How to Interview for “Digital” People

How to Interview for “Digital” People

Sterling Woods has written at length about the need for publications to undergo a digital transformation. But change is easier said than done! Adjusting your business model to be more digitally-focused means you need to recruit a digitally-focused team, too.

Of course, if your business exclusively interviews potential hires that have been recruited from tech startups, you’ll have a team of digitally-savvy employees. But, if you’re like most other publications, you need to hire marketers and writers and editors. Naturally, those roles can be fulfilled from a variety of industries and backgrounds.

So, in that case, how do you cherry-pick the best “digital” people from your pool of candidates? Here’s how to screen resumes and ask interview questions that will help you discover the best digital people for the job—whatever it may be.

How to Screen for Intellectual Curiosity

One of the most important characteristics you need to attempt to quantify during the interview process is intellectual curiosity. According to Harvard Business Review, there are three main factors that affect a person’s ability to manage complex situations: their IQ, their EQ (emotional quotient or intelligence), and their level of curiosity. It’s their strengths in these soft skills that make it possible for them to serve as problem solvers, original thinkers, and strong managers—and curiosity helps them keep pace with the ever-evolving digital space.

One barometer for a curious mind is to look for any additional training or continuing education on their resume. Do they have an advanced degree or have they taken online courses to add specific skills to their digital toolbox? A desire to seek knowledge and opportunities for growth is a strong indicator of a curious mind.

There are plenty of questions you can ask to help further suss out which job candidates embody intellectual curiosity. Ask them about their aspirations, what they do or don’t like doing professionally, or what industry conferences they’ve attended recently. Consider asking them what they are currently reading or which podcasts they subscribe to.

How to Screen for Business Acumen

Of course, a certain degree of business acumen is important for any work environment. But the digital landscape, in particular, is unique and presents unprecedented challenges and opportunities for teams. It’s important to hire people who have an in-depth understanding of that landscape and how it will affect your company’s outcomes.

Can they tell you how their projects fit into overall company goals? Does their resume include stats about how their role directly impacted their previous company’s bottom line? If you’re hiring for an Audience Developer, for example, the inclusion that they have used paid retargeting ads to boost digital subscriptions by 200% is a big deal.

Going digital is always about anticipating the next big thing in your industry. Consider how forward-thinking each candidate is by asking them what industry trends they think are most important to watch over the next year. You want to hire team members that will help your company progress, rather than lag behind digital trends.

How to Screen Working Style

Many digital teams are co-located, have remote team members, and work across various time zones. This can present unique challenges for management. Because of this, it’s important to screen your candidates’ style of work and make sure it’s congruent with how you can effectively manage them. There are no right or wrong answers, of course, but there might be answers that are better suited to your company’s culture.

Scan their resume to see what tools and online systems they are familiar with. Have they used Slack or Basecamp before? Do they know how to manage a publication online through a system like WordPress? In the interview, ask if they like to work remotely (or ever have before), prefer synchronous or asynchronous communication channels, and how they like to give and receive feedback. Digital-savvy team members should be comfortable using a variety of online tools and methods of communication to meet the myriad needs of your business.

How to Screen for Technical Acumen

Finally, here’s how to match inquiries against your business’s need for technical acumen. This is the greatest measure of your prospective team member’s hard skills.

There are two types of questions you can ask candidates: behavioral (“Tell me about a time when…”) and technical (“Define X industry concept…”). Look at the job description for the role you are trying to fill and make a list of the tools and industry-specific knowledge needed for the position. Then, ask a series of both behavioral and technical questions that speak to those requirements.

For example, if you need a content editor who is familiar with WordPress, try the technical question, “What features of WordPress frustrate you? Which ones would you change if you could?” Or, try a behavioral question. “Tell me about a time when you needed to publish a guest submission that was below your publication’s quality standard? How did you edit it and communicate the changes with the writer?”

Focus on Soft Skills to Find Your Digital Match

If you’re ready to undergo a digital transformation, it’s time to surround yourself with a digital team. For some positions, this will simply mean training your current team members. But for others, you’ll need to recruit and hire for jobs that maybe didn’t even exist at the company before. And hiring for digital-savvy can be tough to do if you don’t know what qualities and skills to look for.

When it comes to finding the perfect digital people, focus your resume hunt and interview process just as much—if not more—on your job candidates’ soft skills rather than their hard ones. You know how to find an editor who understands proofreading, you’ve done that before. But finding an editor who understands the backend of your website, or how to use your virtual office software, or knows how to manage complex digital problems is a little more difficult.

If you evaluate their curiosity quotient, their business acumen, and their ability to work in a digital environment, you’ll find your digital match in no time.

How Sterling Woods Group Can Help

We all know the digital world is messy and changing at the speed of light—that’s why it’s so tough to hire for! At Sterling Woods, we support your digital transformation and can grow your digital revenues by over 50%.

Want to learn more? Contact for a free 30-minute consultation.

About the Author, Rob Ristagno

Rob Ristagno is the founder of The Sterling Woods Group and partners with companies to drive rapid digital revenue growth. Prior to creating Sterling Woods, Rob served as a senior executive for several niche media and e-commerce companies. Rob started his career as a consultant at McKinsey and holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College. He has taught Product Strategy at Boston College.

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