How to hire an SEO Rockstar

by Jennifer Osborne January 8th, 2008 

Finding and retaining top notch talent is critical to the success of any business. A bad hire could cost you and thousands of dollars in lost productivity, your time (in having to go through the hiring and training process again) and God forbid, mistakes.

On the other hand a Rockstar can propel your agency to the next level. But in a pressurized industry like SEO, how do you hire a Rockstar?

1) Determine in advance what your organization needs.

SEO is too broad a term these days. As the algorithm gets increasingly more complex, more and more SEOs are finding the need to specialize. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are you looking for someone who is focused more on In page factors or Link Building? What about Blog Writing or Social Media?
  • Are you looking for someone who can translate techie speak to the client or are they strictly behind the scenes?
  • Are you looking for a junior level person to groom or a seasoned veteran?

If you don't determine in advance what you want, you will probably be disappointed with what you get.

2) Which capabilities do they need to have and which can you train?

It is very unlikely that you will find somebody who meets all of your prerequisites (including price). Chances are very good that you will have to give on something. It's not just about the needs of the individual position, it's also about your organizations current capabilities. Where are you strong? Where can you train?

For example an In page SEO will have a strong knowledge of Advanced html, CSS, and JavaScript. If you're really lucky they will also have PHP. Whereas the perfect Link Ninja will have some technical ability (or at least the ability to train), internet experience (i.e. the ability to do advanced searches) and strong writing skills.

Both roles require creative problem solving and a genuine PASSION for what they do

I knew that the passion word would get your attention :)

3) What questions are critical to the interview?

There are a number of really good posts listing SEO interview questions. The Mat Hat and Stoney's post's immediately come to mind. Obviously your interview isn't going to go for 5 hours. So which questions do you choose? The most critical questions are those that help you to ascertain real skill level.

Most people don't set out to intentionally deceive you in interviews.

But they do (deceive I mean).

You don't know what you don't know. It's called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Incompetent people tend to overestimate their skill level where really good people tend to underestimate their skill level.

Kinda makes interviewing tough huh?

That's why it's critical that you ask follow up questions that challenge what they just said.

Do you have __________ experience? Then how do you ___________ (ask a technical question. Don't worry about offending the expert)

4) Once you've done all of that and made your decision

The best way to ensure that you've got a Rock Star is to let people work to their strengths. When you allow for loose job descriptions and new ways of thinking, you'll be surprised at how people can shine.

Just remember, there is a Rock Star in all of us.

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8 Responses to “How to hire an SEO Rockstar”

  1. theGypsy says:

    Oh no… not more SEO Rockstar stuff… really, do you WANT one working for you? Damned high maintenance no?… he he. And while specializing can be good, understanding the larger inter-relationships of the various disciplines is important as well. I am always looking for new areas to play in as there truly isn’t enough to keep me busy in any one area… though I am an addict… can never get enough – lol

    That being said, tell Jeff to send a limo filled with cash ( maybe some red smarties) and have my corner office at the ready (padded walls of course). I shall be waiting :0)

    Thanks for the post…

    Dave

  2. Kimber Cook says:

    "Incompetent people tend to overestimate their skill level where really good people tend to underestimate their skill level."

    ah, ha! that explains a lot. pity that so many fall for it.

    "The best way to ensure that you’ve got a Rock Star is to let people work to their strengths. When you allow for loose job descriptions and new ways of thinking, you’ll be surprised at how people can shine."

    that's awesome advice! it worked for me.

  3. Hey Dave, you plus Jeff? Now that would be a dangerous combination :) !!!

    Thanks Kimberly! I'll bet you're a great boss!!!

  4. theGypsy says:

    Yeah… me playin Guitar and him singing… I told him we have to write a marketing song…. maybe a lament to Matt…

    I have plans to come down to TO this year and shake up the shop there… you have been warned.. hee hee

    Dave

  5. Ege Ersoz says:

    “The best way to ensure that you’ve got a Rock Star is to let people work to their strengths. When you allow for loose job descriptions and new ways of thinking, you’ll be surprised at how people can shine.”

    This is actually one of the things I kept in mind when I was job-hunting.

    It seems to me there are two mindsets among employers (and interviewers):

    1- How can I make this person fit into this job? (even if they are a square peg and the position is a round hole)

    vs.

    2- How can I make this person work to his strengths? (maybe create a new position for the person in accordance with the needs of the company)

    Some job descriptions are very rigid and strict, so in my mind they fit into number one. Others are very loose, sometimes to the point of vague, and they fit into number two.

    Ege

  6. Utah SEO says:

    It's ridiculously hard, especially in Utah, to find good talent that doesn't already have their own business going.

  7. [...] How to hire an SEO Rockstar by Search Engine People [...]

  8. Excellent article Jennifer!

    But it is only the beginning of the problem. Imagine that you succeed here and really hire the 100% best candidate as you SEO guy. And he/she is the best in what he does, in his little niche of SEO. Imagine he is your ‘Link Ninja’ as you call him up there.

    12 months pass by, and he is up for review. What are his goals for the next 12 months that you are going to base his performance bonus? To achieve 20% more inbound links than last year? And a year after again the same?!

    The salary growth is not really exceed 10 to 15% ,… so your PERFECT Link Ninja has absolutely no career path. The only possible one is to stop him generating links but managing junior team members in doing that or managing a vendor SEO company in link building. Since he is the 100% best Link Ninja, he is not going to be happy with anyone’s performance – inferior to his. This results in him not doing the job he is good at – link building, but having to manage inferior link builders. This will give him the feeling his staff is mediocre and that his employer does not invest enough in the SEO Link Building Team.

    Here is the point where you lose your Link Ninja – most likely to your competitor – who will use his experience in your industry…

    A bit of a Human Resource perspective here, but I could not help myself! :)

    Ivan | http://www.JobsBlog.ie