5th September, 2022
As I am currently between roles, I have been in a few interviews recently. I enjoy interviews, both as the interviewee and the interviewer. It is an opportunity to have an honest conversation to work out if the candidate and the role/company are a good fit for each other. Given that over my career I have conducted a couple of hundred interviews as an interviewer and reviewed probably a thousand CVs, I thought it would be helpful to give some top tips to help you shine.
It is aimed at those who are just starting out on their career path in ecommerce, and in particular it is for roles such as
ecommerce executive or
digital marketing assistant.
1. Be honest
Be honest with yourself. Is this the right role for you? Yes, it is easy to just fire off your CV to any and every vacancy out there, but you aren't going to get an interview by some random luck of the draw. Even if you don't have direct experience, there is a big digital skills shortage out there, so you may be able to pick up a junior role if you have something you can bring to the table. But be honest with yourself, does your CV —your employment history, your educational background— help you stand out?
Be honest on your CV. While all of us put the best spin we can on our previous experience, it must still be true! It is not going to go down well
in the interview if you're CV says you are proficient in Excel and I ask you the parameters for a vlookup formula and you've never heard of a vlookup!
I wouldn't deliberately set out to trip someone up with a technical question, but my job is to check that what you say in your CV is actually true.
Another honesty point for your CV is if there is an unexplained career break. As I review CVs I will look back through your own personal timeline. If there
is a big gap in there, it is going to raise questions. I don't actually mind what you did in the gap, you can just say
six months career break and
that is fine.
2. CV clarity
Imagine you are a hiring manager, and reviewing CVs for a new role. There may be 50 or more applications for the role. The first read of a CV probably takes me 30 seconds, it is just a quick skim to see if it goes in the no pile or the maybe pile. If I can't get a very quick understanding of your suitability then you are increasing the chances of it making the no pile.
Stick to a standard format, for example, your work history, education and some key achievements. That is not to say that your CV needs to be boring.
3. CV red flags
I have already mentioned unexplained career gaps, that is an easy fix.
Another red flag is if you have moved about a lot in your CV. If you frequently hop between roles then I am really going to think twice. It takes a certain amount of time and effort to on-board someone in to a role, I am going to want you to stay around for a bit so I don't have to go through the whole process again in the near future. And to be honest, frequent hopping makes me concerned that you might not be very competent, because a) you left before you could become competent and/or b) you aren't interested in becoming competent and would rather just move on than be challenged. Frequent hopping to me would be less than a year in subsequent roles. If this is you, then you are going to have to work hard to justify the hopping.
4. Add something personal to your CV
I mentioned above about being standard in your CV, but that doesn't need to mean boring. If you have to use CV formatting to give it more personality then maybe you need to take up some hobbies!
As I mentioned, I will typically have reviewed many CVs for a particular role. So, throw me a bone, show me you are human. What do you like to do in your downtime? I don't really mind what it is, it could be stamp collecting; but give me something non-work related to talk to you about in the interview. Who says philately will get you nowhere?!
5. Check your spelling
This is not actually about spelling and grammar. It shows me that a) you have good attention to detail and b) care enough to get it right.
English may not be your first language, but there are plenty tools out there, or ask someone to proof read it for you.
Bad spelling on your CV isn't going to exclude you from proceeding further but it will certainly raise questions on why you didn't use a spellchecker.
6. Be data driven
This is a much-used phrase, but let me tell you what it means to me in an interview context.
Firstly, you are numerate. You don't need to be a Fields Medal winner, but we're dealing with sales, stock and profitability.
Secondly and more importantly, being data driven should mean that you care about delivering good results and seek evidence to demonstrate that, and that you use data (information) to inform decisions about how to improve performance. If you can demonstrate this on your CV and in the interview, you go to the top of the pile.
7. Know the business
Firstly, know the specific business you are applying to. But don't just have a cursory look at their website, here are some specific ideas:
- Look at their imagery, and copy, write down who you think their target audiences are?
- What is on their homepage? What products are the most relevant for them right now?
- Look at their advertising, does it match the above?
- Who else comes up when you search in Google for their key products?
- How do they compare to that competition?
- Maybe you can pull the products from their sitemap and get an accurate understanding of how many products they sell?
- Try and benchmark their website. If you don't know how to do this, read my blog on how I built this website, I use a lot of tools to check that the standards are exemplary.
Secondly, make sure you understand ecommerce KPIs, KPI is a Key Performance Indicator. Another phrase for this would be ecommerce metrics, what are the numbers that matter. Here is a good starting list:
- Profit. It is the main number; nothing matters as much as this. Businesses will talk about profit in different ways. Firstly, there is gross profit, which is the total sales minus some of the cost of sales, some companies may just deduct the cost of goods sold, others may deduct marketing costs here too. Secondly there is is net profit (or operating income), which is the gross profit minus all other costs. This will be staff costs, building costs, etc, etc.
- Revenue. This is the total sales. Sales is vanity, profit is sanity. However, you can't make profit unless you make the sale!
- Website traffic (sessions/visits/visitors). A modestly busy website will have tens of thousands of visitors per day.
- Conversion rate. The number of transactions divided by the number of sessions (or in some cases, visitors). You' typical ecommerce website has a conversion rate of between 1% and 3%.
- AOV. Average Order Value. The average total value of items in an order, high AOV means you either sell high value products or sell a lot of products per transaction. What you may see is that a site with a high AOV (and in particular, a high average selling price) will have a lower conversion rate, as they will typically be a higher consideration purchase and visitors may be making multiple visits before they convert.
There are many other metrics that matter, but those above are key. Gain an appreciation of these, and try to establish what the averages are for the particular vertical the business is operating in.
If you have used an ecommerce analytics package like Google Analytics before, I would recommend you look at some of their free training, there is demonstration account you can look at.
8. Rehearse interviewing
One of the rewarding parts of interviewing is when I bring a colleague with me to help and they haven't had any experience being an interviewer before. They find it so insightful; it gives them a new perspective on how they would act as an interviewee.
While rehearsing being interviewed will be very useful for you, if you had the chance, also rehearse being an interviewer. It lets you think more abstractly about how you would answer the question when you are asked in the real thing.
As an interviewer, I want you to do well. Yes, I am there to find out if you would be the right candidate for the job. But I don't want you to feel too nervous, I will do all I can to put you at ease, probably by employing some dad jokes. I want you to shine, I am not going to go out my way to trip you up. I meet every candidate with optimism, otherwise they wouldn't have gotten the interview in the first place!
On the flip side, I would urge you to be careful if you go for a role and the interview is confrontational. If you get a bad vibe, be brave and draw the interview to a close.
10. Have a conversation
While it is useful to think of some questions you can ask the interviewer at the end, as tradition dictates, I would say it was more important to have questions as you go through the interview. It is a great way to show that you are engaged and well prepared. But it also allows you a chance to steer the conversation.
By way of example, I was recently being interviewed for a senior ecommerce role. Towards the start of the conversation, I asked the interviewer
how would you currently rate your satisfaction with the ecommerce website? they replied with a very low score. This allowed me to frame a lot
of the rest of the discussion on how I would close the gap and raise that number. This allowed them to visualise an improved future state brought
about by me.
What makes you stand out as a candidate (in the right way)? Some ideas:
- Speak at conferences.
- Attend meetups.
- Have your own blog (that is one of the reasons I have this site). Doesn't need to be about ecommerce, I recently wrote about running.
- Have a social media presence for work, post on LinkedIn.
- Run a small Etsy site.
This may sound like a lot of work to try and get a single role, but many of these tips will apply to many roles, I hope you have found this look behind the curtain of ecommerce interviewing helpful. Best of luck at finding your new ecommerce job!