How to Not F*** up Your First Marketing Hire

This is a repost a response I wrote on a private forum to the CEO of a small but growing company looking to make their first marketing hire. As the co-founder of Interstate, a company that sells multi-touch attribution software to marketers, I interact with lots of marketers at companies of all different sizes every week. Previously I saw a lot of marketing organizations from the inside while doing freelance growth consulting with companies like Twitch, Teespring, Everlane, etc. Based on those experiences, here are my thoughts on making a first marketing hire.

Your first marketing hire can be much harder than hiring an engineer, especially now that marketing is becoming more quantitative and marketing and product organizations are starting to blend together. You really need to be careful since there are a lot of folks who can sound like they are good but are actually terrible. First you need to figure out who you are hiring and at what level. Are you looking for someone who is a VP/Director or are you looking for a junior level marketing person to execute on marketing tasks? If you’re looking for a junior level person, what are the things you want them to be doing.

Here is a rough breakdown of skill sets:

  • Content Marketing
  • SEM
  • Social Advertising (Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc)
  • Display Advertising (Retargeting, Direct Buys, Programmatic)
  • SEO
  • Email/Push Notifications
  • Analytics
  • User/Market Research
  • Copywriting
  • Positioning
  • Landing Page/Onboarding Optimization

You’re going to be really hard pressed to find someone who is good at all of these. High quality junior level folks are probably going to be good at one or two. High quality VP/Director level folks are probably going to be excellent at one or two, good at a few more, and able to intelligently discuss all of them. The worst thing you could do is to hire someone who is mediocre at all of these. Rand Fishkin from wrote a good overview of this concept of a ‘T Shaped Marketer’ here:

If you’re small you’re probably not going to be able to hire the VP/Director level person right out of the gate ($200-250k+/yr plus significant stock is what the really high quality folks are making now). I’d probably try to focus on hiring a great junior level person who you can hire a VP/Director above as you grow. To do that you’re going to first need to figure out which of the skill sets above you care the most about getting, then tailor your job post accordingly.

I would structure my interview questions in this way:

General Questions

  • Test for a general understanding of math. Make sure they grasp statistical significance and LTV. Make sure they will make the right tradeoffs between CPA/Retention on paid acquisition. (You will be shocked how many marketing managers who have run $25k+/mo budgets have no understanding of statistical significance and no ability to analyze data correctly)

  • See how they think about making tradeoffs. They should think like a PM – what is the highest leveraged thing I can be doing with my resources – all the time. This is where scenario based interview questions can be great.

  • See how they think about growth. (test for a bias towards analytical thinking) Ask them an open ended question about how they would go about improving growth and/or marketing for a particular product (generally not asking about your own product is the best since you’ll be more objective). You should be looking for someone who has a bias towards understanding the metrics around what are making something perform well or poorly before they jump right into making you recommendations. If you pick a product that is truly terrible though as an interview question its probably fine if they throw out some recommendations right out of the gate on first principles, as long as they are able to also explain those first principles.

  • Figure out what kind of marketer they are (possibly before the interview). Of the skill sets listed above, which are they good at and which are they bad at? How good are they at the ones they say they are good at?

Specific Questions

  • Dive into the areas they say the candidate says they are great at one by one and test their knowledge. This will probably require you to do some research beforehand on what questions to ask and how to dig deep unless you have a lot of experience in that particular area yourself

Good luck!

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