: Assign Take Home Pay Per Click Exercises

Let’s face it: It’s impossible to ask every single question during your interview. Interviews fly by and there never seems to enough time. Moreover, some candidates are very skilled at interviewing and may be more "talk" than "skill". My solution: Assign in depth take home exercises after they pass the first round of in person interviews. I like to ask a variety of questions that test:

  • Understanding of the industry
  • Creative ad copy ability
  • Judgment and overall analytical ability
  • Attention to detail
  • Mathematical ability
  • Excel skills
  • Persistence and dedication to the process

On a rare occasion, I’ll assign a second round of take home questions if the first round is borderline and the read on the candidate is mixed. However, if you make the first round of questions extensive enough, it will be come readily apparent if the candidate is qualified or not. As with the mental math question and the in person case, I like to give these questions as soon as possible in the process to save everyone time if the pay per click candidate cannot pass the test.

PPC Interview Tip 5: Thoroughly Check References Yourself

I’d like to close out with an important one that’s often overlooked. It actually all goes back to what I touched on earlier: Some candidates are very skilled interviewers. They absolutely ace the interviews and are great and hiding their flaws. For this reason, I take pride in personally checking the candidate’s references (as opposed to outsourcing this duty to my recruiter). Take the time to really chat with the references and learn everything you can. Another positive benefit of the reference check: You get to build out your network and potentially find candidates for other positions that you’re hiring for in the future!

Image of Interview Candidates © iStockPhoto – brainmaster