From meeting payroll, to developing a scalable source of leads, to keeping the dishes in the office kitchen sink clean, during that time, I experienced first-hand the many challenges inherent in owning and growing a business.
Of all the challenges I faced, by far the toughest one was talent.
As a marketing agency, our people were our product.
Companies hired us for our marketing experience and knowledge, but they stayed with us for our ability to build strong relationships, develop a deep understanding of their business, and communicate effectively as their partners.
The best candidates also need to have real world experience, be skilled communicators, have high emotional intelligence -- and be a strong fit for the company’s culture.
On top of all of this, they also need to be voracious learners who are driven to stay on top of new developments in an industry that is changing at a lightning-fast pace.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the cost of a bad hire is at least 30% of a new employee’s annual salary, and the impact of a bad hire can extend well beyond financial losses to damaged client relationships or even customer churn.
Resumes and cover letters can only tell you so much about a candidate, making the interview an employer’s best opportunity to uncover the real story behind a polished application.
How to Conduct A Behavior-Based Interview
I learned a lot about hiring in my 11 years as an agency owner -- mostly by making mistakes and then trying to prevent myself from making them again.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that past performance is the best predictor of future performance.
This is the theory behind behavior-based interviewing.
Most interviewers tend to ask hypothetical questions intended to test how the applicant would respond in certain situations.
For example, you might ask “What would you do if you weren’t getting along with a coworker?” to determine whether the candidate has good communication skills.
The intention behind this type of question is good. The problem is that it is too easy for applicants to tell you, as an interviewer, what you want to hear.
The idea behind a behavior-based interview is to reframe the question and ask it in a way that forces the applicant to share how they have responded in a real-life situation.
So, for example, you could reframe the question above as “Tell me about a time you weren’t getting along with a coworker. How did you handle that situation?” and then follow the applicant's answer with deeper, probing questions intended to verify that what they are saying actually happened.
As an interviewer, your goal should be to get the applicant to share details of the situation, the task or goal they were working towards, the action they took, and the results or outcomes of that action (otherwise known as the STAR method of behavioral interviewing).
Executed properly, a behavior-based interview can tell you everything you need to know about a prospective candidate, from whether they have the marketing skills and experience necessary for the job, to their degree of emotional intelligence, culture fit, and ability to communicate.
Succeeding with behavior-based interviewing starts with the development of a strong set of interview questions.
When I developed the interview rubric for my agency, I created behavioral questions in four categories: 1) general background information; 2) marketing skills and experience; 3) leadership skills; and 4) culture fit.
Here are sample interview questions for each of these:
General background information:
How did you learn about this position and what prompted you to apply?
Please describe a typical work day at your current job. Does your current job involve any evening or weekend work? How many hours per week are you currently working?
What work achievements are your greatest source of pride? Why?
How do you define success for yourself in this position?
Marketing skills and experience:
If I were speaking to your friends or your former supervisor, what would they say are your strengths? Weaknesses? Give me an example of how these play out.
What do you think are the three biggest challenges facing companies today when it comes to marketing? How have you addressed these in past positions?
Tell me about a successful marketing campaign you recently worked on. What was your contribution? Why do you consider it successful?
Tell me about a marketing campaign that did not work as well as expected. What went wrong?
Let’s say you have a client and you feel you’ve been doing a great job on their marketing but they disagree. What specific analytics would you use to prove to them that the work you are doing is having a positive impact?
What is your favorite marketing book or blog? Why?
Tell me about a new approach or idea you have introduced or developed.
What do you believe are the qualities of a great team leader?
Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership skills. What about this example makes it a good example of leadership.
Who have you coached or mentored to achieve success? How did you do this?
Tell me about a time you made a mistake. What did you do when you realized this? How did you handle it? What did you learn?
Tell me why you think you are the best person for this position. Why do you want to join our company specifically?
Give me an example of a time you worked effectively as part of a team.
Give me an example of a team that you were a part of that did not work together effectively.
How would you improve a team environment in which two people aren’t getting along?
What are you an expert in? How did you develop that expertise? Teach me something about this.
What kind of a workplace are you looking to be a part of? What do you mean by that? Give me an example.
Tell me about a time you felt frustrated by a friend or co-worker. How did you handle this situation?
How do you stay organized and on task? Let’s say you were given a tight deadline on a complex project. How would you tackle it?
In what way is our culture a good fit for you? How would you enrich it if hired?
Nailing The Interview
The questions above are a good starting point for developing an interview rubric suited to your specific organizational needs, but the real magic happens during the actual interview.
That is your chance, as the interviewer, to peel back the layers of the onion and discover who your applicant really is.
The biggest mistake that most interviewers make is accepting applicants’ responses at face value.
A wise man (cough, Marcus Sheridan, cough) once told me that the real answer is never the first one you get. This is especially true in job interviews because applicants have plenty of opportunities to rehearse the perfect answer.
Behavior-based interviewing helps get at the real truth behind the rehearsed answer by forcing the applicant to share how they have handled actual experiences (as opposed to hypothetical ones), but it works best when the interviewer asks follow up questions like “give me an example of that” or “tell me why you responded that way.”
The next time you interview a candidate for a marketing position, challenge yourself to reframe your interview questions in a behavioral way, and then force yourself to ask those follow up questions. What you discover might not only prevent you from making a bad hire - it might uncover your next marketing superstar.
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