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We were conducting interviews for a new marketing position in our company. My co-founder and I previously did the marketing work on the side but since our workload is increasing we decided to hire someone new for this. Since we are going to have a dedicated marketing person and don't have any specialized knowledge about marketing we asked questions like:

Suppose we have this Product X for target audience Y, what will be your strategy to increase sales?

However, in this question the author felt that it may be inappropriate to ask this type of question. We are not looking for candidates to divulge business secrets, we just want to be convinced from their answers that we're hiring the right candidate.

Will it be appropriate to ask this question?

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Do you have desired answers for this question? There are more than a few ways people may take this question that I'd question how prepared are you for answers from giving ideas that the person knows off the top of their head to giving a list of how this would be done to balking at the idea of working in the interview for hours. – JB King Feb 5 at 8:14
    
@JBKing not in particular, but from our experience in marketing we know some ways that provide some positive results. and we are expecting to them to answer like we need to do seo , not expecting what keywords should we have. – ddw147 Feb 5 at 10:09
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I would ask more what methodology would you use to determine the marketing strategy. Now you aren't asking for an actual strategy, but what factors they would consider in putting it into place. – HLGEM Feb 5 at 15:51
up vote 23 down vote accepted

As you said in your question: your goal isn't to solicit ideas from candidates you have no intention of hiring, but to find the marketing person who fits your vision of your brand. As such, asking questions about a candidate's thoughts about marketing in general and for your company and products in particular is perfectly appropriate.

But you'll probably want to be more specific than just asking candidates to outline their entire strategy. Unless they did a lot of research1, they won't have a concrete strategy and some may indeed think that you're just using interviews as a free think thank and don't intend to hire anyone. So go with variations of the following. Note that one of your first questions should be what the candidate knows of your current strategy. Many won't know much, which is fine, so be sure to explain your vision and past strategies briefly before diving into what the candidate would do.

  • A large focus of our past efforts was in marketing directly to potential clients at trade fairs, how do you see that evolving if you were to join?

  • Would you maintain the same focus on X, Y and Z if hired?

  • What marketing avenue do you think we've underutilised? What new ones would you want to explore?

  • What types of marketing campaigns have you had the most success with in the past?

  • What is your experience with our sector? Do you think the strategies you used in [different secor] will be applicable to our industry?

As you might be able to tell I hardly know anything about marketing so forgive me for being vague and not using the right buzzwords here.


1 Some candidates will heavily research your online presence and past marketing campaigns and come prepared with good ideas. This is common in very high-level positions but is less likely for a newer or smaller company. A rare few professional bullshitters will have a spiel like this prepared and try to dazzle you with buzzwords while saying nothing of substance. Make sure a candidate like that actually knows what he's talking about. The ones that are on the level are typically your best candidates.

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6  
I'm sorry, but not leveraging cutting-edge buzzwords to accelerate your next generation b2b credibility can not be forgiven in marketing :) – Philipp Feb 5 at 13:22
    
(Digression: I wanna know how you did the footnote...) – keshlam Feb 5 at 14:16
    
@keshlam Just hit edit to check the syntax I used. It's a simple <sup></sup> combined with a horizontal rule (<hr>). – Lilienthal Feb 5 at 14:33
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In regards to your footnote, I spent 6 straight hours researching a company the day before the interview. When discussing it years later, the hiring manager told me that was the thing that really set me apart from the other candidates was that my questions were based around current events of the company. The offer was 10k more than any other job I was going for at the time, so I look at it as those 6 hours made me an extra 40k. Not a bad ROI, if you ask me. – corsiKa Feb 5 at 18:02

If you're using the question to determine if the candidate is the right fit for the job, then yes, of course it's entirely appropriate. That's the point of an interview question.

The trouble in the linked question was that it went beyond "Is this candidate the right fit for the job?" into "please do our job for free". It doesn't sound like you're going to be trying to do that, so don't worry about it.

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@ddw147 It should be noted that this isn't legal advice, just hiring advice. It might very well be illegal in your country to pose a question like this. Consult your legal department for further information :) – Luaan Feb 5 at 15:57
    
This would be a better answer if it expanded on the difference between OP's question and the linked question. What separates "demonstrate your ability to do the job" from "work a project for free," practically speaking? Don't force readers to go digging into the linked question just to try to understand the exact distinction you're thinking of when you say "it doesn't sound like" these are the same. – Air Feb 5 at 17:55

FWIW, I have interviewed for several marketing roles at several companies at various levels throughout my career. At least 75% of the time I am asked a question along these lines even going so far as "Tell me what your 30-60-90 day plan is?"

This is one of the best ways to vet your candidates - it moves the discussion from theory to reality and shows you whether or not they are a good marketer or just a good interviewer.

Also, based on your question it sounds like you are a smaller/start-up company and this is one of your first marketing hires. Another popular route for this stage of company is to offer a contract position to start and then agree on timing to evaluate if this moves to an internal/full-time position. This has always worked well for me and I've been on both sides of that fence.

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Welcome to the site Adrianna. Thank you for taking the time to submit an answer based on personal experience. – Lilienthal Feb 5 at 21:53

A classic interview question for salesmen (which is essentially what marketing is): Here, try to sell me this gives random item from desk. The idea is that a good salesman is able to sell everything from the mundane to the special. I don't really see a difference between "sell me this random item" and "how would you sell our product?" as an interview question.

As others say, though, don't abuse this: only ask for a high-level overview, with some in-detail questions to ensure they understand the market. You don't want to end up in a lawsuit because you scammed someone in working for free.

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If you want candidates to do real work for you for more than an hour, just to see how they behave in a real working environment, it's not uncommon to pay them. If you want them to do real work for half a day or more as part of the interview it's uncommon to not pay them.

Even if you do ask candidates to perform unpaid real work for less than an hour, it should be relatively late in the interview process, so they already know if they are interested in the job, and you don't lose good candidates just because they assume you're trying to get free labor.

I am talking about actual work, not "exercises". Your question is in between work and exercise, and for much less than an hour, so it won't be an issue. If you're actually asking them to deliver written documentation, give them plenty of time, and provide them with all the necessary materials, then it's real work, and all of the above applies.

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Note that this can be a tax nightmare for all parties involved. I generally recommend against having candidates perform actual work because it's fraught with legal and ethical problems and because good candidates will hate it and may self-select out. – Lilienthal Feb 5 at 15:24

It is appropriate to ask anything that is all of the following:

  1. Legal
  2. Ethical
  3. Professional
  4. Relevant

It sounds to me as though your question fits all those criteria, so IMO you are good to go.

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At some point you have to be able to do the job. For marketing strategy, you could ask a hypothetical instead of something directly related to the current business. It's sort of like the "Sell me this pen." kind of thing even though the company doesn't really sell pens.

Like most things in business, execution is more important then just having ideas. Millions of people sit around suggesting ideas for books, movies, commercials and business strategies without doing anything else. They rarely get paid for that.

Unless someone doesn't have the means, why wouldn't they hire someone who has a good solution? This person should be valuable to be able to adjust and make sure the strategy gets executed.

It just seems like anyone who does this, is cheating the candidate, but I doubt they're capable of profiting from the information. Of course, anyone can get lucky.

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I think you could "borrow" form actual events that happen into a hypothetical question. Suppose you experienced a roadblock with a vendor you are dealing with now. Instead of talking specifics try to ask about a hypothetical situation based on that roadblock. – Dan Feb 5 at 18:13

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