Here are some interview questions for hiring managers to consider when interviewing and assessing candidates for a content strategist role. For more information on how to hire a content strategist, check out our hiring guide and our job description template.
Questions (scroll down to see average VS great answers for these questions):
Average Candidate: Focuses on superficial metrics that has little impact on the bottom-line. If the candidate rattles off a list of top-of-funnel metrics (pageviews, likes, shares, comments), it could be a sign that they are not thinking hard about the return on investment of their content marketing.
Great Candidate: They should look at performance holistically, and should be able to bring up relevant metrics specific to the type of content with ease. “Earlier this year, our team launched 4-part video series, a top-of-funnel project that we targeted at high-income young parents. The theme was bad parenting – which was very relatable for busy parents – and the goal was to spark conversation on the definition of great parenting. We improved play rate by over 30 per cent, and watch time was also strong for this series. The series also brought us 3 times more lead conversions per dollar spent compared to our blog articles.
A weak answer would not identify metrics that matter, and will also fail to see the bigger picture of content strategy, instead focusing on the content itself. A better answer would include mentions of metrics that are more related to business strategy, which means they can produce content with those goals in mind. Keywords include ‘inform and engage’ readers, SEO-related terms, page views, clicks, lead generation, brand awareness. Great candidates would have many personal examples to refer to.
Average Candidate: “I like the content this company produces because it’s sensational and unique. It’s never been done before. I think the content in this industry is too safe and boring, which doesn’t resonate with their audience.”
Great Candidate: “I like the content this company produces because it really appeals to their target audience. If you look briefly at their likes on social media or on the comments on their articles, they’re made up of the demographics of their target audience. The content might be a bit boring or corporate for some people, but clearly, it works to get their brand message out to the right people. I noticed they have certain templates for the way their content is formatted, and while this helps to improve turnover time, it does get repetitive over time. I think it’s definitely possible to come up with more series for more variety in content formats, as well as experiment with multimedia to illustrate their points better.”
This is a more industry-specific version of the question above. They should discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the content producer they like. A weaker answer would only focus on whether or not they found the content interesting. A stronger answer would discuss the quality of the content, considering that they may not be the target audience, and instead focus on whether the overall strategy helps to reach any business goals in its production and distribution. This also gives you a glimpse into the ideas they have, and whether they have a grasp of the content needs of companies in your industry.
Do note that it is easy to prepare for this answer, so you may want to restrict the candidate to companies within your industry or similar, in order to trigger a more representative response.
Average Candidate: “The whole brief is important. If I don’t have enough instructions, how can I deliver the content that is needed?”
Great Candidate: “While the content and the format is important, I think it’s most important to know who you’re writing for and what kind of message you’re trying to bring across. Everything depends on the target audience and the message, from production to how you would distribute the content.”
A good content strategist will know that the same story can be told in many different ways, depending on your audience and objectives. So a good answer would highlight that the writing starts with the target audience and purpose of the content, which would, in turn, help them craft the storytelling and distribution strategies.
You may add on to this question by asking for an example of a company’s content strategy that they think has an obvious mismatch between the content and the target audience, and how they think this could be improved.
Average Candidate: “The content has to be clear and grammatically correct. I also make sure the writing voice suits the content.”
Great Candidate: “Depending on what the content is trying to say and who it should reach, I look out for voice and tone, the language used, the structure, and how the reader will be viewing the content. Incorporating a brand message is very different from creative copywriting or newsroom editorial writing, so that’s something I would look out for as well.”
Look out for a variety of editorial experience, including creative, newsroom and branded content. A good content strategist should be able to identify that content for different intent require very different editorial styles. In their thought process, look out for their ideation journey in sharpening, packaging and distributing the content to reach the target audience and fulfil the purpose of the content.
Do note that content strategists with different backgrounds (like for those transitioning from journalism roles, traditional marketing roles or digital marketing roles) may highlight different things. Take note of their strengths in light of what your team is lacking.
Average Candidate: “Your company’s voice is like that of an expert, and to write content for your blog, I would use an expert’s language and keywords.”
Great Candidate: “Your company’s voice is like a helpful and friendly expert. I think your main target audience would be people who already have some knowledge of what you’re writing about. So to write content for your blog, I would include helpful insights and leave in some technical terms, but explain them along the way as well.”
If the candidate can identify the tone your company is going for, he or she probably prepared for the interview and took the time to understand your brand storytelling. It also shows experience in crafting brand messaging, look out for the keywords that you associate with your brand. A good candidate will also identify that your target audience will require a certain voice and tone.
Most experienced writers should be able to identify your company’s voice. To build on this question, you can ask for some ideas on how to further your brand messaging, which will be more telling about how well they understand your brand’s direction.
Average Candidate: “I do like that the content is very informative, but I think sometimes they can be boring, and I don’t think anyone is looking for this level of information. I’d add more trendy formats, maybe like short video explainers.”
Great Candidate: “I think the content is in-line with your brand in that it sounds smart and is engaging. But I noticed while you do share your own content on social platforms, you’re not very active otherwise. I think you could maybe share things that appeal to your target audience on LinkedIn more often because volume helps to grow traction on social platforms.”
A good content strategist will be able to pinpoint a few areas where your company might be struggling with, in both content production and distribution. You’ll also get to see how they work with feedback, look out for how they back up why they would change what they want to change. On the other hand, a weak answer would just apply trending content formats to your company, whether or not they may be suitable for your target audience and within your budget.
Average Candidate: “I like writing social media copy the best.”
Great Candidate: “I have experience with writing journalistic articles, branded insight content and social media copy, but I enjoy editorial work the most. I’ve also had experience pitching ideas for articles or videos to clients as well as internally to editors.”
This will give you an idea of whether they have experience with the written content formats that your company applies. A weaker candidate will have writing experience in fewer areas. Depending on whether your company is looking for an individual to fill a role that’s more focused on producing content according to a tried-and-tested format, or a role that is responsible for innovating and coming up with new content formats, this question will show you whether the individual suits the needs of the role.
Average Candidate: “I have no experience with multimedia, I only write.”
Great Candidate: “I have experience with designing graphics, videography and photography. I picked up these skills because I think all content comes in a package, it’s never just one article, and it’s useful to be able to do more than one thing. I’m familiar with the Adobe Suite.”
Not a must for some companies, but this is always an added bonus. Look out for their experience with multimedia projects and whether they are familiar with terms that multimedia creatives use.
If a content strategist can also communicate with designers, illustrators and videographers, as well as have some ideas on the best practices in those areas, they view content as a string of conversations they have with their audience across multiple platforms and formats, instead of as a singular asset. This also enables them to issue good briefs to the creatives they work with.
Average Candidate: “I search for keywords throughout the writing, and maybe even invisible text. This gets you a lot of clicks very quickly.”
Great Candidate: “I do a quick search on Keyword Search to see what keywords are popular, and then using the keywords sparingly. I also try to write headlines that include longer-tail keywords and include relevant links and image labels throughout the content. I also keep Google Search algorithms in mind while writing.”
This question is meant to show you whether the individual has real experience with creating SEO content that is suitable for a long-term approach. A content strategist who has written with SEO in mind may have experience with tools like Buzzsumo, Semrush, Google Adwords and Keyword Search. They should identify that while SEO can deliver results very quickly, it needs to be utilised in an expert manner, and this excludes spamming keywords.
Average Candidate: “I think about what the reader might like to see. If a subject is boring, they probably don’t want to read it.”
Great Candidate: “I consider the reader’s level of knowledge about a topic. If they are familiar with the topic, I can include more technical terms, but if they are more foreign to the discussion, I will use simple language. I will also write in an engaging and compelling manner. A boring subject can be made interesting to the reader if you show them why it should matter to them.”
A good content strategist should be able to identify that technical terms turn readers away, and should be comfortable with translating complicated concepts into writing that is simpler, easier to understand.
Average Candidate: “What is a content management system?”
Great Candidate: “I’ve had experience with WordPress, Wix and Squarespace. I am also familiar with a little bit of HTML formatting for these sites.”
This question is meant to show you whether the individual has experience with the CMS your company may use, for example, WordPress, Drupal, Magneto, Wix and Squarespace. If your company uses an internal CMS, this question will help you suss out how comfortable they are in adopting a new CMS.
Average Candidate: “I think written content should have the most weight, and if you skimp on writers you need to spend a lot of time fixing it yourself.”
Great Candidate: “The allocation of the budget would depend on what is the main content format that we will be producing, and at what frequency. For example, if a project is written content heavy, I will prioritise good writers who may be able to take photos or design graphics, not graphic designers who also dabble in writing. I’d also spend less of the budget on ancillary assets.”
A good candidate will have the foresight to consider that the allocation of the budget is dependent on the priorities of each project. He or she would also point out that money is needed not just for the production process, but also for the distribution in terms of paid ads or boosted posts.
Average Candidate: “I disagreed with my creatives because they said our branding direction was inconsistent across collaterals. I felt it was consistent, so I just asserted my authority and continued with the project.”
Great Candidate: “Putting together a team based on their strengths and weaknesses is very important. The last time I disagreed with my creatives, it was because all of them had the same editorial background, and I felt our direction was one-dimensional and not brand-focused enough. To remedy this, I put together a set of case studies that illustrated what I had in mind for our content. I also requested for help from another team member from the traditional marketing department, to sit down with my team and me to analyse how to improve our content to meet business goals.”
This question is meant for a candidate interviewing for a more senior position with management responsibilities. Instead of steamrolling over conflicting opinions, a good candidate would recognise the underlying problem, and address it effectively. A weak answer may indicate that the candidate has a very top-down style of leadership, and may not take well to more collaborative teams.
Although it might seem like a lot of work to win featured snippets, remember that if you’re already putting out content, you’re halfway there. A few simple tweaks, like using header tags and creating ‘how to’ lists, can increase your chances of winning them.
Agile marketing offers teams the opportunity to have the same level of experimentation and find better ways to keep abreast of what customers want, on the same dime. Armed with data and analytics, agile teams are enabled to plan and respond to what the customer wants and how they experience the product or service.
As Director of Content Marketing and Social Media at Autodesk, Dusty DiMercurio oversees their award-winning publication, Redshift. Get a behind-the-scenes peek into how he works with industry experts and journalists to create best-in-class content.