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The Interview Question You Should Always Ask Social Media Hires

Don’t wait until a real crisis happens to see if your team can handle the pressure

When you’re interviewing new hires for your social media team, the questions can get stale pretty fast. What social management tools do you use? How do you measure the effectiveness of an Instagram campaign? What’s your experience handling Facebook ads?

There’s one question you should always ask to see if your interviewee has what it takes.

“There’s a sudden crisis involving our brand. What’s the first thing you do?”

A social media employee needs many skills, but staying calm under pressure is one that can’t be taught. That’s why this question is so vital.

Keep in mind: there’s no one right answer, but there are plenty of wrong answers: “Panic,” or “Post an inflammatory response on Twitter” or “Delete all the company’s social accounts.” If someone says that, and they’re not joking—feel free to show them the door.

In a real crisis situation, there is a right answer, which is dictated by your social media crisis plan. But at the interview stage, you can’t expect a candidate to know all of the intricacies of your company, team and protocol. A 100% right answer isn’t what you’re looking for in this setting. What you’re looking for is a particular mindset. A crisis response mindset.

A crisis response mindset is a rational approach to an emergency. Someone with this mindset thinks logically, acts strategically, and takes emotion out of the equation. They leave no stone unturned, seeing every possible facet of the situation and creating a solid plan.

A strong candidate might answer the question with: “Gather information” or “Get together with the team.” Those are logical, rational responses, sure. But they don’t necessarily prove a candidate has the right mindset to handle the pressure. You’ll have to dig a little bit deeper and push a little harder. After the candidate tells you what they’d do first, ask what they would do next. And after that. And after that. And on and on. See how many different tasks the candidate can think of.

For example:

  1. Take a deep breath
  2. Notify the team
  3. Pause all pre-scheduled social media content in the pipeline
  4. Contact departments so they can evaluate pausing other communications (email, TV commercials, online ads, direct mail, etc.)
  5. Gather information
  6. Assess the damage
  7. Remove any offending material
  8. Monitor online conversations
  9. Decide whether to stay silent or make a statement
  10. Craft a statement
  11. Get management approval on statement
  12. Brief spokesperson or PR
  13. Notify employees of emergency status and response
  14. Post the statement
  15. Reach out to key media
  16. Monitor online responses across all channels
  17. Put after-hours monitoring task force into place
  18. Check in on social media team
  19. Provide updates to management
  20. Adjust content calendars and rearrange upcoming content
  21. Schedule writers to create new content
  22. Schedule post mortem meeting

The list could go on and on. A candidate with a good crisis response mindset will have no trouble coming up with quite a few steps like these, on the spot.

As you push them for more and more details, assess their demeanor. Are they getting nervous or anxious? Do they run out of ideas? Does the exercise make them panic? This isn’t even a real emergency—how do you think they’ll respond to a real one? They might not be equipped for a high-pressure, public-facing social media role.

On the other hand, are they calm, cool and collected? Do they easily think of ways to handle the fake situation? Do they enjoy the challenge? Do they come up with smart ideas that even you might not have thought of? Have they handled a real crisis before? This person might be a great fit for the role.

If you’re feeling particularly creative, you can go beyond the question itself and develop a full-on case study scenario. This gives your interviewee a bit of context regarding the hypothetical crisis, leading them towards a more confident and thoughtful answer.

Your social media crisis case study might include:

  • What’s the nature of the crisis? Be specific: is it a product recall, did the CEO do something illegal or immoral, did the president tweet something negative about the brand?
  • When did it happen? During work hours, late and night or on the weekend, while the candidate is away on vacation?
  • How many people are affected? Is it a small-scale crisis, or large-scale? Does it have the potential to blow up even bigger, or can it be contained?
  • What other complications are in the mix? Is your company launching its new product tomorrow, do you already struggle with a negative public perception, are top executives at a corporate retreat and unable to provide immediate guidance?

Don’t wait until a real crisis happens to see if your team can handle the pressure. Try this exercise with all of your social media candidates before you hire, and you’ll know you’re in good hands.

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