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Hiring Top-Notch Paid Search Analysts

RKG analysts act as both client liaison and data analyst, requiring exceptional communication and analytical skills.  These qualities are often difficult to find in one person, but define the RKG standard. For this reason, our interview process is unconventional, prolonged, and challenging. But it works! Here’s how.

Step 1: Gathering Applications

At this stage, more is better. We accept applications year round to ensure we don’t miss out on exceptional candidates based on timing.  From the beginning, we get to set the bar high. Not only are we located in the same town as one of the nation’s best universities, but there are also very few companies in the town competing for the same type of talent.

Step 2: Screening Resumes

We don’t necessarily seek candidates with experience in paid search specifically. In fact, we prefer those who have no background in paid search; most people with experience have been doing search badly, and debunking all the myths takes too much time.  Instead, we look for indicators of a keen attention to detail. For recent grads, we consider a combination of GPA and major to judge the candidate’s work ethic. We also look for the ability to multitask or juggle multiple responsibilities while maintaining an impressive GPA.  For candidates with more extensive work history, job stability, initiative, and increasing responsibility are important criteria.

Our analysts are expected to make copy changes on one set of keywords and update landing pages on another, all while running extensive bid analysis and responding to requests from clients.  We expect our analysts to be both proactive and reactive, and the qualities defined above suggest how well the candidate will respond to everyday responsibilities.

The cover letter that accompanies the resume is also tremendously important.  RKG’s analysts are in constant contact with clients (often VPs and Directors at the companies), so clear, concise language and strong writing skills are a necessity.  In fact, if the cover letter has obvious grammatical or syntactical errors, we won’t waste our time reading the resume.

Step 3: Phone Screenings

About 50% of applicants are granted a phone interview. The first goal of the phone screen is to see if the candidate can carry on a conversation. Can they speak fluidly? Can they flesh out their experiences clearly and concisely? Do they have a sense of humor? Most importantly – will this candidate be effective in communicating with our clients? Will our clients feel comfortable talking to and working with this potential analyst?

Secondly, we throw a couple of relatively easy puzzles at them. For example: Four students walk to the door of the classroom to line up for recess. How many possible ways can the students arrange themselves? Here we are looking to evaluate basic comfort with numbers, but more importantly, to see how the candidate reacts to the unexpected.  Do they run for a calculator? Do they simply hang up the phone? (Yes, it has happened!)

Step 4: First Round (In-Person) Interviews

Roughly 60% of phone interviewees are invited into the office for the next round.  During this first round in-person interview, the recruiting coordinator takes 10-15 minutes to explain the basics of paid search and the industry. The prospective analyst is then put through a quiz using Excel so the RC can evaluate familiarity with Excel and the analytical thought process.  How quickly does the candidate understand the basics?  Do they ask intelligent, relevant questions? Can they take the information they have learned and apply it to more unfamiliar situations? If the candidate struggles with the first step of the quiz, it is not necessarily a deal-breaker.  Here we’re looking for people who have depth of thought and are teachable. There is a lot to learn and keep up with in the ever-changing e-commerce world.  RKG’s analysts must be able and willing to catch on quickly and to make connections between known facts and new ideas. The Excel quiz measures these qualities.

If the applicant survives this first feat of strength, they then meet with 2 Team Leaders (in addition to the RC) for standard interview questions and more puzzles. The puzzles here are slightly more complicated and may require some pencil and paper computation (still no calculator). Example: Approximately how many basketballs could fit in a 20’x30’x10′ room?  Again, we’re looking at the reaction of the candidate.  Ultimately this translates to the most important question: Will they be able to stay cool and calm when clients throw them unexpected or difficult questions? Our analysts must be equipped to respond intelligently & professionally.

Hearing the candidate’s thought process also allows us to evaluate comfort with calculations and numbers in general. Do they understand how to appropriately use estimates? Can they intelligently reason whether their answer is in the ballpark? Noticing anomalies in performance is often a springboard for deeper analysis; analysts must be able to recognize when metrics differ significantly from average and understand which other metrics either affect or are affected by the anomaly.

Step 5: Second Round Interviews

Only about 40% of first round interviewees make it to this final round of torture.  More people (upper management included), more questions (tougher, more thought-provoking), and more puzzles (no calculus, but pretty close) – all aimed at extra assurance that the potential hire fits the bill to be successful.

Step 6: Reference Checks

All applicants are required to provide 3 references, and we use this to gain as much insight as possible. Do the job responsibilities that the candidate described line up with reality? Would you hire them again? If we locked you in a room and wouldn’t let you out until you named a weakness, what would it be?

From start to end, the process spans 3-5 weeks, but the investment here is well worth the return.  Each component of our method carries equal significance and tests for the specific qualities crucial for success as an analyst. The process has been effective for evaluating both new grads and analysts who transition to RKG from varying industries. We typically find that our new hires actually enjoyed (in a rather sick way) the rigid, demanding process, and we always find that our analysts are among the sharpest in the business.

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Comments
10 Responses to “Hiring Top-Notch Paid Search Analysts”
  1. Billy Wolt says:

    sounds like a great process. I have always thought asking odd questions was the best way to gauge one’s thought processes and ability to think on their toes. When I suggested that at B&H, they thought i was nuts.

    I would love to work at RKG; unfortunately I’m not ready for a move to VA.

  2. Thanks Billy! When we open our NYC office next year we may try to steal you away!

    George

  3. Nicholas Cole says:

    This is great stuff for hiring such analytical staffers. Do you have similar processes for hiring sales or customer service employees?

  4. Hi Nicholas,

    Our analysts are our customer service reps — we believe the people who talk to the clients have to be the same folks who do the data dives.

    Our very small sales team are all former RKG analysts; we’ve yet to hire a “real” salesperson, and the team does not work on commission. We do additional role playing for these internal hires to make sure they can speak eloquently about what differentiates us, but since we know these people and have worked with them for a year or two on the analyst side, we don’t have to make them do puzzles :-)

    George

  5. Ironshef says:

    So, I’m wondering, are the basketballs inflated or not?

    Had to run this post down after our recent conversation, George. Definitely top notch process. Love it.

  6. Thanks Bryon,

    Feel free to derive your answer based on a variable inflation percentage X :-)

    As Jim Collins says, it’s all about getting the right people on the bus!

    George

  7. Hemendra says:

    Hey there,

    Stumbled upon this post while reading some of your other posts. We follow a similar approach while hiring our analysts.

    My question is on the training process. How do you guys train your new hires & the kind of training modules you use. It would be nice to know how you go about it.

    Look forward to your response.

    Cheers,

  8. Hemendra,

    Thanks for your comment. Our training program is quite evolved, rigorous and intense. We refer to it as “drinking from the fire hose”. We’ve developed a ton of materials teaching fundamental principles of marketing in general and search as it relates to the whole, but then also how our tools work, basic to advance SQL and Excel, the whole nine yards. Analysts are given self-study checklists that let them know what we expect them to have covered by the end of month 1, 2, and 3 and are then required to pass a pretty brutal written test to see if they’ve really gotten it before taking on clients. We have weekly training sessions on new features within the engines, and new tools our engineers have built, along with optional in-depth training on all sorts of related topics.

    Much is still learned by doing, and shadowing veteran analysts is and receiving guidance is key. Our analysts work in teams that are in “pods” so that folks can ask more senior folks for advice easily. Encouraging a collaborative rather than competitive work environment has helped keep the ongoing learning process fun. It all starts with hiring smart, self-motivated people, giving them the tools and materials to drill as deeply into any subject as they want, and encouraging folks to brainstorm new and better ways to do what we do. The interplay between our analysts and our software developers has been key to building an amazing, flexible platform.

    Best of luck!

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