Our favorite exercises for evaluating marketing candidates

It’s job switch season and we’re helping a few startups find marketing talent (Side note: if you’re looking or know someone brilliant who is, let us know).

In this post, we’ll share a few exercises we use as part of the hiring process for marketing candidates. We believe you should always incorporate exercises into your process, since they help evaluate candidates better. Often marketing candidates will send you their portfolio, including blog posts, articles, and websites. Portfolios are somewhat useful, but don’t tell the whole story. It’s hard to know which parts the candidate created, how many revisions her article went through, and how long it took her to write the blog post. A good exercise addresses these challenges.

We usually work with startups that are searching for two types of candidates:

  1. Relatively senior positions, e.g. Director or Head of Marketing, who can build a marketing infrastructure and team
  2. More junior, “generalist” marketers who don’t necessarily have experience in specific channels or even in marketing in general, but have good basic skills like writing, project management, and technical learning ability.

The exercises in the post help evaluate these two profiles. They’re less helpful if you’re looking for other profiles, for example a channel marketing manager (e.g. field marketing or online marketing). In this case, we recommend creating exercises that evaluate knowledge and skills pertaining to the specific channel.

The exercises may seem simple, but they actually evaluate many different skills. If you use them consistently over time, you’ll have a good benchmark for comparing all candidates.

Here are our favorite, tried-and-true exercises for marketing candidates. You can grab a Google Doc with all exercise prompts here.

Exercises for Marketing Managers

Exercise 1: prospecting / outbound email

What it evaluates: Writing ability, tone of voice, attention to details, willingness to write emails, basic understanding of your target persona and product.

Exercise instructions given to candidates:

Pretend that you work for <your company> and that you’d like to initiate a sales conversation with a company that you think could benefit from our platform. For this exercise:

  1. Choose a company that you think would be a good fit for our product, and provide us with an explanation as to why you selected that company.
  2. Who would you reach out to at the company, and why?
  3. Draft a sample email designed to catch his or her attention.
  4. Assume that you don’t receive a response, and draft your follow-up email as well.

A few tips:

  • Keep in mind that everyone is busy, and people get a lot of inbound mail.
  • Your goal is not to “sell a deal.” Rarely, if ever, does a deal close on a cold email… Instead, you are trying to build a relationship, get their attention, create value, and in general, break through all the noise in the inbox and pique interest.

Note: We think every marketer should be able to write this type of emails. However, in case you’re worried a straight-up prospecting email would scare away candidates, a variation on this exercise can be having the candidate write an email that invites a prospect to meet us at a conference.

Exercise 2: blog post

What it evaluates: Writing ability, creativity, ability to get stuff done, understanding our “vibe.”

Below is the prompt we email candidates (or give at the office), with a 2-3 hour timeframe for completion:

See below for the exercise. It’s a bit vague on purpose, but if you have logistics questions, or anything else that’s making you stuck, don’t hesitate to ask.

Marketing In Action exercise

The task: Write a new post for our blog

Imagine you just started working as a marketing manager at <your company> and your first task is to write a new blog post. You can use the existing blog as a guidepost, but feel free to do something different & better & crazy. 🙂

As the output of the exercise, send back the blog post as a document, with any accompanying visual(s). In addition, answer the following questions:

  • Why did you choose the topic?
  • How would you measure the success of the blog post?

Note: We like this exercise because every member of a small marketing team should be able to write the occasional blog post. We’re not looking for a specialized content manager, and this exercise evaluates basic writing ability as well as the other abilities listed above which are important in a marketing manager (e.g. ability to get things done).

Exercises for senior candidates (Director-level and above)

Exercise 1: 90-day plan

In this exercise we ask the candidate to create a plan for their first quarter on the job. We recommended keeping the instructions at that, to see what the candidate chooses to focus on. Is her plan just a spreadsheet with budget and goals? Or a strategy presentation? How detailed is the plan?

Timing wise, this exercise should be given late in the interview process. The candidate should have spent a significant amount of time getting to know your company and its people, and both sides should be excited enough to keep going and invest time in the exercise. Ideally, the candidate presents her plan at the office to relevant team members, in an environment that simulates her future work setup at your company.

What it evaluates: Strategic and tactical thinking, written and verbal communication skills, confidence and leadership abilities, understanding your company and product.

Exercise 2: presenting a past project

In this exercise we ask the candidate to present a successful project they led and proud of its results (or a couple of projects, up to the candidate). Again, don’t give more guidance beyond that.

You can do this exercise earlier in the process, since it requires less time investment and doesn’t require knowing your company. During the presentation, it’s important to dive deep into the project and ask a lot of specific follow up questions.

What it evaluates: The specifics vary according to the actual project, but overall, you’ll see what the candidate actually achieved, what she views as success, the ability to learn and improve, self awareness, teamwork, strategic and tactical perception.

The bottom line

Marketing is a combination of strategy and hands-on execution, and exercises will help you evaluate both. If you have other exercises that you find useful, we’d love to hear about them.

Lastly, here’s the google doc with all exercise prompts. Let us know if you end up using any of the exercises.

Netta is the founder and CEO of Blue Seedling. She loves third wave coffee, thin crust pizza, and B2B marketing.

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