How I Hired Two Excellent Entry Level SEOs Super Fast

Monday, the 6th of May, late in the afternoon was like any other planning day.

Planning+AGILE is part of our strength now

Planning had been delayed as we revamped some of our SEO tactics around Easter (about 6 weeks ago) and these new tactics really started to deliver great results during April. This meant the April reports, written at the start of May, took longer than expected to write.

They’re a prerequisite for the May planning, we review the client website’s progress to write those reports, so this helps us pivot, i.e. do more of what is working well or fix any stumbling blocks in the SEO strategy.

We’re using AGILE Sprints on a monthly basis to deliver some pretty cool results to clients. When I took the direct lead of the team in late March I gave them two key objectives.

  • Get the team members addicted to success: Key to this has been communicating what they need to do, and giving them time from the client’s budget to review the IMPACT of what has been done. Connecting action to results has turned most of the team, even the 4-5 month newbie SEOs into real SEOs. They have taken ownership and care about movements in results, ranking or traffic, up and down (mostly up) because they know they made the changes.
  • Run the plan like clock-work: Things change. Not everything goes to plan. Client’s have new needs. The plan has to change, but having the vast majority of our work mapped out, even if that plan is “be ready to react with 25% of the budget” means we can expend mental energy on the task, not on the questions like “what work do I do next?” – “which job is more or less important?” – “who do I tell when I’ve done this?” or best of all: “do we have permission from the client to edit their website or do I need to submit changes for approval?” – This last one has massive risk for an SEO company working with serious clients in the Insurance and Financial Services Industries.

Together, these objectives have helped the staff become more engaged and elicited greater results.

Right, so back to Monday afternoon. We’d had a really successful afternoon documenting all the tactics and the modifications (if any) to client strategies for the month of May. It was clear that if client acquisition continued at this pace our spare capacity would soon be gone. I’ve been there before and seen the agency’s marketing dry up. It’s okay for a short-term measure but it’ll hurt in weeks and months to come. As a qualified engineer who still has a passion for real things, I love Rand Fishkin’s analogy of a FlyWheel. It sings to me about why the whole operation feels like cycling through wet tar when you try to speed it back up, and yes, in fact I did cycle through wet tar aged 10, my Mum was not impressed and my England soccer shirt from the Mexico ‘86 world cup was never the same.

Thinking about the future

With a leap back from this (brief) daydream I realised that we need to think about some new people on the team and give them time to get up to speed. Something a former (exceptional) developer said to me hits home at times like this, “how do you want the business to look in 6 months time?”.

I’ve had the best success in the past hiring people with the right attitude and desire to succeed in SEO from the start rather than existing skilled hires. Many SEO’s see the whole thing as a way to game Google and systems, systems like the business they work for: I don’t like that approach. I’m more interested in working with SEOs who want to stitch the web together. Many of my past entry level SEOs or SEMs have disappeared to rival digital marketing agencies, and even some to in-house marketing jobs or beyond.

In December we hired two excellent junior SEOs and have trained them well. In the last month or so they’ve taken the lead with client communications. Yes, after just 4 months! And, best of all, they’re identifying and bringing issues to senior SEOs attention with suggestions for solutions.

Agreed a plan

So the plan was discussed, we would begin a new round of hires in June. The job description and existing ads would be set in motion whilst I was away in the UK at my sister’s wedding, and on a quick break in Thailand on the way home to Brisbane. The first round interviews would be conducted a week before I return. The team know what makes a “Matter”, action, data-hungry, responsive and driven to deliver whatever it takes.

Measuring someone in an interview against these characteristics is pretty easy (for me). With the right (documented) checklist, and knowing me well, it should be fine for these two senior members of the team to do the first round interviews for me to then meet their short-list.

Smile. Sleep well.

I went home on Monday feeling proud that the team, my team, is becoming more responsible. Less reactive. Smile. Sleep well.

Tuesday I worked at home first thing in the morning and as part of my planned tasks, I took a look at the documented job descriptions and seek ad template. I wanted to modify the ad to the sort of SEO we’re doing now, since Easter. SEO that is heavily communication based, i.e. built around Digital PR, with some specific angles I’ve brought in after seeing amazing presentations at Mozcon 2015, including Lexi Mills’ (formerly of Distilled London).

Surprise!

So not everything about Australia is the same as the UK. I’ve been here in Queensland for 10 years now but one of the things that is very different from Cornwall, where I learned to drive in narrow country lanes. One thing that still gets me about Queensland drivers is an apparent lack of looking before changing lane. I love motorbikes but I’ve never owned one here (yet) and whilst I’d love to, I am very wary of getting one because “mirror signal manoeuvre” the catch-cry in the UK highway-code seems to be reversed here. The catch-cry is more like signal, move and “she’ll-be-right-mate”. I’m used to those sorts of surprises on the way to work. They spice up what will probably be rather boring when we all have driverless cars from Google and Uber.

Tuesday morning 9:15am I got an internal chat request from one of the up and coming SEOs, she wanted a meeting to discuss her future. We’d just had a conversation less than a week earlier. As I mentioned I’ve seen new hires – newly trained – get poached before, so I asked straight-up. She confirmed she was resigning and my heart sank.

Then I realised we needed to kick this plan into action ASAP because I’m leaving to go to my sister’s wedding soon and she’d kill me if I’m late or I present a risk of not showing up.

Into Action – Immediately

Knowing that the resignation was happening for sure I kicked the plan into action.

  • Seek advert, edited and online ASAP. Proofed by a senior colleague, to check my legendary word-blindness (I miss words when I’m in a hurry and/or excited).
  • Appointment made to meet with the exiting employee, i.e. Rowan and I wanted to find out what changes we could have made. We know “in-house” jobs pay more, was that it?

ASIDE: Every agency knows that, but agency SEO should also know that getting to a senior level in an agency makes you way more valuable in-house, because instead of needing an agency you can coordinate your own contractors.

  • Cleared my calendar for interview slots and cancelled, postponed and delegated some internal tasks so I could focus on reviewing the CVs I hoped would come flooding in.
  • Job shared on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I also pinged an email to a few contacts asking them if they knew anyone appropriate.

My internal debate went something like this…

  • Was Monday, the day she took off sick her interview day?
  • Will she look favourably on us in the future? I hope so.
  • I worry that she’ll be expected everything an agency would. That’s too much to ask of someone who isn’t at a very senior level. Agencies, by their nature, are teams of experts who work together to get a comprehensive result for clients. I see companies make demands of in-house marketing managers and without an agency who can share knowledge like us, they’d be in trouble.
  • How much can she get “in-house” with 4 months training from Matter Solutions under her belt. A 20-25% difference isn’t desirable but didn’t surprise me.

Heading to the office

Silencing my internal debate I headed to the office through the “surprise” and got underway with a few more steps.

  • Ran the exit interview and steered away from asking about the “sick leave” the day before. Not worth it I thought, I’ve been in Australia long enough to realise people treat it like holiday pay.
  • Met with some of the key people affected. Told them about the new hires being ASAP, not “in June”. Explained that I wanted to get someone two entry-level people on board, with at least one being savvy to the notion of Digital Public Relations (PR).
  • I explained to the team that I planned to do all the hiring and would keep the impact on their time to a minimum. I also decided to:
    • Firstly, run a phone interview with a few questions about availability and what their understanding of Digital Marketing and Digital PR might be. Some smart sounding applicants didn’t have a clue.
    • Secondly, conduct a 30-40 minute interview to make a short list of 4-5.
    • And, likely to have a second interview late that week or early the week after.

I did have a preference for people who could start immediately because the person leaving would be great at giving a very direct hand-over.

Wow!

I took a first look through the applicants. A couple were really good. As I was looking at about 12:40pm this one application leapt off the screen. Experience at a good agency, admittedly for only a short stint, with PR and some basic Digital work. I gave him a call and ran a couple of questions past him. He was as good on the phone as his CV seemed. I also remember noting that his CV had been send 42 minutes ago.

“Can you come for an interview? Later this week?”. He was busy the rest of the week and even though it isn’t his dream job, he didn’t want to let them down – okay good. He was available next week, quietly inside, eeek – no. I said, “how about today?”, knowing I had to leave early to get my kids at 2pm.

Gave Rowan the CV, he said, “yeah I’ll take a look”. “No, he’ll be here in 5 mins. Can you come into the interview?”. He could be in the office by 1:30pm.

Barely 90 minutes since sending his application he arrived for an interview, a little late, understandably so. He met with me and another senior member of staff. We put him through his paces. He was better than expected. We discussed a tentative offer and after he left we conferred. We both agreed, he was great. Hired.

The offer was made and he accepted. All within two hours of his application and five hours since I put the ad online. I wonder if that’s a seek website record. I did think about, was it hasty, did we do that too fast? No. I’m sure we didn’t. We were organised, we knew what we wanted, we were rigorous in the interview – he performed well. Tick!

The next hire wasn’t quite as fast, but it did happen very smoothly. I think that could be a great post from the man himself another day.

The candidates probably wondered how the hell we hired so fast, but we did.