I’ve been the head of growth for several startups.
I’ve even evangelized growth for a couple of the fastest growing SaaS companies, too.
If there’s a role that’s hard to fill – it’s the growth marketer, growth engineer, head of growth, growth lead, or whatever you call the open growth position at your company.
It sounds nice, right?
All companies need growth no matter what position they’re in.
But it’s hard to hire for this role because it doesn’t just take the experience to fill it, it takes the right experience. The balance of technical skills with a deep understanding of marketing psychology, branding, and statistics. The complete blend.
If one piece is missing, the equation is off.
The marketing doesn’t quite stick.
The traction doesn’t quite hit.
After hiring over ten different growth hackers, lead growth strategists, and growth engineers, I’ve learned to ask these seventeen questions in every interview. When a candidate has experience in each piece, the interview goes from phone to in-house to offer letter in a matter of days.
1. What competitor analysis tools have you used?
This is one of the most basic marketing skills, but also one of the most overlooked. For example, by analyzing the paid marketing, backlinking, and team structure of a software company, I decided to invest thousands of dollars to build a competitor.
Competitor analysis shows you where the long-hanging fruit is in any market. The real skill comes in interpreting the data. You can be looking at the best opportunity in the world, but without the right knowledge of the marketing ecosystem, the numbers will just be numbers.
Then I expect them to interpret the data by seeing opportunities that tell me they can picture the full funnel. For example, if they see no traffic from Facebook, they may come to the conclusion that it’s because it wasn’t a profitable channel for them.
However, an experienced marketer might notice they ran poor Facebook ad campaigns because the copy and images had no focus on the benefits of the product. Rather than an obstacle, they’ll see an opportunity to take a startup from five figures in revenue to seven.
2. What’s your experience in paid social?
If the candidate doesn’t understand how to drive paid traffic to a landing page, then the chances of them discovering an opportunity from any analysis drops significantly. The two most important advertising avenues today – Facebook and Instagram. A growth marketer with experience on other platforms is a plus, but because they’re not as widely used, we don’t place a heavy consideration on them (e.g. Reddit, Pinterest).
On the surface level, I look for a marketer who uses formulas for ad copy and has databases they regularly pull images from. On a deeper level, I look for a marketer who has experience with bidding strategies, device targeting, location targeting, naming campaigns, working with Lookalike audiences, and custom audiences.
Then I ask about ad sequencing. This quickly separates the novices from the experts. I see whether they have knowledge about how to run video ad sequences and pure branding ads to generate a lower cost-per-lead. A good sign is if they talk about remarketing videos after a percentage of watch time and using PR features to warm an audience before running conversion ads.
Now that I know whether they can run ads, I check their ability to discover a new profitable audience using social media advertising. I propose a hypothetical situation where they have a product with no defined customer base.
To find it with social media advertising without wasting a ton of money.
Here, I look for them to mention the use of Facebook Audience Insights, Google Analytics, Amazon search, YouTube search, and a competitor analysis tool to help them identify this audience.
If they bring up little-known resources like Quora questions or even the phrase “affinity score,” they earn bonus points. But all the bonus points in the world doesn’t mean anything if they don’t have skills in attributing campaigns. That means using a URL builder tool to ensure all paid traffic is tracked in Google Analytics. That way you can say, “This ad campaign led to this conversion”
Lastly, they should understand where to check for attribution in Google Analytics and how to adjust the conversion window that Facebook reports on.
3. Can you run an effective Google AdWords campaign?
Google AdWords is the best friend of social media advertising. The reason is your campaigns on social often influence the hits on Google search. In other words, the more people hear about you on Facebook, the more likely they’ll click your Google AdWords’ ad.
One of the key attributes I look for in Google AdWords experience is the proper use of Ad Groups. Most often, you should only have one keyword per an Ad Group. If they don’t know this, it immediately throws up a red flag. I also ask about device targeting, location targeting, and bidding strategies.
Then I ask them about their philosophy on bidding on company names and branded terms via Google search. I take it deeper by seeing what they consider great bidding opportunities. A top Google AdWords strategist knows that the end goal is a quality conversion with a prospect likely to retain, but that usually doesn’t happen right away. Often AdWords campaigns are set to take prospects to the site, then Facebook retargeting is implemented to bring them back for the ultimate conversion.
This knowledge matters because by knowing the ecosystem around the conversion process, an AdWords strategist can make more precise bids that drive revenue for the companies they work with.
4. What’s your experience with Google Analytics and Data Studio?
Most marketers will throw on their resume that they know Google Analytics, but it’s often far from true. Google Analytics provides a wealth of knowledge for how your marketing campaigns work from paid to organic. It will even tell you how well your individual site pages are optimized for different traffic sources.
I start with goals. Do they know how to set conversion goals in analytics and implement Google Tag Manager? If they don’t know how to implement either one, then that’s a big, bad sign. That means any goals whether capturing leads or turning email subscribers into paying customers has never been properly tracked.
I step into the finer details with asking about excluding IP addresses, identifying bot traffic, and creating proper dashboards like in Google Data Studio below to keep an eye on their company’s most important KPIs. Google Data Studio is a free tool that streamlines reporting for website analytics to Facebook and AdWords campaign performance.
If they have experience with Google Data Studio, then that tells me they’ve probably used analytics with strong depth and have given company presentations on their findings. This is a big plus if the position requires them to be customer or C-level executive facing.
5. Do you have badass data analysis skills?
I didn’t understand how important data analysis skills were. Then my boss asked me to use SQL for better attribution. When I started with SQL, I noticed the numbers Facebook and Google Analytics gave me weren’t the right ones. The only source of truth was diving into the back-end database with SQL queries.
This not only allowed me to get better attribution but to design more effective marketing experiments. For example, I used SQL queries to discover that our Facebook login underperformed the standard email capture on our landing page when measured down the funnel. The reason? Facebook emails were old which led to a low open rate on nurture emails.
If the candidate doesn’t understand SQL, they should, at least, know Excel. With Excel or Google Sheet knowledge, they can clean data faster, perform pivot table analysis, and index-match function to help combine relevant data.
If the candidate doesn’t even have a high-level understanding of Excel or Google Sheets, then they won’t survive as a growth marketer.
6. Can you run A/B and multivariate tests to optimize pages?
I don’t care how much traffic you can throw at a website. If traffic doesn’t convert – it doesn’t convert. That’s why you need testing tools like Omniconvert and Optimizely because rarely does traffic convert well on the first run. It often takes many iterations of a website before visitors engage. Then even more before they convert.
Iterations on landing pages mean changes in copy, images, and email capture pop-ups. Knowing how to test is equally as important as what you test. For example, if you’re running a viral campaign while you’re conducting A/B tests on a landing page to get sign-ups for the campaign, you’ll get skewed results. The reason is at any time in the campaign you may experience an unusual uptick whether an influencer sharing it or getting featured in a publication.
The best way to get reliable data when testing?
This often means Google AdWords and Facebook ads. By focusing on segmenting traffic based on the source, it provides more reliable insights. This way you can make changes to your website with confidence.
7. How do you study a visitor’s or user’s interaction with your website?
Before you dive into A/B testing your website, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit to grab. You can see these opportunities using heatmapping and tools that record visitor and user sessions. The growth marketer should mention tools like Hotjar, Crazy Egg, and Full Story to help them do this.
You may even realize with a couple of clicks that no one is even engaging with your homepage’s primary call-to-action but rather the help button on the top right.
8. Can you throw up a minimum viable test?
A growth marketer should understand minimum viable testing to validate ideas. That means using landing page tools like Unbounce, Instapage, and LeadPages that enable you to throw up a page with a unique value proposition in minutes.
This skillset can save you thousands of dollars on paying a designer and coder to validate an idea by building a custom landing page. Plus, it gives you the ability to run campaigns at scale whether webinars or ebooks without having a lag time in development to push initiatives forward.
9. Can you build an automation sequence that converts and retains?
There are two halves to the acquisition equation. First, you need their contact information, then you need to nurture them until they pay. That may come in the form of email content with relevant value, SMS texting to remind them to jump on an educational webinar, or auto-adding them to a Facebook custom audience so they get remarketed with testimonials.
If you want a high-converting system, then you need marketing automation. That means a growth marketer should understand how to use tools like Zapier, Autopilot, Twilio, and Drips.
Marketing automation sequences are also critical to increase retention. Once again, ideally you’re using an email sequence segmented by user type and SMS texting to ensure they attend webinars.
Without marketing automation, even the best funnel will remain a complete mess. Find the marketers who can lock it all together.
10. Can you write social copy that pops?
A rule of thumb: if a growth marketer can’t writing engaging posts on social media, then there’s little hope they can do it via email, on landing pages, or even SMS.
If they can write long-form copy that pops like this status below, then they have potential to cultivate the necessary skills to build an audience.
To give you an idea of what this type of content looks like, take a look at the link below where I’ve written a free book outlining a 100 viral social posts.
What I’ve noticed – the best marketers write the best social post copy, too. It’s not a surprise because copywriting is involved in almost every piece of marketing material. If you can’t hone the skill? Then you might as well throw your funnel down the drain.
11. How would you pitch a journalist?
It’s a rare skill to pitch journalists and generate positive responses. Features from fan pages to publications to podcasts provide value for early-stage startups needing to establish credibility and get their first wave of traffic hitting their site.
The art of pitching a journalist relies on the relevancy of your message to the journalist’s past writing, timing with current events, credibility, value proposition, and headline writing skills. If a growth marketer can get you features on-demand with this skillset, then they’ve made themselves an invaluable asset.
12. Can you guide a customer to their first win?
If the customer doesn’t get their desired result from your product, they’ll leave. Many products – no matter how great – aren’t intuitive. They require a little hand-holding. Products like Hubspot even have their own academy to help train marketers on how to use their platform.
A growth marketer who has experience creating user tutorials and an onboarding flow using a software like Appcues or even Loom can provide a ton of value on the retention side. Keep in mind, a product with poor retention is often not a valuable product at all.
To that end, a growth marketer should have enough experience to guide a new customer to their aha moment with your product while setting the right expectations every step of the way.
13. Can you build a website or Chrome extension?
A growth marketer must have experience building on platforms whether Shopify stores, WordPress themes or Chrome extensions. They should have deep enough knowledge to throw something up in a day and start selling.
Even if it means outsourcing Chrome extensions like I do:
If they don’t understand how to build or even outsource the construction of a platform, then they’ll have a lot of trouble understanding how to market it.
14. Have you built a strong presence on a social channel from scratch?
Those who’ve never built a strong social presence on a channel from scratch, don’t understand how much effort it takes. You’re often talking about hundreds and even thousands of hours of producing and distributing content to grow your presence.
Having a growth marketer on board who understands the level of work required to have social influence will enable you to set proper expectations, then exceed them.
15. Have you come up with original marketing tactics?
If you’re going to hire a growth marketer, they need to be a problem solver. The best problem solvers can create original solutions whether that’s a new way to clean a data set, scrape data, or run ads to custom audiences created from little-known locations.
If the growth marketer can’t point to an original solution they’ve created, then I wouldn’t rely on them to solve your hardest problems.
16. What’s one growth framework you’ve used?
There are many growth frameworks.
Most include some variation of “cost, investment, expect results.”
A more advanced one would look like the following:
Objective — what is the purpose of the experiment?
Hypothesis — what is the key hypothesis of a successful experiment
Experiment design — what steps do you envision the experiment going through?
Expected cost — monetary, marketing hours, product hours (important to determine whether you need to take time from developers and/or designers)
Expected results — your hypothesis on relevant metrics
Gut feeling score — on a 1 to 5 scale (with 5 being best), how much do you believe in this?
Results — actual results on relevant metrics
Insights — key insights in bullet points. Be specific.
Next steps — what new activities does the experiences lead to?
If a growth marketer has never used a growth framework, then you can’t expect them to prioritize their testing correctly. A growth framework should underlie everything a marketer does from start to finish.
17. Can you design a Facebook ad, board presentation, and landing page?
One of my pet peeves is a growth marketer who always needs to rely on a designer before they push marketing material live. You don’t need design by a world-renowned artist before you publish a Facebook ad or a landing page. The reason is the best design doesn’t always lead to the lowest cost-per-conversion.
Sometimes worst designs lead to better conversion costs – surprising, right? Knowing that fact and how to whip of an MVP design is key for any marketer to survive in a world with constant A/B and multivariate testing. For presentations, here’s an excellent example that a candidate submitted to us during her interview process. If a growth marketer can bypass a designer, then you’ll run more experiments which ideally equates to more traction.
Your Personalized Checklist
If you want to hire a growth marketer, then print this checklist and use it for interviews. On average, it takes us two to three months to find that exceptional candidate. It’s well worth it because one great hire can have the same impact as ten poor ones. What I’ve learned is the only thing that can destroy a startup faster than bad timing and lack of revenue are hires who you don’t learn anything from.
As the saying goes, “When it comes to hiring, you get what you pay for.”