21 SEO Interview Questions (and Why I Chose Outspoken Media)


sean-stahlman-sneakerheadHi! I’m Sean, Director of Client Services for Outspoken Media. I like skateboarding, snowboarding, sneakers, and search marketing. In the three months since joining Outspoken Media we have been entirely focused on our clients, conference travel, the re-brand, writing proposals, training a new team, moving offices and evaluating new hires who can help us grow the company. So, while we still have a few boxes to unpack around the office, we decided it was as good a time as any to talk about how I got here, literally and figuratively.

It happened over Facebook, coffee, and early morning conversations.

After spending my first four years in SEO at another local SEO company and six years at a large digital agency in NYC managing and directing a group of highly talented SEO’s, I decided to look for a change. I just didn’t know what that change was going to involve.

What I did know:

I was willing to take a leap of faith and I wanted to not only grow personally and professionally, but to help build something and hopefully lend some of the experience I’d picked up over the years. I didn’t want a rigid set of guidelines on how to approach a client engagement, standard buckets of deliverables, or working under a set of unrealistic expectations. I wanted to work with talented people in a fun environment, to be generally excited, and to feel good about the clients I work with each day.

Simple enough, right? When looking for a job in SEO, money, perks, vacation, stock, benefits, and profit sharing are all important, but after those wants are met, what are the criteria for fulfillment?

Finding what you want is rarely easy, and it often involves change. Change sucks; it’s difficult and downright terrifying to step out of your comfort zone. But change is a necessity to keep progressing. Large agencies, small agencies, leading in-house teams, and heading back into the consultancy route were all areas I explored.

lake-george-nyThen one evening, while sitting beside Lake George, Mike King (who I had the opportunity to hire years earlier) reached out and put me in touch with Rhea. There is nothing entirely special about that, people are being connected constantly, we live in a hyper connected world, but Rhea and I live five miles apart, work in the same industry, worked for the same people, have the same friends, and somehow never managed to connect. Fast forward a couple of weeks and we were having coffee at a time in the morning that was visibly too early for each of us with the intention of just having a conversation. Fifteen minutes later I was across the street in the Outspoken Media office in a roundtable interview with the entire company. If you know Rhea, you’re not the least bit surprised by how fast she moves, and I think she even turned the conversation to OODA loops.

Having the opportunity to interview with the entire direct team I might be working with was a great opportunity. It provided an avenue to gauge fulfillment levels, general knowledge, and what excited them. I’ve always had concerns when potential employees don’t ask questions. My interview advice to other SEOs–if you are going to spend 40+ hours a week with someone, you want to ask them as much as possible.

Here are some of the questions I asked the team:

  1. How did you end up here?
  2. What does your day to day look like?
  3. What do you love about working here?
  4. What do you hate about it or wish you could change?
  5. What could be done to improve your day with tools, training and processes?
  6. What is your career path and long term plan?
  7. How could I help you if I was part of the team?

Then I asked Rhea the tough questions:

  1. What is the company vision?
  2. What do the individual client relationships look like and who are we supporting client side?
  3. What are your biggest client hurdles?
  4. How long have you been working with each client?
  5. What are the primary services clients seek out from Outspoken Media?
  6. What do you specialize in versus what do you love doing?
  7. What are the three, six and twelve month growth plans?
  8. What is the contingency plan?
  9. Are you growing for the sake of growing and does it align with the business goals?
  10. How are you accounting for profitability and do hourly bill rates make sense?
  11. How are projects quoted?
  12. How do you vet potential clients?
  13. Which clients would you fire and why?

This is when the direction changed from “how do you” to “how will we”:

We both want to start families, how the hell are we going to do this?

I never entirely intended to do more than make a local connection, but she had a great vision for how she wanted to grow the company and we kept meeting to talk. I don’t even know if she was looking to hire someone, but the general approach and topics we discussed were unique. She inquired about my experience building and managing teams, involvement with business development, implementing processes, and my approach to managing clients. I pressed on about pipelines, profitability, employee development, client retention, service offerings, community outreach, charitable giving and most importantly, what and where is the process to get us where we want to be?

The one question she asked that really resonated with me was whether this was the right fit for me. It has since been a common theme and a topic that we bring to many discussions including new hires, tools, processes, and most of all clients.

Building a company with multiple goals beyond successful client work and managing profitability was refreshing. It’s also the cornerstone of my decision to join the team and the approach we take for long-term growth.

That’s how I ended up at Outspoken Media, hopefully these questions can help other job candidates and share what has worked for you in the comments. I’m typically a behind the scenes person, but you’ll be hearing more from me in the coming months about methods to achieving client goals, solving site-side issues, and helping people get where they need to go.

Your Comments

  • Kayla

    I love this post- not just for the SEO value but also for the interview questions. I have always struggled with the part in an interview when I’m asked, “Well, do you have any questions for us?” Thanks for sharing!

    • Sean Stahlman

      Thanks for the comment Kayla. Potential candidates shouldn’t fear this question being asked and it’s often the part of the discussion where employers learn a lot about the interviewee and their interests.

  • yankeerudy

    Great post, Sean, and great questions. I had to laugh at your comment: “This is when the direction changed from “how do you” to “how will we”” At my last startup, we referred to that point as “crossing the WE barrier.”

    • Sean Stahlman

      I’m glad you got a laugh out of it Rudy, I’m definitely going to be using your phrase “crossing the we barrier” in the future.

  • Jon Clark

    Hey Sean,

    Great post – I’m pretty sure I saw you whip out a few of those interview questions in the past :) I’m so happy you were able to find a home where you could re-energize and continue to do what you love! Let me know the next time you swing into the city and we’ll hit up Mary’s Fish Camp!

  • Brian Clark

    Wonderful post, Sean. I can’t believe how few questions that actually matter I’ve asked in interviews. Most of them have to do with the compensation, perks, stock, benefits, etc. with a few about upper management and company culture thrown in. I’m definitely throwing “What do you hate about working here?” into the mix.

    Thanks and look forward to reading more.

  • Jill Tooley

    I really like #7 in your first list: “How could I help you if I was part of the team?”

    This is a great question to ask for 2 reasons: 1) It flips the discussion by giving the interviewer a chance to talk about the interviewee’s specific job skills they see as a fit for the company, and 2) It reveals the areas where the employer could use that extra help in the first place. Smart…

    I usually clam up during the Q&A section of interviews, but now I realize that’s a missed opportunity. Thanks for asking the right questions; we’re all glad you’re a part of Outspoken!

    • Sean Stahlman

      Thanks Jill, I’m stoked to be part of the team also! Question #7 definitely gets a wide range of positive responses and allows you to gauge how the potential team would utilize and leverage your skills. In many cases the interviewer will take this opportunity to get your personal insight on some actual hurdles they are facing, how you would respond and how you go about solving actual problems they face.

  • Juliet

    Awesome post,Sean.’m one of those who looks for a place where I can “grow” personally and professionally.I like the interview questions that you shared.The one’s you’ve ask to your team where questions that I’ve encountered on my previous interview.I can’t forget the “What is your career path and long term plan?”.

    • Sean Stahlman

      Thanks Juliet! I believe knowing each team members long term goals helps in keeping them motivated and knowing how to leverage their strengths.

  • Gerrid Smith

    The success of any company can be credited to both the management and the workforce. Both have to work harmoniously in accordance with the company’s mission and vision and the company’s goal.

    Thank you for the inspiration!