Top 3 Tips for Interviewing Marketing Executives

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Back in the 1990’s, cable channel Nickelodeon was clearly the front-runner for kids’ programming. They created shows and content that resonated with their audience and, in many ways, were way ahead of trends, insights, and attitudes of kids. Their influence went far beyond television programming. Their loyal audience had a huge impact on millions of dollars of consumer products and led to kids doing positive things for their environment, schools, and fellow classmates.

What was their secret sauce? How did they know what would resonate with kids? And how did they know to evolve their programming from game shows (and slime!), to live action comedies and drama, to animation?

The answer is pretty simple. They asked kids. Yep. Consumer research. Not a monumental marketing tactic, a common one actually. The difference for Nickelodeon is that they did it constantly, conducting more than 100 focus groups per year.

The benefit of knowing their target consumer intimately resulted in their prominence for more than a decade.

They understood kids. The kids felt understood. And that mutual knowledge resulted in trust and loyalty.

As I was recalling the early days of Nickelodeon, I thought about what we do every day at MarketPro, which is marketing executive search. When recruiting and engaging marketing talent, does it make a difference to thoroughly know the candidate and their background? You bet it does.

Top 3 Tips for Interviewing Marketing Executives

Tip #1. Clearly Define Expectations

The first thing you need to figure out is what you need out of the marketing role. What are you trying to accomplish with this executive marketing hire? Is it launching a brand? Keeping things status quo? Improving performance marketing initiatives? Product marketing? Are there existing gaps? New markets to penetrate?

Knowing whether you are looking for an evolution or a revolution in your approach to marketing is a good place to start. You’ll then need to search out candidates who have experience accomplishing exactly what you need.

It is also critical to identify up front how the candidate will be measured. Top executive marketing talent will not only welcome this, they will require it.

Are the metrics you are using realistic? Will the new hire have the appropriate resources (both human and budgetary) to accomplish these goals? How you set up these measurements will reveal your understanding of the role.

Competent marketing executives will be able to tell quickly from these metrics whether you have realistic expectations or if they are entering a situation that would be untenable.

Tip #2. Have Marketing Experts Interview Executive Marketing Candidates

If your company is filling an executive marketing role, you’ll need someone on your team who is very knowledgeable about all facets of marketing. This is important to properly ascertain if a candidate’s previous marketing experience is applicable to the task at hand for your business.

The challenge with marketing roles is that there are a lot of specialties from which an executive marketer can come up through the ranks: branding, creative, digital acquisition, e-commerce, media, product marketing, public relations, and many more. Furthermore, the candidate’s experience can vary greatly depending if their background is with a B2C company or a B2B company or a SaaS oriented company. It really does take a marketer to know a marketer and to vet the applicability of a candidate’s background for your company.

Impact on the candidate experience

How many times do “non-marketers” have the first interview with a candidate? In many companies, the standard procedure is for the candidates to be screened first by human resources. Nothing wrong with that for a culture fit but you run into dangerous territory if you get into the specifics of a marketing role that the interviewer may not be familiar with.

It can be very frustrating for a marketer to have an interview with someone who doesn’t understand the discipline, their answers, or can’t connect how their experience would work within their business. Unless you have the background in marketing, it’s likely you’ll miss the mark.

I recall one interview where a junior level non-marketer did the initial screen for a SVP, Marketing role. The question the interviewer asked was around collaboration and examples of how a problem was solved innovatively.

The candidate went on to explain a problem in their business where the customer journey was disjointed. The innovative solution was for a highly complex combination of technologies that included integrations between legacy point-of-sale systems, a loyalty program (different database), the CRM platform, and an online e-commerce solution. This required cooperation internally with finance, IT, and marketing…and externally with multiple vendors. It was a solution that transformed the digital customer journey and led to great profits.

After the candidate supplied the answer, the interviewer’s next question was, “how comfortable are you with technology?” Reacting to a puzzled look from the candidate (who had just explained a very technology-based solution), the interviewer stumbled a bit and then said they wanted to know how proficient the candidate was in Excel.

It was at that moment that the candidate was no longer interested in the role.

The company’s first impression to the candidate was to send a junior level person who was going to read questions from a list, and frankly, not comprehend the candidate’s answer. This does not result in candidate engagement and discourages top talent. Which brings us to our last point…


Tip #3. Put Your Best Foot Forward: Interviewing is a Two-Way Street

When recruiting top talent, remember that the candidate is interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. While it is important for candidates to make a good first impression, it’s equally as important for the company to put effort into the candidate experience.

This takes on additional emphasis in a talent-driven market but it’s always true when trying to attract top talent. The approach a company has to talent acquisition speaks volumes about the company and the culture. If you can’t show your best foot forward at the interviewing stage then what can an employee expect once they are on board?

If your first interview isn’t with the hiring manager, which in most cases we recommend, you need to make sure that the interviewer has a passion for the company, can speak to the culture, and authentically point out the advantages of working there. Most marketers, by nature, are enthusiastic extroverts. Having someone match their energy level is an important first step.


MarketPro Inc. is the leading high-end marketing executive search firm delivering top-performing innovative marketers. As a team of former marketing professionals, we are uniquely qualified to separate “A” players from everyone else. Celebrating our 26th year, we are a certified woman-owned business with headquarters in Atlanta and clients nationwide. Visit us on LinkedIn.

Author: Rob Collins, Principal, MarketPro