Evaluating PPC talent, part 2: The test

Previously, we discussed how to find good PPC candidates for your particular company, but now it’s time to evaluate those candidates.

It comes down to this: You’ve held dozens of interviews with candidates almost impossible to tell apart. They all have similar credentials. They’ve worked in the right industry or environment, have used similar tools to what your paid media team uses and didn’t hesitate to answer your questions. But what’s next?

The technical assessment of your PPC hire may be the thing you’ve most overlooked, and it can often lead to a complete disaster.

How do we evaluate PPC talent?

You cannot properly assess how someone will fit into your team and impact your business simply by reviewing resumes and asking them a few questions to make sure they speak the language.

Unfortunately, there is also no one-size-fits-all assessment your team can find online and use. You have to start by taking an honest look at your work environment and understanding the person who will be required for the job. What tasks would this person be expected to complete daily, weekly or monthly?

If you’re a SaaS (software as a service) startup in need of speed and growth, you simply cannot afford to hire someone who hasn’t been through that; bringing on PPC manager from a local digital agency won’t get the job done. Your hire will need to understand how to deliver a plan of upcoming experiments at scale and execute on them quickly. There can’t be a learning curve.

If you’re an agency, your hire might need to be a better public speaker and salesperson in addition to having technical PPC knowledge, and they will need be able to create (and explain) reports.

By understanding the specifics of the position and crafting a test around them, you are off to the right start. And while there is no one-size-fits-all, I can share three tests I highly recommend.

Test #1: The fake report

The fake report test might be my favorite, wherein you deliver an interviewee a fake dataset for analysis. Present a sample report and ask for recommendations based on the data. Hopefully, they will dig into topics like the following:

  • Suggestions on how to re-allocate budget for efficiency.
    • For search, this might mean indicating search impression share.
    • For social, this might mean indicating audience size and daily budget.
  • What channels should be tested, given the business goals?
    • Also, did they ask you about the primary KPIs for your ad campaigns? If not, it’s likely not the right fit.
  • Is there an appropriate mix of prospecting and retargeting?
  • Are campaigns organized in a way that makes sense? Should structural changes be made?

The suggestions above are not exhaustive, but the perfect candidate has these types of questions and thoughts from looking at your data. Let them show you how they think and make decisions.

If you use this test, consider throwing in something really strange. Give your potential hires something to question, and see what they come up with. I recommend something subtle, like duplicating click numbers several times, or having the total spend not add up — small details that would be important to capture if they were incorrect. After all, a few lines of data could seriously throw off your day, or even your month.

Here’s an example of a fake dataset you might present to your candidates for analysis, with inconsistencies highlighted in red. (Obviously, don’t highlight your inconsistencies for the candidates!)

Of course, not catching these inconsistencies shouldn’t keep you from hiring someone who is otherwise an absolutely perfect fit. But when each candidate seems to be almost identical, small details like this can be great differentiators. You want the person who digs most deeply into the data and sees inconsistencies. Incorrect data leads to incorrect analyses — and possibly incorrect actions. Incorrect data can mean pixels and tracking codes are firing improperly.

Test #2: A competitive analysis

There are several things that advertisers like to do, and checking out the competition is one of them. If you’re hiring for a position where they will have to touch Facebook Ads, the candidate who knows to follow competitor brands, engage with posts, or even go to their site and get into retargeting pool is the one to pursue.

One of the best weapons advertisers have in Facebook is to see how ads are being targeted. If a candidate is seeing prospecting ads from your competitors and has the foresight to check if it’s lookalike targeting or something more complex, hire them.

In AdWords, a hire should be able to not only have an understanding of keywords competitors might be using, but start to develop a feel for how each brand positions themselves in search. Ask candidates to evaluate the search landscape and come to you with estimated CPCs, top keywords, ad extensions and copy competitors are using, to begin building a complete picture of what your competitors are doing. With this information gathered, what opportunities do they see, and what recommendations can they make?

This test has several benefits: Candidates will have a better understanding of what first steps to make if hired, and you are provided with some much-needed outside perspective that can further inform your decision. Again, the key here is to find tests that would be applicable to the daily work your new hire will be doing, and checking out the competition will surely fall into that category.

Test #3: Next month’s budget

This test requires a willingness to share your current spend and results, but it will likely be worth it. Have the final candidates sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), then grant read-only Google Analytics access and share your most recent budget. Budget planning, especially for channel owners who will not have a direct supervisor managing this for them, is a 100 percent essential skill and cannot be overlooked.

Now, you won’t be able to judge from this exercise how well these candidates can stick to a budget, but a candidate who can identify areas where you are overspending or underspending — as well as new opportunities for test spend and a plan to execute — is one worth being excited about.

If you’re a high-growth organization that isn’t asking for someone to just conduct daily maintenance, but needs someone to optimize and then scale quickly, you need to evaluate more than just a potential hire’s PPC knowledge. General business skills, like budget allocation, are crucial to the position.

Customize your test for your business

Feel free to tweak any of the above tests to best fit your hiring needs. Again, I can’t stress enough that the most important step in creating a test for potential candidates is doing a thorough evaluation of what your new hire will be doing on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Identify all the skills they will need, and start testing for relevant skills.

Hiring PPC talent isn’t easy. But when you’ve made sure your job listing accurately details your expectations and crafted tests to make sure candidates are the right fit, you’re going to make the process a lot simpler.

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