Oct 11

7 interview questions to ask growth hires

Trevor Sookraj

As your early stage startup scales, the needs of your business increase, and you need someone with a deep knowledge of marketing to take things to the next level. Your first growth marketing hire needs the technical skills of an experienced marketer, combined with mastery in strategy and product. Most importantly, they need to have the willingness to get into the trenches and execute.

To be most effective, you shouldn’t look at growth skills alone — an in-depth understanding of the branding, psychology, and data that drives your growth is crucial to being able to think critically about what to prioritize. And of course, they’ll need to be a good fit for the company you’re trying to build. With all these things to think about, how can you even begin to interview growth hires?!

This article provides you with seven insightful questions you need to ask when interviewing for your first growth hire, as well as guiding tips to help you with choosing the right candidate.

Questions to ask when interviewing for your first growth hire

1. Tell me about your experience with growth and marketing.

Asking for a quick run-through of a candidate’s experience is customary, so candidates typically come prepared to answer this question. But you can dig deeper by raising specific follow-up questions like:

  • “What were the biggest growth levers at your last company?”
  • “Were there any campaigns that you ran which didn’t work? What did you learn from them?”
  • “What was the state of growth when you joined your last company? How did you prioritize goals?”

These questions will provide you with a closer look at the candidates’ past roles, and where their skillsets lie. The info you get from asking these follow-ups will also provide a base for knowing what to dig into (i.e. channels they have experience in, organization structures they’ve worked within, etc.).

One way to dig deeper into channel experience is to call it out directly:

  • “Were you involved in outbound email?”
  • “Did you run any paid campaigns?”
  • “Did you lead SEO efforts?”

Looking at SEM, you can use tools like SEMRush or AHREFS to analyze the domain of their last company and see whether they have active paid search campaigns, along with the strength of their site (Domain Authority) and organic traffic. You can look at a breakdown of the organic traffic to get an idea of how they built content, and ask how it played into their growth.

Some marketers can spend 2+ years at a company without touching a specific channel. It’s important to know if their marketing experience is T-Shaped, and if so, which areas they have the most expertise in. You can interview an amazing marketer who has a tone of experience and noteworthy skill sets—but that might just not be relevant to your business.

Take time to prepare for the interview by viewing your candidate’s LinkedIn profile and dig into each experience. This gives you an overview of their career, and helps you to ask pointed questions about their experience.

2. How would you approach growth at our company if you started next week?

For early stage companies, your growth hire will often have a ‘blank slate’ problem. This is where there are no marketing efforts and they need to figure out what to prioritize and how to tackle growth. Candidates that default to a specific channel, or require data to make decisions, may not be the best fit for early stage growth. The ability to think about the customer first and approach growth holistically is imperative; this growth hire will influence your product roadmap, customer retention, and other areas that are relevant to ‘growth’ but not necessarily ‘growth marketing’.

Look for candidates that can lay out the steps they would take, such as learning about the business, industry, and competitors, gathering data, and talking to customers. If they assume they’ll be able to rely on you to provide this information, they may struggle with the ambiguity that early stage startups often present. Marketers that can clearly articulate their plans and build as they go will be immensely valuable to your organization.

3. Can you speak to the structures of the past organizations you’ve worked for? What kind of structure do you thrive in?

This is important to understand the candidate’s level of comfort with the uncertainties and challenges that come with working at an early-stage startup. Ask questions like:

  • “Did you work with the sales team or directly with the founders at your last company?”
  • “Were you involved in product discussions?”
  • “Did you influence customer success or support?”

These questions will allow you to read into what they owned and how they collaborated with colleagues on growth challenges. If you're looking for a quick feedback loop between growth efforts and product roadmap, you'll need a marketer who thinks on that wavelength.

One way to get to the root of this information is to look at the company’s LinkedIn page, filter by ‘marketing’ titles, and see who either preceded, overlapped with, or succeeded your potential hire. Here are some examples of specific questions:

  • “I noticed that Jane started as VP Growth while you were there. What was the dynamic here and what was your scope compared to hers?”
  • “How did you work with Ahmed, the Content Marketing Manager, who was already a part of the company? Did you direct his work or what was the relationship?”
  • “The first sale hire joined ~ 1 year into your tenure, how did this change your growth goals and the dynamic with the leadership team?”

This approach takes more time, but ensures you’re making the most of the interview. Marketers who are hesitant to share what they owned or can’t give specifics might imply that they clashed with certain hires or didn’t have as much ownership as they may have originally indicated.

4. What area of marketing are you strongest in?

Use this question to dive into the candidate’s knowledge and get an idea of how their strengths will help your business grow. Again, preparation is important here—while your first growth hire will need to be a blend of many skills, knowing what your company lacks can help you choose a candidate with specialized skills to bridge that gap.

You can follow this question with, “Can you give me an example of {channel} at your last company?”. Marketers who have very strong experience in a particular area will go into detail about how they thought about it, any tradeoffs they encountered, etc. Marketers who were only involved in that activity, but didn't lead or own it, will struggle to give details and answer follow-up questions.

It helps to make a shortlist of follow-up questions for specific channels, so that you can prompt the marketer to go deeper. Many marketers will only share cursory information with founders, as they will assume you don’t know what to look for. Here are some examples:

  • Outbound Email: How many emails did you send per week? What was the process to list building and sending?
  • SEO/Content: SEO takes a while to build, how did you handle distribution in the interim? Did you change your strategy along the way?
  • Paid Search: What budget did you spend on SEM? If you were given 2x budget, would you invest in existing campaigns or explore new ones? If the latter, which areas?

5. How do you identify the type of company you want to work with? What are the things that you commonly look for?

This is a great question to understand the working style of your candidate. It allows you to dive into the type of team the candidate likes to work with, whether they prefer working with founders who have clear goals, or if they’re flexible, adaptive, and enjoy working with experimental founders. Then, you can move forward with candidates that fit best with your team.

If you have preconceptions on how a candidate might clash with your current team, make sure to flag those inadvertently. I.e.:

  • “We have a fairly horizontal org structure—how have you dealt with ambiguity like that in the past?”
  • “We do things mostly async and without meetings—what type of documentation did you rely upon in your last role? What is your preferred way of communication?”

6. How have you contributed to your past companies?

Asking candidates specific questions about the stages they’ve contributed to in their past companies is important to get a full picture. They should be able to give specifics about their responsibilities and contributions; if they’re unable to do so, it might mean they didn’t own what they did—which probably isn’t a good sign.

When it comes down to hiring for early-stage companies, it’s a matter of, “Here’s how I helped the company grow” vs. “Here’s how the company grew while I was there”. Don’t be afraid to ask which specific KPIs they were responsible for and how they hit these goals at their last company.

If they worked with broader goals (e.g. “Determine messaging for audience segments”), then try to understand how they took an ambiguous goal that isn’t quantitative and worked backwards to create tasks and campaigns. As a founder, your goals are related to revenue and customers, but that doesn’t always translate easily to marketing metrics. A good marketer can break things down and show you how they’ll hit your goals, no matter what they are.

Remember that you may not be dealing with the problems that a candidate has faced in the past. If the candidate’s past company had a healthy lead volume, and the emphasis was on scoring and nurturing them, that is different than a company who needs to find repeatable acquisition (top-of-funnel) and build systems to support that.

Here are some potential questions you can ask:

  • “What was the #1 growth problem that your last company had? How did you tackle that?”
  • “How did your last company mature in their thinking of growth while you were there?”
  • “What is a growth campaign that you ran, that you’re particularly proud of?”

7. How would you describe yourself in your own words?

This is a question that can quickly help you decipher your candidate’s character. Growth marketers are typically defined as scrappy—meaning they’re determined, and resourceful, because they know what they need to get the job done. They’re empathetic, as they can enter a company in its early stages and understand things from the founders’ eyes. Growth marketers are also confident and assertive, as they often need to stand up for the strategy they believe in, even if it doesn’t align with what others might think.

Be careful that this question doesn’t mimic the typical “tell me your greatest strengths” one. You want to gain a better understanding of where your candidate thrives and the problems they enjoy tackling. Here are some potential questions to dig into this:

  • “What type of growth challenges are you most excited by?”
  • “Where have you clashed with the founders at your last company?”
  • “When were you most excited at your last company?”

Bringing on your first growth hire doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With the right questions, preparation, and an understanding of what your start-up’s growth needs are, you can make the right hiring decisions that will set your company up for long-term success. If you’re looking for more assistance with hiring your first growth marketer, Divisional can help. Get in touch with us today!

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