Hiring 1 Content Marketing Strategist From 427 Applicants: Our Process & Numbers
by Henry O'Loughlin • 7 minute read • September 15, 2021
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Nectafy recently hired a Growth Content Strategist, Matt. We love Matt.
But let’s be realistic: I know you don’t care about Matt (or Nectafy) as much as you care about the process of hiring a content marketing strategist: the job description, the required skills and experience, the salary, the timeline, and the interview questions. So unless you’re really interested in learning more about Matt, keep reading for the lowdown on how we hired a content strategist.
What We’ve Learned About Hiring Strategists
Nectafy calls this role the Growth Content Strategist. For the sake of your research, these are similar titles:
- Content Marketing Strategist
- Content Marketing Manager
- Inbound Marketing Consultant (or Strategist)
- Content Marketer
- SEO Content Strategist
If you’re looking to hire any of these positions, I encourage you to use this information in your hiring process. We’ve hired for this position four times, and two have worked out. Before you click away, know that we built and committed to this process because of the two that didn’t work out. And we’ve now looked at hundreds of content strategist resumes.
Here are the important principles we’ve learned about hiring a content strategist:
- Each employee who evaluates applications should use the same criteria.
- Each interview question should be mapped to a specific company core value or responsibility required in the position.
- Each question’s response needs to be graded (on a scale, or positive or negative) and each response must be a positive to move forward.
- Each employee involved in the hiring process must sign off fully on the candidate at each stage (no majority votes).
- A test project is mandatory; it must surface the required skills in the role and must be the same for each candidate to compare fairly.
- A content strategist (as defined for Nectafy’s needs) should do three things really well: content planning, keyword research, and analytics/reporting.
Note: Candidates must not claim to know design, PPC, social, development, or a number of other marketing skills outside of the core three. Why? Because it’s a critical mistake to hire for one role hoping to fill all your marketing needs, only to have that person be mediocre at everything. Focus on the specific skills for a content strategist and hire for those exclusively. You’ll need to hire or outsource content, design, development, PPC, and other skills to make sure everything is done well.
Hiring Numbers & Timeline
From posting the job to filling the position, this was a seven-week process. A key to finding the right person is to plan when you need to hire and to build in at least this amount of time to get it right. If you have to rush, you may choose a good candidate before the perfect one. Or, you may need a new hire to contribute at max capacity before they are fully trained and ready.
Days To Hire
- It took us 48 days from posting the job to fill the position.
- It took 31 days to get the winning candidate through the funnel, from his application to our offer.
The second number is useful in case you get your winning candidate earlier in the process than we did. It took 17 days before our perfect candidate applied. That could be sooner for you and speed up your process, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Between Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Google, It’s relatively easy for candidates to find and apply for jobs today. Therefore, you’ll likely have to sift through a lot of junk.
We went through over 400 resumes to make one offer. This is a remote position, however, so we attract people from all over the US. Coincidentally, we’ve hired about four positions over the last few years across writing, account management, and marketing, and each posting attracted between 400 and 700 applicants.
Who will analyze these resumes on your team? In what time frame? At Nectafy, each team member reviewed 20 resumes per week with a grading rubric.
- 395 candidates were disqualified based on their resume (93%).
- Only two candidates made it all the way through the process (0.5%).
- We only offered the job to one person (0.2%).
Average Days In Each Stage
It’s important to track timeline metrics for two reasons:
- To provide a good experience for applicants (so they don’t get ignored for weeks on end)
- To stay on track with your ideal hire date
Here are how many days applicants stayed in each stage on average:
We ran our hiring process through Workable. This platform provides the job posting and application online, distribution to job boards, and the communication and management of the process on the backend.
Following are the sources that brought in our candidates.
Sources For Applications
Sources For Candidates That Had An Interview
Indeed is the clear front-runner on sourcing candidates, providing us with 90% of our applicants, 75% of the folks who progressed past the application stage, and our winning candidate.
Content Marketing Strategist Job Description
Here are the sections we used in our content strategist job posting:
- Description of the role
- What you can expect
- About Nectafy
- Core values
- Benefits & Salary
- 6-question application
Here’s a list of the responsibilities of a growth content strategist at Nectafy:
- Develop personas and conduct keyword research for our clients to attract the right leads.
- Create content calendars that drive organic traffic and lead growth.
- Dig through data to reveal the opportunities that help our clients take the next step toward growth.
- Report on growth content results in a way that's meaningful and helpful to clients.
- Collaborate with a small team consisting of a dedicated content creator, editor, designer, and developer to produce amazing results for our clients.
Here are the requirements:
- Know how to plan content that brings in organic visitors and leads, and be able to tell about it in numbers (social media is a very small part of the job, that is not what we're looking for)
- Fluent in Spreadsheet, the language of data geeks everywhere
- 2+ years of marketing experience with actual, numbers-based results you’re proud to share
- Recent experience in B2B specifically planning content, doing SEO, and tracking results
- Bachelor's degree in something useful (Just kidding about the “useful” part. Our founder has a degree in history, so there's that.)
- HubSpot Inbound Certification
- Engaging verbal communication skills so you're likable on video calls
- Proven ability to write well and to convey ideas clearly (for client communication primarily, less for copywriting)
- Live in the United States (so you can overlap with our team and clients during the day)
- Fun to be around (at least virtually)
Here are the questions we asked on the application:
- Briefly describe your professional experience with growth content. (The more specifics you can give, the better).
- What marketing results are you most proud of? Please provide specifics—especially numbers.
- What are a few web addresses that best show off your current work?
- What's the one reason you should become the next Nectafy team member?
- Are you HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certified? (Yes or No)
- Is there anything else we should know?
Content Marketing Strategist Salary
We set the content strategist salary in the range of $50,000. That salary could go up or down based on a few factors like experience and location.
A few years ago, we saw Buffer’s salary calculator (more info here and here) and used it as a model to build our own. This helps us determine salary more fairly based on the role, contribution level, experience, location, and leadership (if the position includes managing people).
According to Salary.com, the average base salary for a content marketing strategist is around $54,000.
On top of our base salaries, we have a profit-sharing program that scales up with company performance (and increases the total compensation for our strategist).
Our process consists of two video interviews, then a test project, and then a final interview. Across each phase, we need to build a full analysis of the client. Each interview question is mapped to either a Nectafy core value (to see if they have what we find important), a skill the job requires (to see if they can succeed in the position), or another structural fit for the position (like working from home, salary, interest in Nectafy, or career goals).
Here are some sample interview questions we ask at each stage:
Interview #1 (Core Values Screen): The goal of this interview is to evaluate the candidate’s fit with our core values.
- Why are you applying for this position & why are you interested in Nectafy?
- What is growth content marketing in 60 seconds?
- How soon are you looking to transition into a new position?
- Which of our core values most closely aligns with your values?
Each of these questions match with a Nectafy core value:
- Could you tell me about a time that an assignment didn’t go well?
- What’s one topic that has your attention right now and you are trying to learn more about it?
- Could you tell me about one piece of content or marketing project that demonstrates your commitment to excellence?
- Could you tell me about a time when you were given an assignment and weren’t given access to the appropriate resources to complete it?
- Could you tell me about a time when you couldn’t get a project done because other team members were in your way?
Then, here’s the final closing question we ask in every interview (because it’s important that the candidate has at least a few good questions):
- Do you have any questions for us?
Interview #2 (Lead): The goal of this interview is to evaluate the skill of the candidate.
- What was your boss’s name, and what is he or she like?
- When I talk to ____, what will he/she tell me your strengths are?
- Everyone has areas where they can improve, so when I talk to ____, what will he/she tell me your weaknesses are?
- What does (company name) do, and what do you do for them?
- What are some specific results you’ve achieved in the role? We’re looking for numbers.
- Have you planned a content calendar before? Take me through the goal and your process.
- Take me through a round of keyword research you’ve done. What is your process like, and why did you choose to go after a keyword?
- What kind of tools/software do you work with, and for what purposes?
- What marketing skills/functions do you feel like you know well and don’t know well?
- Do you have any questions for us?
Interview #3 (Integrator): The goal of this interview is to address any outstanding questions that have come up in the process and to determine if the candidate can succeed in the role.
- Tell me more about yourself personally. Where do you live, what are you interested in, etc.?
- How did you go about completing the test project, from planning your time to research to presentation?
- What parts of your current role excite you most?
- What about your current role has made you look for a new opportunity?
- What have you learned about Nectafy so far?
- How do you learn about new industries?
- How do you learn about new marketing trends?
- How did you learn about keyword research and SEO?
- What marketing skills/functions do you feel like you know well and don’t know well?
- What have you learned about client management?
- How do you feel like B2B differs from B2C content marketing, and why are you interested in B2B?
- If you had full control of your career, where would it go (in any time frame)?
- Do you have any questions for us?
We built a test project that demonstrates each of the required skills. It is essentially a real project done in this role with a fictitious name. You can surface the gaps between what is said in the interview versus the actual skills the candidate possesses.
Here is what we assign to candidates at this phase:
This assignment will test your knowledge around content planning, keyword research, and reporting. Below you’ll find information about the company you work for in this test project along with the deliverables required. Please do not spend more than three hours on the project.
Company: [Sample Company]
URL: [Sample URL]
- We randomly select a B2B company without a blog for these assignments.
Sample Buyer Persona: Kristen is a COO at an ecommerce company. Her focus is to make sure the company is increasing its sales and growing the business. She takes the lead in articulating the voice of the products, handling back-end issues, customer service issues, and more. She speaks the language of her employees, but she can't write the code.
A key component of her job is to make sure the company's online payment systems are operating correctly. Kristen doesn't think about it much when everything's working as it should be, but if an issue arises and customer orders are declined or aren't registering, Kristen is responsible for fixing the problem.
Here’s what you need to deliver for [Sample Company]:
1. Plan the topics for five blog posts, including these aspects for each:
- Keywords to target
- Blog post type (regular, long form, pillar, guest post, etc.)
- Explanation of why you're pursuing each topic and the opportunity for each
2. Onedownloadable offer to capture leads, including these aspects:
- Offer type (eBook, whitepaper, template, kit, email series, webinar, etc.)
- What fields you’ll ask the visitor to fill out on the form
- Simple, bulleted plan for how you’ll get visitors to download this offer
- Explanation of why you’re pursuing this idea and the opportunity
3. Reporting on expected results:
- A model showing what you expect to receive per month for visits and leads
- A list of metrics you’ll use to show if these six pieces of content have been successful
Please send all of the above by the [Due Date] in any format or document type you feel best presents the information.
Here’s how we disqualify candidates at the application phase:
- Incomplete application: Some or all of the answers are blank or marked N/A.
- Spelling or grammatical errors in the application: This shows a lack of attention to detail.
- Not enough relevant work experience (and no B2B experience): We ask for 2+ years of content or inbound experience.
- No numbers in the application: We explicitly ask for results they’ve achieved in numbers. If they don’t share specific numbers, they either haven’t achieved results or aren’t interested in numbers.
- Not HubSpot certified: We require this in the application.
- Obvious conflict with Nectafy core values: The applicant prefers short-term fixes over long-term solutions, or doesn’t demonstrate an interest in learning, etc.
- Not within a few hours of U.S. time zones: Make sure they are not 3+ hours outside of U.S. time zone (for client meetings).
Here’s how we disqualify candidates after each interview:
- Does not have a specific reason for working at Nectafy, or has not heard of Nectafy
- Cannot define growth content, or takes more than 60 seconds to provide a definition (lacks presentation skills or understanding)
- Does not have a specific number to share when asked about results
- Reporting, content planning, content strategy, or SEO is not one of the top three practical skills they mention
- The salary they require is $10,000 or more above our offer
- When asked about content planning, the candidate mentions brainstorming and project planning (more than keyword research, personas, content types, search volume)
- Overuse of buzzwords (without demonstrating a clear understanding of what they mean)
- When asked about content tools they use, they only mention some of the basic ones like Google Analytics and Wordpress (and therefore don’t have experience with well-known tools like Moz, HubSpot, SEMRush, etc.)
- The candidate says he or she is good at all marketing skills, can’t pick a top one, or lists social media as their best skill (not a good fit for our role)
Here’s how we disqualify candidates after the test project:
- The candidate didn’t submit everything we asked for (attention to detail)
- The blog topics aren’t picked for the persona and aren’t based on search metrics (keyword difficulty, search volume)
- The main keyword, or a close variation, isn’t used in the suggested title of each blog post
- The keywords chosen for each post aren’t closely related to one another
- The post types aren’t chosen logically or numerically (they aren’t a fit for the topic and aren’t selected based on search volume and keyword difficulty)
- The candidate doesn’t demonstrate a clear understanding of the downloadable offer, how to get people to the landing page, and what form fields to include
- There are glaring metrics missing to track the performance of the campaign
Hiring In-House Vs. Agency
If you’re looking to hire a content marketing strategist in-house, there are a few important considerations:
Are you asking this strategist to be your entire marketing team?
If you are asking this one person to do content strategy, blog writing, SEO, PPC, social media, design, development, trade shows, email marketing (and a ton of other marketing tasks), you’ll face issues. Marketing is too specialized these days to expect one person to have the required skill level to succeed at each. What will most likely happen is the person does pieces of all of them and none of that work gets results.
If you are hiring for content strategy specifically, how will you get the other pieces done?
If you are looking to hire in this way, you’ve passed the first test: hiring for a realistic skillset. Your strategist can plan content scientifically and tie content metrics to business results, but who will carry out the other aspects?
- Do you have a quality writer in place to deliver the content?
- Do you have a designer?
- Do you have a development team to build web pages, landing pages, and online tools that your strategist has determined useful?
Determine: Do you need an in-house strategist, or do you need a content agency?
- If you can define the strategist role specifically and have the other skills (writing, design, development, etc.) to execute, then hiring a strategist to be on staff would be a good idea. Use this process to find the right person.
- If you’re interested in hiring a strategist but really need access to all of the required skills of content marketing, you may want to talk to an agency like Nectafy.
Assuming that your main marketing goal is to propel your company’s growth, is a content strategist the missing piece (and you have the other skill sets), or do you need all the required skills to get results? Make that decision first before posting the position.