Until recently, I’d only ever been on one side of the social media job interview: the hot seat. The toe-tapping, anxious side. But the other day I had an opportunity to join the other side, and I gained a newfound appreciation for social media by analyzing its nature from the opposite end of the spectrum. Something about challenging myself to reconsider what social media truly was, is, and will be made me look inward instead of outward. I questioned what exists at the core of social media instead of focusing on what value I could extend to such a position.
This industry is ever-changing, and the day-to-day routine not as simple as it seems. It’s art. It’s data. It’s communication. It’s a broad field that calls for a variety of skills, a thirst for learning, and a willingness to adapt.
1. What three adjectives describe you?
Be creative by not saying creative. That’s probably what everyone else is going to say. In this case, the candidate should avoid using three standard adjectives that are going to blend in with all the other candidates’ responses (e.g., hardworking, creative, outgoing). Remember you’re sitting across that table for a reason. You’re already assumed to be hardworking and creative, so take this chance to give the interviewer a glimpse into the uniqueness that makes you different from the rest. Give them an answer they will remember, and always tie it back to the position with an example of how that attribute would make you a strong candidate. Social media isn’t one dimensional, so don’t pick three words that all describe the same thing. Pick three that will showcase your value across the board, leaving no doubt that you are an ideal candidate.
2. How do you feel about numbers?
One thing I learned in journalism grad school: Journalists don’t like math — and they’ll tell you so. But social media is the new journalism and you’re going to need to rekindle the flame with your ol’ numbers pal. Really, it’s okay to say you don’t like numbers, but what would be good to hear is that you understand and appreciate the importance of data in the world of social media. It’s how we justify what we do in a field where success is measured in ambiguous metrics. Data will tell the story of our success, and investing time toward data analysis reports will cost us less than the repercussions of blindly executing a strategy with no foundation.
3. What’s the [insert company name] brand?
Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
This is a chance to prove you’ve done your research. Use specific examples of rankings or accomplishments to illustrate that you already have a firm grasp on the image that you’ll be representing. At the end of the day, your brand emerges without your control, and social media is a prime vehicle for delivering content that impacts those conversations which happen when you aren’t in the room. Here’s your chance to prove that the company will be moving in the right direction with you behind the steering wheel of content development.
4. What’s your personal brand?
You can’t count on the interview to present perfect opportunities for you to showcase every reason why you’re the right person for the position. This question is very open to interpretation, so use the opportunity to steer the conversation down whichever path you choose. For me, I’d mention something about my personal mantra, inspired from the Bible, that is essentially this: You harvest only what you plant. In my mind, this verse means that you can’t sit back and expect beautiful things to grow without first planting seeds. Great achievements don’t come from remaining idle, and the seeds won’t plant themselves. So I approach work with the mindset that the soil must be tended to if good things are expected to grow from our efforts. My mantra also segues right into a discussion about my roots and my agricultural upbringing. I’m proud of where I’m from, and it’s an integral part of who I am in the workplace. The interview isn’t just about the job — it’s about you.
5. Let’s pretend there’s another person in this room, and they’re really good at social media. What are the attributes, skills, and overall qualities that make this person “good” at social media?
I prefer this method over asking someone to explain why they are really good at social media because differences in personalities will yield different responses. A modest person will often sell themselves short, despite their actual talents and skills. Describing an imaginary third person strips down all sense of ego and levels the playing field, producing answers that are very telling as to whether or not the candidate really understands what it takes to excel in the position. Ideally, the description will coincide with what the candidate has already demonstrated to be his or her strengths through their resume and cover letter.
6. Let’s say you start a new position in social media and your grandma calls you up and asks this: “What ‘exactly’ do you do at work? You goof around on Facebook all day, right?” How would you best explain what you do and why it’s valuable to a person in her demographic?
I find myself in situations where people want me to describe my daily routine as a social media coordinator. Some find it amusing that it’s a full-time job. Others know that it’s really important but couldn’t explain why. Mostly, I think people are curious and genuinely don’t know. If you’re applying for a social media position and are expecting to watch cat videos on YouTube and read Buzzfeed articles all day long, you might have the wrong impression. Don’t get me wrong — it’s some of that, but not all that. You might tell your grandma that social media is about telling the story of your organization while establishing bona fide relationships with your people. The main takeaway is to gauge how well the candidate understands the importance of social media beyond common surface-level perceptions.
7. What is the Return On Investment of social media?
A typical answer here probably has something to do with reach and engagement. It’s a fair response. Though it really isn’t so simple. Let’s break it down: ROI is the benefit to an investor resulting from an investment of some resource. A social media strategist’s investment may come in the form of time spent producing video or energy put into responding to direct messages. What’s the benefit to the investor? A video that reaches 100,000 people simply means that 100,000 folks may have seen the video pass through their newsfeed. They also may have ignored it completely. So how does that determine a benefit? In my mind, the return of social media is, in large part, a feeling. It’s the warm feeling of belonging that a high school senior feels when Colorado State’s admissions team congratulates them on their acceptance to the University. It’s the nostalgia that alumni experience when they see a photo of their old stomping grounds. It’s the intangibles. And that’s important to remember when you’re entering the realm of social media. A candidate who understands that their success won’t be measured in “likes” and “reach” is already on the right track.