Prospective EmployeeBy Gini Dietrich

When I taught Kelli Matthews’s strategic social media class last week, she presented a list of questions that the students asked me.

There were more than 100 questions and, like any content marketer looking for new ideas, I asked her for a copy of the questions.

I was scrolling through them this morning to see if inspiration would strike and found a question that Sophie Lair asked a couple of different ways. Then I found some of her peers asked similar questions.

She asked:

When interviewing/hiring, what qualities do you look for in prospective employees?

Because we are soon upon graduation, I thought it was a good topic to focus on today, but it isn’t focused on just graduating seniors. This is what we do and look for in any prospective employee.

Qualities of a Prospective Employee

We actually spend less time on your expertise and more time on whether you’d be a culture fit.

That means everything from how well you juggle multiple projects at once, how quickly you can work without many errors, what your passion is for ongoing learning, and how curious you are.

We also spend a lot of time on ethics asking questions such as, “If you were asked by one of our clients to create fake reviews online, what would you do?” because, as I say pretty consistently, “We can’t have a blog called ‘Spin Sucks‘ and have unethical people working here.”

Yes, we want to know you have the raw talent (if you’re graduating) or have experience doing the work, but culture fit is a much bigger concern for us.

There are lots and lots and LOTS of talented people who have opted out of our culture. As one person told me, “You and your team seem to replicate your time. I can’t do that.”

(I think that was her nice way of saying our 24/7, robotic culture isn’t a good fit for her and I totally respect that.)

So, from a qualities perspective, it’s way more important a prospective employee fit our culture than have so many years of media relations experience combined with writing an award-winning blog and have 20,000 fans and followers on the social networks.

We’ll look at that stuff and we’ll interview against case studies and experience, but we also know passion for the industry goes much further. The expertise can be crafted.

Interview Process

We have a pretty robust interview process that we’ve implemented just this year, both to save time on both sides and to hire as slowly as we can (we try to follow the “hire slowly, fire fast” mantra).

To that end, this is our process:

  • You interview first with Laura Petrolino, our director of operations. This is a quick interview (only 15-20 minutes) and it’s a gut check. It’s to make sure there aren’t any red flags and that the understanding on our side is the same as that of the prospective employee.
  • Then the real interviews begin. We create a team of people you will interview with, at varying levels inside our organization. Sometimes that two people and other times it’s four or five. Those interviews are all done via video Skype (virtual company, FTW!) and can last anywhere from 30-45 minutes.
  • That team of people meets with Laura and provides a list of pros and cons. If everyone agrees the person should move forward, there is a test.
  • The prospective employee is asked to block off three hours for our writing test, which is sectioned into three, one-hour blocks. The test is customized to the job you are interviewing for and includes things such as writing, editing, review of current strategy, response to case studies, and more. This is where we want to see how well you work under pressure, whether you can accomplish many things in a short amount of time, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. This also tells us if you can make ethical decisions when under a really short deadline.
  • If you pass all of that, you then interview with me. If you’re just graduating, that interview is done via Skype. If you’re interviewing for a senior-level position, I fly you to Chicago to meet with me in person. For the most part, many of our team don’t meet one another face-to-face but once a year (though I can think of a couple of situations where some never met in person, which is kind of crazy to consider).

One question that kept coming up last week was timing so I want to reiterate this: If this process takes a really long time (as in, months and not weeks), it’s not a function of the prospective employee.

For instance, I know there are three candidates my team is ready for me to interview, but because of my May travel schedule, it’s impossible for me to get to them until June.

So they’ll wait most of the month before I’m ready to talk to them. That’s all on me, not them.

We have lost a couple of really talented people because of our interview process, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to find people who will stay for the duration.

The last thing we want is for someone to figure out 90 days or a year in that the culture isn’t right for them and vice versa.

A Few Other Things

There are a few other things we take into account when interviewing a prospective employee.

  • Did you do your homework? Do you know who our clients are and what we do for them? If you don’t ask us questions about the work we’re doing, we’re going to assume no, you don’t know those things.
  • Do you read Spin Sucks and comment on or share the content? We know who you are, if you do, and you’re always going to have a leg up on your competition because of that.
  • Have you read Marketing in the Round and Spin Sucks? Neither are required reading, but I’d consider it a negative mark if you can’t at least talk to what’s in the two books during your interview.
  • Do you read fiction? This is a big one for me. I want to know that you are well-read and that you read a variety of things. This is the only way you can become a better writing. If you don’t read (lots of people say they don’t have time), you’re not getting a job here.
  • Can you list the five blogs you read every day, without having to think about it (a la Sarah Palin and Katie Couric)? We want to know you’re staying current on industry trends, too.
  • Do you ask questions? You are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing you. If you don’t ask questions—even if you’ve asked the same questions in other rounds of interviews here—I’m going to assume you don’t really want to work with us.

Of course, a lot of it is subjective. There are lots of things that go into interviewing a prospective employee.

So now I leave it to you to answer Sophie’s question, “When interviewing/hiring, what qualities do you look for in prospective employees?”

image credit: iPlace Connect

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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