I just finished reading a classic and highly recommended book, Topgrading, by Bradford D. Smart, PhD.

It was full of wonderful advice on how to make sure you hire all “A”s (as opposed to “B”s or “C”s) – in other words, the very best people.

The problem is that Topgrading is a very heavyweight process – 3-hour interviews that start with the candidates’ college days and go through every single job they have ever held with a fine-toothed comb.

I can see where it makes sense to do this for a full-time job. But most companies now outsource at least part of their marketing, and no one – not you and not any marketing freelancer I know – is going to have the patience to do this for a short-term gig.

Yet choosing the right person is important – you need the best freelancers just as much as you need the best full-time staff.

And I love the approach he takes to doing the interviews.

Topgrading for Marketing Freelancers

So with apologies to Brad Smart, I’ve gone through his interview template and revised it so it works in the 30-60 minutes that most freelancer interviews take.

He recommends that you start the interview by explaining that you are going to do 3 things in the interview:
– Review their background and skills to see if there is a good match.
– Determine the best ways to educate them about your company and processes.
– Get some ideas about where you can best use their abilities and skills.

That’s an excellent starting point.

Then I’ve broken up his set of interview questions into 4 areas that address the things you need to find out most:
1. Do they have the right skills and background to do your work?
2. Do they have a personality and work ethic that will make working with them a pleasant experience?
3. What process are they going to use?
4. How do they learn best?

Start with the easy questions about the type of work they do…

1. Of all the companies you’ve worked with, based on what you know now about us, which was the closest to us?

2. What did you do for them?

3. How did that work out? What kind of results did they get?

4. What went particularly well about that project?

5. What would you do differently if you had it to do over again?

Digging into one client and one project should be sufficient to decide if you want to explore the relationship further. But if you are planning to have this person do a lot of work for you, it might be worth asking them about a couple different clients.

Then go into some of the personality questions…

6. Do people generally consider you detail-oriented or more of a broad-brush kind of person?

7. How tightly do you find yourself able to stick to timelines?

8. When was the last time you missed a significant deadline? What happened?

9. With co-workers, when you have run into people who are hard to work with in the past, what kind of problem was it?

10. What kind of management style from clients works best for you? What makes it easy for you to do your best work? What would make it hard?

11. Do you believe in asking for forgiveness rather than permission? Or do you make sure you have permission before you act?

You can typically get through these questions in 5-10 minutes. You might be tempted to skip this section, but these are issues that are going to make a big difference in whether you have a successful relationship so it’s worth spending a little time here.

Then segue into the process questions…

12. If we started working with you, how would you go about diagnosing our needs?

13. What would you need from us?

14. What steps would you go through?

15. What kind of status reports would you provide?

16. About how long would it take?

17. About how much is it likely to cost?

18. What kind of results would be reasonable for us?

This section is where I would spend the most time. I see a lot of companies that want to head straight into problem-solving, but you’ll get better results if you investigate their process a little first and make sure you are both on the same page about what to expect.

Depending on the type of work they are doing for you, it might make sense to work in some questions to flesh out your understanding of their business…

19. Other than the things we’ve discussed, what else do you offer clients?

20. What kind of projects would you like to undertake because they would stretch you and let you try something new?

21. What direction are you taking your business?

These questions could actually be moved to a discussion you have after the first project is complete. But I bet it will be an interesting conversation.

Then, if it all looks good, ask about their learning style…

22. If we start on this project, you’ll need to ramp up about our company and products and services. How do you normally do that with clients?

23. Do you know if you are a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner? (lots of people don’t know this, but if they do it will save you a lot of time)

24. Can you think of a time when you needed to learn something complex quickly? How did you do that?

This set of questions could take about 5 minutes. A lot of people don’t know how they learn best, but if they do you’ll be able to bring them up to speed much faster if you know how to educate them most efficiently.

So there you have an outline of an excellent first conversation to have with a marketing person you are thinking of hiring. If you try this approach, I’d love to know how it works for you …