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How to ace your community job interview; from the community pros that know

Here we are, ensconced in 2022, and our inboxes and newsletters are overflowing with community roles. From the intriguing Community Architect to the more specific Community Operations Manager, the roles are becoming more common, more robust, and more complex.

As more companies build or expand their Community teams, there are more opportunities for CMs to find the role that’s the perfect fit for them — but it can be nerve-wracking not knowing what to expect in the interviews. You can combat the nerves by being prepped and ready, not just to answer questions but also with a list of questions you can ask your interviewer to get a better sense of their expectations.

Everything here is for you to arm yourself with excellence going into your interview and potential new role with confidence and drive. Get it!

Man speaking to woman via zoom on laptop
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Preparing for your interview

Spend some time before the interview researching the company, studying the job description, and thinking about your previous experiences. Being prepared with this information will help you answer questions confidently and know what the right questions to ask your interviewer are as well.

Explain the company and mission in your own words.

At the very least, you need to show the interviewer that you’re familiar with what the company does. Do your research and understand the company’s products and services so you can reference them during the interview if it organically comes up.

How have you tracked metrics in a past role?

Community metrics help you understand how your community is performing so that you can refine and adapt your strategy to best help your members. If you haven’t tracked metrics before, think of what 3-5 metrics you might start with (with your knowledge of the role).

What are some tools you’re familiar with?

Community professionals use a lot of different tools and technology. It’s OK if you don’t use the exact tech stack the company uses. Demonstrate that you’re comfortable using different types of tools to show that you’ll be able to learn the ones you’ll be using (if you’re not already familiar with them).

What is your communication style?

This is especially important for a remote or hybrid role. Think about your peak communication style so you can eloquently relay this.

How have you handled difficult professional situations?

Think of an example or two to show how you handle conflict or high-pressure situations. Try to remember how you approached these challenges and what you learned from them once they had passed.

How have you collaborated with other teams, and what has been the outcome?

Working cross-functionally across the company is a large part of a community pro’s role. Think about a time you collaborated with other teams (whether or not you worked in Community at the time). What was the project you worked on, what was your role in it, and what was the outcome?

Why are you interested in this particular role at this particular company?

This goes back to doing your research on the company. Think about why you’re interested in the company, and what about its community (and this role) is interesting to you.

What are your career goals and how might this role fit into that trajectory?

This speaks to your perception of where your career sits in your life — is it a career move, is it a job with an end goal, are you acting out of desperation? It’s crucial to know how this job will bring you satisfaction, because without a doubt, the interviewer will be able to discern your honesty and will make a decision accordingly.

Questions to ask your interviewer

The practice of interviewing is for both parties: you’re interviewing the company too! I’ve certainly had the experience where I was interviewing out of sheer desperation; not only does it show, it also opens you up to settling on a place that isn’t suited for you. Gradually, you lessen your capacity to advocate for yourself.

The simple act of asking questions at the end of an interview shows the interviewer that you’ve done some due diligence as well as providing you with a glimpse into what to expect from this company. List out your questions, then readjust them into an order of most importance for you.

I asked some veteran community pros to share their favorite interview questions with me.

1. Ask the interviewer to explain why that community program inspires them and what makes them successful. – Lauren Clevenger, Salesloft

This question allows you to get a handle on:

  • what the interviewer perceives as a community

  • important aspects of said community

  • a glimpse into what they’d love for you to ideally focus on.

2. What’s the Hallway Metric your company uses to judge community success? – Jake McKee, CEO & Lead Strategist at Community5

Let’s face it, the influx of communities being built doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all backed with research, understanding, or even gumption. Some are just being made to fill gaps. The response to this question will give you insight into their why and their bottom line.

It’ll allow you to recognize how much emotional and mental effort you will have to put in to persuade stakeholders, or eventually revisit the purpose of the community with the CEO in the not so distant future. Some CMs like to start a community from scratch and also present it to the company knowing the idea itself is on the line, whereas others [like myself] aren’t so fond of that particular side of the work. Which are you?

3. How does this company prioritize the safety of team members (e.g. Community Managers, Support team, etc.) that interact directly with the community? – Carol Benovic-Bradley, Former Director of Community at Flickr

Beyond diversity, equity, and inclusion, there must always be the foundation of safety and within the community. It is more paramount than nearly any other department [I think HR tops that list]. If the interviewer struggles to answer this question, particularly after a hellish two years of a pandemic, then it’s a bit of a red flag.

Our societies have been dealt some shocking hands and it’s vital to know how available, honest, and hard working the company that you’re choosing is showing up. Will you and your community be supported and taken seriously or will you be the first to go when the economy hits the fan [for example].

4. What does success look like at 90 days? At 365 days? – Reina Pomeroy, Senior Director of Community at Good Inside

This one is understandable because we all want to know what’s expected of us up front, even if those things are bound to shift along the way. If the company doesn’t have this info yet and you’re a little further in the interview process, go ahead and create a starter 90-day plan based upon the information you have from the interview! You will stand out for your initiative and willingness to go the extra mile.

5. Do you have a community database or platform? What tech do I have access to? Is there a budget, and will I get design help? – Laura Coscarelli, Account Executive at Higher Logic

These days, companies left and right are coming out of the woodwork providing fillers for the many gaps we’ve had for years in the community industry. Never before has it been so easy to compile vital data, track engagement, integrate, and automate. Sure everyone costs something and some companies have to prioritize what’s most important, but this answer will allow you to see if the community has a budget and is viewed as crucial to the bottom line, and how much onus the community has over itself [or that you’d have over it].

5. How does the company handle burnout of staff members? Is this something that is openly discussed? – Jephtah Abu, Product Community Manager at AhoyConnect

Working the community is fulfilling in myriad ways, yet it’s a dual-edged sword. The amount of emotional effort and energy that is poured into community day after day can often seem insurmountable to those of us enveloped in it. It’s not unusual for a CM to forgo taking a break or vacation because they’re uncertain if the community will run without them or if a teammate can handle all the manual machinations.

CMs tend to deal with unhappy members that spout their thoughts and opinions publicly. It is not easy work, and every CM that I know has battled or just continuously battles with tumultuous feelings of burnout. In 2022, companies can no longer use the excuse of we didn’t know. So with that in mind, armed with their experience and what they do know, what is the culture around burnout and emotional capacity in a realm that gives badges of honor for overworking, endless availability, and consistently joyous original thinking?

6. How do other teams at the organization participate in the community or collaborate with the Community team? – Alex Angel, Chief Community Officer at Commsor and The Community Club

AKA, will you be fully alone? Is the Community team in a silo on an island over there somewhere or is it seen as part of the bustling hive that is a company? Nowhere is perfect, and personally, I’d give points to any interviewer that could honestly note that although the community is currently in a silo, they hope that with a new hire and adequate changes, it’s a goal that the current status quo gets improved. That I could cosign.

7. What problem are you trying to solve through community? – Ashleigh Brookshaw, Senior Manager - Customer Experience & Community at NICE CXone

Another way of viewing this is, what are the opportunities that community can provide? This harkens to an earlier point about the increase in communities being built just because they’re trending in the business world today. It’s imperative to know whether or not that is the case for this place you’re interviewing as well.

8. Which of the responsibilities listed would you give energy to? Which would be the most draining? – Danielle Maveal, Chief Community Officer at Burb

This is another set of questions that helps you drill down into what the interviewer interprets as the most important pieces for this community puzzle currently. It even touches a bit on the questions surrounding burnout and the 90-day plan, in case you’d prefer to connect the dots by asking one question as opposed to three.

9. Ask how the organization is prioritizing/views the community strategically. – Marjorie Anderson, Director of Community at Product School

This means, where does the community fit when it comes to the bottom line of the business. Is the anticipation that the community will be a sales funnel, that it will simply be a place for people to come instead of a competitor, that it will offer fun prizes and giveaways? The list can go on. Once you’re aware of the expectation of the community itself for this business, you can better discern how much or little would be expected of you.

One last piece of advice from Laura Coscarelli: “Please don’t ask an interviewer ‘tell me about your typical day!This is asked 90% of the time from the people we don’t hire. Boring!


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