Narrowing Down Candidates: Resume & Cover Letter Review
If you’re lucky, you’ll receive a flood of resumes and cover letters to your inbox. Where does one even start?
It starts with looking at each resume and pinpointing, quickly, those that just aren’t a good fit. They may not have the experience you’re looking for, or the right education, or they may have a resume ripe with grammatical errors and other indications of lacking attention to detail. Weed these out first. Don’t waste valuable time feeling bad or trying to convince yourself a candidate might fit anyway.
Next, email candidates a series of questions (5-6 works best for me). Ask them to write responses and send them back to you before continuing on in the interview process. That way you’ll see their writing skills, their ability to follow directions, and how quickly they respond with their information. These are all ways to filter out the good candidates, the ones worthy of a phone or in-person interview.
Some additional things to consider as you sift through resumes and cover letters:
SEO hasn’t been around for decades, therefore you’re not likely to find candidates with a long tenure in the field (although they do exist!). Candidates with less than 2 or 3 years of experience can be worthwhile candidates, depending on what you’re looking for.
Many SEOs who have been in the industry for 3-5 years or longer have seen the worst of the worst when it comes to penalties, spam, and the surge of content marketing. Having been in the industry during this time, I can tell you that it allowed SEOs to get good hands-on experience pulling clients out of penalty, future-proofing strategies, and mitigating risks. Can someone with less experience do these things? Certainly! It’s simply something to consider when vetting experience in resumes in relation to your needs.
Ask for a portfolio. Get examples of their work or prior PowerPoint decks they have developed to get insight into their experience. Don’t be shy about asking someone for these things or setting up tests to test them on their knowledge yourself first-hand.
SEO hasn’t been around long enough for major universities to offer degrees in it. Having a marketing-focused or other college degree is not a prerequisite for a great SEO expert, but might be useful. In particular, look for candidates who have degrees with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) influence. These degrees focus on skills an SEO will need.
That said, there are many successful SEOs who have had amazing careers without a college degree. I highly recommend looking at candidates with and without degrees, because you may uncover talent that exceeds what a resume can show. True hands-on experience and excellent on-the-ground results are hard to beat.
Words sprinkled throughout resumes can be a great indicator of a person’s keyword sensibility and fit for your SEO needs. Someone who understands the depth and breadth of online marketing can be an added benefit. Look for experience with content marketing, web development, social media, pay-per-click, email marketing, marketing automation or information technology and related roles within their resume – in addition to experience with SEO, of course.
Candid, unbiased feedback is useful to determine if someone is the right fit or worth the time to interview. References on a resume or LinkedIn recommendations are a good place to look. The best feedback, however, comes from a personal contact you have at the company they used to work at, or work at currently. Many states regulate what an employer can and can’t say about a former employee; make sure you’re aware of the laws in your state to understand what employers can and can’t share.
Social Media & Google Search
Social media and a Google search for an individual can provide an unfiltered view of a prospective employee. Should those pictures from Spring Break 2007 affect your decision to hire someone in 2016? Or how about that negative review they wrote about their old company? Depends on your company, your culture and your gut. Other things to look at may include indications of how much attention they pay to details, their professionalism, or even their ability to handle stress. Caveat: do read what Monster has to say about using social to research a potential employee. While you can learn that a potential hire loves all things marketing, you might also learn about that person’s “protected characteristics.” It’s not difficult; just be aware of what’s legal (just as you need to be aware of what you can and cannot ask in an interview).
Even the savviest hiring managers may miss common red flags to avoid when hiring. These red flags include:
- Someone promising they can get you to #1 in the search engine results, guaranteed. There are no guarantees in SEO. Avoid these candidates.
- They practice only search engine directory submission services. These are outdated tactics. SEO morphs constantly, your good candidates will be current.
- Their secrets are proprietary and they cannot share details of what they do as an SEO. This lack of transparency isn’t likely to be what you want in a candidate.
- They claim a special relationship with Google. Sure, many in the industry have networked with the likes of Matt Cutts, but an in-line to Google? Not very likely.
- They suggest buying links or link three-way trades as a strategy to improve rankings. This is an outdated that can result in penalization if Google notices.
- They suggest putting a directory on your website for reciprocal linking opportunities. This is a spam practice and should be avoided at all costs. (As should be anyone who suggests this tactic.)