Quality people to fill high-profile SEO jobs are in high demand. There is a talent war ongoing between advertisers and tech companies that compete ferociously for SEO people who have data science knowledge. That talent is scarce and comes at a premium price.

One of the reasons this talent is so rare is because the SEO world moves at a fast pace, presenting unique challenges for its practitioners. Search data is now being encrypted, for example, so keyword data is no longer available for organic clicks. This encryption was done quietly and without fanfare. Only SEOs with a deep technical understanding and a passion to follow the game as the rules change will be successful.

Finding A Purple Squirrel

In the world of headhunting, we call these ideal employees purple squirrels. You only find one of these once in a lifetime. They are game changers and visionaries. They are most difficult to find and even harder to keep from being poached once on board.

This tempts many employers to ask the question: Is it a good idea to hire someone smart that doesn’t necessarily have an SEO background, but has the capacity for SEO work and can be trained in SEO? Although this approach may have its benefits, certain situations require advanced SEO insights that simply evade those who are too green around the collar.

We're Hiring

Having someone on board who can put effective policies and processes into place which guide non-SEO folks may be the best alternative to the ever-evasive, rock star SEO. If there is someone in your organization with deep SEO experience, then you may have more flexibility to hire someone without an SEO-specific background.

Candidates with Web design, analytics, social media, PR, journalism and project management backgrounds can fill SEO-specific positions and perform well so long as there are effective SEO policies and processes already in place. This will undoubtedly create a space for creativity and an exchange of ideas without adding strange SEO baggage or misinformation to your company.

What To Look For On A Resume

So, the question is: how do we find that ideal SEO candidate? Big Data, you say. OK, let’s feed the machine, let it crunch the numbers and spit out the best candidate for the job. This New York Times interview with a major search engine HR guru takes a look at a data-based approach to HR strategies.

The data-based study revealed no relationship between the way interviewers scored a prospective employee and the way they actually performed in their job. To offset this challenge, the company implemented programs for assessing the kinds of attributes that predict occupational success at the company.

At the top of the to-do list was: end hiring polices based a candidate’s GPA in school, as well as policies giving useless interview brainteaser questions, in favor of structured behavioral questions that have a clearly defined rubric for how people on all sides of the equation should be assessed. chess

When seeking a candidate with the ideal SEO attributes, the ultimate fit for an SEO with potential regardless of experience and education was one with the characteristics of a grandmaster chess player.

Look For Passion

In any interview I conduct, the first thing I look for is the person’s passion for the game. There’s only one way to become an accomplished chess player, and that’s to play the game and play it to win.

SEO is no different. You have to be able to see the whole board all the time and keep future strategies in mind while you play the tactical game of anticipation, attack, defense and reevaluation as the other player, or in this case, the customer makes counter moves, or the search engine king changes the tactics.

The SEO expert must be creative, curious, data-driven, detail-oriented, self-starting, strategic, tactical and a team player all at the same time. He or she must be a systems thinker and keep the big picture in focus since every move impacts the outcome.

What To Ask In An Interview

The best questions to ask SEO candidates during an interview are behavioral and situational interview questions. Here are a few examples of these types of questions which can help you get a clearer understanding of whether the candidates have the attributes you’re looking for.

  • How do you deal with ambiguity? Can you provide an example of a time when you made a decision on ambiguous data?
  • How comfortable are you explaining quarterly results? Can you provide an example of a time when you did? How did it go?
  • How would your co-workers describe your interpersonal skills? What words would they use to describe you? Why?
  • Can you talk about a time when you were able to negotiate a strategic change when others were against your proposal? How did you go about it?

These types of questions get at the heart of important traits in a search marketer. While interviewing, I look to find someone who is passionate about technology and who has the ability to influence others, deal with ambiguity and communicate effectively. Given that SEO needs to integrate with other cross-functional areas, interpersonal skills are also very important in learning how to staff your organization for success.

I also try to future-proof my decisions in the hiring process as the rise of the marketing technologist is at hand. The days are gone when the SEO expert could rely on intuition and gut feeling to put together a marketing campaign.

The SEO expert has to be part data scientist, or at least know their way around data so they can gain the insights necessary to understand the SEO strategy. Technology decisions will drive marketing capabilities, customer experiences, synergistic corporate integration, competitive positioning and even organizational efficiencies. The potential SEO expert has to understand technology to be able to operate in the new SEO environment.

seo work

I can’t think of a better analogy than comparing the SEO team of the future to the discipline and cohesive team of Navy SEALS. When the SEAL Team goes out on a mission, they have a clear understanding of the objective of the mission. Every team member is dedicated to the objective and is passionate and capable in executing their role on the team.

This is why it’s important to have clearly defined roles, and why you might also want to consider keyword research as part of the decision on setting the right title.

For example, if you’re looking for a manager-level person with 5 years experience, did you know that using a title such as “SEO specialist” or “SEO analyst” in your job posting might alienate a senior-level candidate? Using the spelled out broader title, such as Search Marketing Manager might appeal to a broader group of people.

However, it may include some folks with more paid search experience than SEO experience who want to explore the other search marketing roles. This can be a good thing only if you’re willing and able to train and mentor this type of candidate. It can be a common practice to inflate a title in order to attract a good candidate. However, offering an inflated title that doesn’t actually represent the role can lead to churn or other negative consequences.

It all starts with hiring the right people that fit into the team already in place with complementary skills and a burning desire to learn every day. The job of SEO is a constantly evolving discipline that requires a sharp mind and a creative attitude – a genius with an indomitable spirit to get the job done.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO

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About The Author: is an award winning search engine marketing thought leader, author, and speaker. He has led the interactive marketing industry through innovation and education by embracing the latest integrated digital marketing strategies and technologies, as well as by advancing the industry through speaking, blogging, teaching & driving game-changing results for his Fortune 100 clients.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.adamdince.com/ Adam Dince

    Great post Warren! Right on!

  • Cory Haldeman

    Great post! I’ve been trying to fill a seo position for some time. I always say a good SEO is one part strategian, one part statistician, one part technition and one part batman.

  • jack hunt

    Thank you for writing and formatting this article so well.

  • C Jones

    Well written. Your position title comments are interesting, but as a job seeker you also have to consider the size of the company that is using “specialist” in their job title. My experience is that if it’s a smaller company, these SEO roles are more administrative, requiring less experience. If it’s a Fortune 500 company, a “SEO Specialist” role can be far more strategic and managerial. In essence, job seekers shouldn’t let job titles with the term “specialist” scare them away.

  • Graciousstore

    The best quality to look for in any SEOer is honesty, this quality is hard to evaluate as the resume though filled with eye catching phrases of achievements will not reveal an SEO who is honest or dishonest. In addition to using the facts you stated in evaluating an SEOer, pray in your heart that the person you hire be as honest as he/she claims to be, otherwise, a dishonest SEO can mess up your SEO work for your website

  • http://www.paulbruemmer.com/ Paul Bruemmer

    Great article Warren! Thanks for sharing your insights, I learned a lot from your article. In my experience I found the SEO success
    stories have resulted from deep and wide teamwork, extending within and beyond the SEO team. The value of SEO is only as valuable as all the individuals and team/s supported, top down and bottom up. Time and time again, over and over, I see so much great talent buried and/or available throughout an organization. Individual attention, support and building group/team dynamics has often moved SEO and organic search growth beyond expectations. At the end of the day, “management style” can make or break all the other factors…hence the term “purple squirrel,” truly rare people in rare situations.

  • http://www.thesofaandchair.co.uk/ Tom Goodwin

    Nice post. Definitely agree that passion is the #1 quality to look for when it comes to interview

 

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