The Ultimate Guide to Hiring (or Getting Hired as) a Content Marketer

Note: If you’re a phenomenal content marketer based in NYC, my team at Percolate wants to talk to you. Learn more about how we work and ping me if you’ve got any questions.

If you’re a giant consumer brand like Bud Light or Nike, you can afford to invest a ton of money in celebrity endorsements, TV spots, and brand-focused campaigns that put your newest products in front everyone, over and over again. But for many organizations, particularly ones that sell to professionals or businesses, the way to break through is through valuable content that solves problems and brings new insight.

At Percolate, we do a ton of content marketing, from thought leadership on our blog, to research reports, to webinars, to data journalism, and more. It’s a key driver of new leads and positions us as experts who are thinking about where the industry is headed. For many brands, the best way to break through a crowded market is to create and share valuable content that addresses customer needs and brings new insights.

However, there’s a world of difference from a traditional marketer (who knows how to spend budget across various media channels) and a content marketer. The other mistake I see organizations make is hiring one or two freelancers and thinking they’re now “doing content marketing”. There’s a very special skill set that sets great content marketers apart. So if you’re looking to land a role as a content marketer or are trying to hire one (we are at Percolate!), here are the specific traits and skills you have to develop (and evaluate) for).

1. Deep Well of Content Marketing Campaigns / Principles

Great content marketers consume. A lot. They know about OkCupid’s data pieces. They read the amazing stories on Pricenomics. They know how good Ramit’s emails drip campaigns are. They see Seth Godin consistently brings great ideas to the table. They’ve read Hubspot’s State of Inbound. Having that well of knowledge is what helps form the basis of their own campaigns.

How to Get Good at This

Read, watch, listen. Soak it up. Follow content marketers on Twiter, build an RSS feed, read, take notes, and blog about them.

How to Test for It

Ask the candidate to share two content marketing campaigns they really liked and what they thought made them were effective. You’re listening for specifics — can they summarize the campaign succinctly, describe the metrics that indicate to them the campaign was successful, and the exact reasons why the campaign worked so well.

2. Capacity to Directly Generate Great Content Themselves

This one’s pretty obvious. Even if you’re trying to hire a “Director of Content Marketing”, you still want them to have the ability (and experience) of producing great work . An NFL coach might not being playing but he better be able to throw a tight spiral. A great content market is able to be creative while under pressure, generate a lot of content, under tight deadlines and adapt their style to the brand, and to different mediums (blog post vs an email newsletter).

How to Get Good at This

No way around it, you need to be have a track record of content that you’ve produced to show to employers. The best case scenario would be having a long-standing blog of your own, plus a range of pieces from a previous role that shows your range and style. Not creating much content now? Don’t have a blog? Better get started.

How to Evaluate for This

Ask for work samples. Even better, ask them to produce for you. Research shows that work samples have the highest correlation with on the job performance, (better than interviews, years of experience, or even trial periods). At Percolate, we ask candidates to review the Percolate blog and to write a 500-800 word blog post on a topic of their choice, that’s designed to match our style and focus. The downside of a work sample is that it might put some candidates off, but great ones will jump at the chance to prove themselves. Make sure you don’t actually use the work they provide you in your business (unless they get hired) as that’d be pretty shady.

3. Keen Understanding of User Behavior / Engagement

This is a tricky one to describe, but essentially great content marketers know how to trigger people. They know what words are interesting, how to draw people in, how to get people to share content, and what makes them want to subscribe. They learn this via a personal appreciation for their own motivations (“What made me want to read this article?”) as well as data and observations on how other people consume content (Eg: even though popup windows that ask people to subscribe might seem annoying, the data show they are often quite effective).

How to Get Good at This

This is very much a psychology thing. Some great reading might include The Brain Audit, as well as Hooked, Upworthy’s The Sweet Science of Virality, Patio11’s post on Making writing work harder for you

How to Evaluate This

Ask them to describe how they would improve a piece of content on your site to make it more compelling and effective for meeting business goals. Look for whether they ask more about the audience, and how it performed. Then see what they would do – change the title? Make it longer? Shorter? More bullets? Number the elements? Add more links? Less links? Ask them to defend their recommendations.

4. Wealth of Knowledge About the Industry and the Audience

You can be a good content marketer with some passing knowledge of the field you’re writing about, especially if you are good at research, and have the help of someone who IS knowledgable and willing to review and advise your writing. But the only way to be a great content marketer (for a particular company) is to truly know the market and know the audience. Having context around the history, major events and people who have shaped the industry, the day to day struggles of the people you write for, common experiences or shared values, these are all critical in building rapport and engaging the reader.

How to Get Good at This

Wise up about whatever industry you’re looking to get hired into. Read books (then write summaries of them on your blog), go to conferences, interview experts, have actual experience working in the industry you want to do marketing for. Spend time with the people you’re writing for. Get to know your audience, both through the data and through personal interactions.

How to Evaluate This

Ask candidates to talk about key trends happening in the industry. Can they name the major players and what differentiates each of them from the other? What insights do they have about their audience? Are they ready and willing to study up and learn more?

5. Ability to Manage Projects From Concept Through Release

Major content marketing projects typically involve a whole team of people, and ideally that team’s activities are organized by a content marketer. Whether its a survey of 200 industry professionals or an interactive microsite, or a series of expert interviews, content marketers often have to work with a variety of people, from writers (both in-house and freelance) to designers, engineers, and other members of the marketing team (social, email, e-commerce) to get their job done. It’s crucial that they have the skills to serve as point person from ideation, to drafting, editing, executing, trouble-shooting and launch.

How to Get Good at This

Do you have examples of cross-functional collaboration? Do you have a good handle on estimating how long creative work will take? Have you ever written a blog post (or launched a side project) with someone else?

How to Evaluate at This

Propose a particular content project (“Let’s say we’re planning to redesign our blog to optimize for conversions”) and ask them to walk you through how they’d approach it. Do they ask about timelines? Metrics for success? Resources available? Set timelines that are aggressive yet leave room for the inevitable problem?

The Summary

Your company needs great content marketers. They’re hard to find, and that’s because in part, their skills and expertise are fairly vague and undefined. The best way to evaluate one is through a mix of seeing how to approach challenges, looking at past performance, and reviewing their work samples.

For people who aspire to become content marketers, there’s nothing more powerful than starting and building a blog yourself. Learning how to create great content, grow your audience, and optimize for sharability and conversion takes experience, and nothing can stop you from gaining that experience directly. As James Altucher would say, “choose yourself”

Percolate is on the lookout for great Content Marketing Managers (and Community Managers + Marketing Associates) You can learn more about how we work, and definitely ping me if you have questions on the role!

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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  1. Excellent post on what makes for a skilled content marketer. I suspect Percolate people are top performers. Your summary for finding talents says it all → → The best way to evaluate one is through a mix of seeing how to approach challenges, looking at past performance, and reviewing their work samples

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