Structure the Interviews
Interviews can be fun for everyone who is involved in the process. If they’re not, you might be doing them wrong. I love that interviews give me the opportunity to meet a lot of talented people who get to discuss their strengths and success, while showcasing their best work. I also enjoy connecting with them over our shared interests and passion.
You should try to approach every interview with the same structure and plan, so you’re comparing applicants’ answers to the same questions and assessing the same skills. When planning the structure for the interviews, involve anyone who might conduct interviews with you, so you’re on the same page. You can align on what you’re looking for, as well as on how the interview should flow and how much time to spend on each portion of it. Make sure you won’t feel rushed or try to cram in too much.
I typically structure a content-strategy interview in five parts:
- Introduction—This usually takes just five to ten minutes. I ask all interviewers to introduce themselves, including their title and why they’re in the interview. Then I ask the candidate to give us a broad rundown of why they’re a good fit for the position. During this part of the interview, I look for verbal-communication skills and genuine interest or passion.
- Content-strategy questions—Then I dig deeper by asking more questions and discussing candidates’ answers. Covering my content-strategy and UX questions usually takes about 15 minutes. If I can, I try to tie my prepared questions to things candidates have mentioned during their introduction.
- Test-project assessment—Our discussions about content strategy and User Experience usually dovetail nicely with the test project, on which we spend ten minutes. I bring a copy of the candidate’s test project for review and provide positive, constructive feedback. I ask candidates about their reasoning—why they approached things the way they did—and try to offer new information that challenges their original answers. This lets me get a feel for their real-time, strategic thinking and problem-solving ability. I don’t expect perfect answers. I just want to understand their reasoning.
- Soft skills—After discussing the skills the candidates would need to do the job, I tell them we’re switching gears to talk about soft skills. We typically spend about ten minutes digging into collaboration, communication, and self-awareness. It’s important to predefine and align on the soft skills you’re looking for in candidates and why they’re important for the role. Don’t ask generic, canned interview questions or throw around terms such as culture fit.
- Conclusion—At the end of the interview, I leave ten to 15 minutes for the candidate to ask questions. It’s important to reserve this time at the end. Sometimes this is the best part of the interview because candidates can showcase their curiosity and critical thinking. You can also get a sense of what they care about and what they’re looking for in their career and employer. Even if you must maintain a brisk pace for the rest of the interview, I recommend that you always leave time for candidates to ask questions.
Ask the Right Questions
During interviews, I try to give all applicants the benefit of the doubt and root for them, while asking tough questions and giving positive, constructive feedback. Sometimes rooting for people while simultaneously being critical of them can feel counterintuitive. However, in my nine years in leadership, I have realized that people genuinely want feedback, especially during interviews.
Candidates want to know how they’re doing and where they stand. If you’re not going to offer them a job, your constructive feedback could help them improve their interview skills for their next opportunity. So being honest and clear is the kindest thing you can do.
In the spirit of giving candidates the benefit of the doubt, if they don’t answer a question to your satisfaction, ask follow-up questions. Give them a chance to clarify their response. Make sure they’ve understood the question and why you’re asking it. Be direct and tell candidates when their answers are going off on a tangent rather than providing the information you need. Reframe the question and try again. If you still don’t get a satisfactory answer, move on with confidence, knowing that you’ve been clear.
Plan your questions ahead of time, sticking to open-ended questions that let candidates draw from their past experience and describe their thought process.
While it can be difficult to resist asking leading questions, when you’re asking strategy-related questions, you must keep your questions broad and open so you can get a sense of the candidate’s thought process. Therefore, I try to avoid giving much context for our current content strategy up front, instead focusing my questions on candidates’ past experience.
Here are some examples of content-strategy questions:
- How do you measure the success of content?
- Share an example of your learning new information about users and applying it to a project, initiative, or campaign.
- If you were to step into this content-strategy role tomorrow, how would you approach creating a content plan for the short term and the long term?
These are examples of test-project questions:
- When completing this test project, what additional information did you wish you had?
- Walk us through your reasoning on your suggestion______.
- If you learned that customers’ behaviors were ______, how would that change your recommendation?
Here are some examples of soft-skills questions:
- Tell us about a time when you had to handle conflicting communication styles or opinions.
- Describe a time when you received feedback with which you initially disagreed.
- Tell us about a time when you made a mistake.
The title content strategist means different things at different companies. This can create challenges, but can also be a huge opportunity. Sometimes you’ll find candidates who struggle with strategy but could make strong candidates for other roles. In fact, I’ve found many talented copywriters who originally applied for a content-strategy role. So focus on getting to know people and building relationships during your interview process by truly listening.
Hiring for content-strategy roles takes time and patience, but it’s also fun. If you’re planning ahead of time and asking the right questions, your process should go smoothly. If you focus on building relationships, giving people the benefit of the doubt and being honest, you’re sure to get positive results from your hiring efforts.