How to Ace a Community Job Interview

Donal O'Conghaile
April 2, 2015
May 3, 2024

Love ’em or hate ’em, community job interviews are something most of us face throughout our careers.

Let’s be honest here — an interview is an unnatural experience. You have to flex your skills at small talk. You have to openly explain your weaknesses to strangers. While you’re confident you can do the job in question, you’re not so confident you can talk about why you’re the one they should hire. That’s why we’ve written this comprehensive guide to arm you with what you need to succeed on a community job interview.

I’ve found myself on both sides of the interview table throughout the years. I began as a fresh-faced college graduate not even knowing what a community manager was. Fast forward a couple of years and I have been fortunate enough to be able to help others get their start in the wonderful world of community. And now, after taking a career break to travel, I’ve found myself back in the interviewee hot seat again.

This article will prepare you for a community job interview and help you to show a hiring manager why you’re the best candidate for the role. Hiring managers, this article will help you craft truly illuminating community manager job interviews after you’ve written the perfect community job description.

In this article:

Before the Interview

Thorough preparation makes its own luck. If you want to ace a community manager job interview, here’s what you need to do before you speak to a hiring manager.

Research, research, research.

Read up on the company, its culture, and recent media coverage. You should be able to have an informed conversation with a hiring manager about the place you want to work. If possible, find out the names of the people you will be interviewing with and scope them out on Twitter and LinkedIn. You’ll be able to get a sense of what’s important to them and appeal to their interests during your conversation.

Join the community.

Being a community manager means putting yourself in the shoes of community members to understand their experience. If a candidate makes it to an in-person interview with me and has not yet signed up to the community in question, that’s an immediate red flag. Think about it from your hiring manager’s perspective: if a candidate does not care enough to take two minutes to sign up and poke around, you bet that candidate does not know what it takes to manage that community. Managing a community means being a community member yourself.

Memorize the numbers.

Knowing the size of the community you would be working with will give you a better understanding of the company’s processes, problems, goals, and opportunities. Much of the numbers will be publicly available or discernable through some research, such as Facebook fans, Pinterest followers, and number of forum members. Look at how many times the team is posting on these platforms, and how much engagement their content is getting. If you can recite these numbers, you will impress your interviewer with a more informed conversation about the community.

Related: How to Write a Great Resume and Cover Letter for Community Managers

Brush up your online presence.

A hiring manager will Google you when considering you for a position. Make sure your social media accounts are consistent with you as a person and that they look alive and fresh. Make sure a prospective employer can find something, and that what they find is positive and flattering.

Practice basic interview etiquette.

Confirm the date and time of your interview a day or two before you’re scheduled to meet. Arrive ten minutes early, and no earlier than that. Don’t be late. Bring a copy of your resume and writing samples if needed. These are the fundamentals of attending an interview that, if forgotten, can start your interview off on a bad note.

During the Interview: Questions You Will Be Asked

The difference between a college final and a community job interview: You know the questions in advance. Leave a strong impression with a hiring manager by having answers ready to the below questions.

A word of caution: you don’t want your answers to sound too rehearsed. Be prepared with your answers, but be able to speak in a natural and conversational way and adapt your answers to go with the flow of conversation.

Tell me about yourself!

Okay, so this is not a question, but it is likely your interview will start this way. If there is any topic on which you’re an expert, it’s yourself — and your interviewer will likely start off simple to help you banish any initial nerves. “Tell me about yourself” is your opening to highlight all the relevant information on your résumé and tell the hiring manager the most important things about yourself that you want them to know.

How do you define an online community?

Right off the bat, this question can stump many candidates. I’ve heard a lot of vague answers about social media platforms that veer off on an incoherent tangent until they fall off a cliff. Keep it straightforward by giving a simple definition that explains what an online community is: a group of people who share a common goal, cause, or interest and gather together to collaborate and discuss via the internet.

What communities are you a member of?

Your interviewer is asking this question to see if you can demonstrate your understanding of what a community is and what it means to belong to one. We’re all part of many communities throughout our lives. If you’re an active commenter on BuzzFeed and know the other commenters there, then you’re part of the BuzzFeed community. If not online, maybe you were a member of an after-school club or local charity. Be capable of talking about a time you contributed to a community in some shape or form.

Who is a typical member of our community, and what do you think is important to them?

Here’s your chance to show off that you’ve done your research on the company and its community. You will be interacting with members on a daily basis, so show the hiring manager that you can get inside the mind of a member and understand why they are part of the community. Even better, back this up with theories from psychology and case studies.

Can you tell me about a time you handled a member/customer who was difficult, impatient, or upset?

Many community manager roles involve elements of customer service. After all, you’re interacting with people daily and will often encounter someone who is reaching out to you with an issue that needs solving. Let your interviewer see that they can trust you to be the face of and voice for the community.

How does your approach change when managing different social media platforms?

It’s a common misconception that a social media manager is the same as a community manager. However, being a community manager often involves creating content and interacting with users on social media accounts. Simply being a personal user of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is not enough to show that you can manage a brand or business social media presence, if that’s part of what the role you’re interviewing for asks for (many will ask for this, many will not — this is why you need to do the research).

What initiatives would you take to increase engagement/retention/growth in our community?

Engaging, keeping, and attracting new users are goals for most (but not all) communities. Be prepared with two or three ideas to achieve these goals. Don’t worry about presenting original ideas here — you’re interviewing for a job, not providing free consulting advice. Just show the hiring manager that you have ideas. If you suggest ideas they’ve already tried, well, that shows you’re on the same page.

Bonus Questions

There’s no such thing as being over-prepared, so consider these questions that you could also be asked in a community job interview:

  • What was the biggest lesson you learned from your previous job?
  • What quality or skill gives you a special edge?
  • What’s the most effective project you’ve worked on? How did you know it was a success?
  • When was the last time you quit a project or responsibility, and why?
  • What have you done recently to make someone else happy?
  • What’s the best introduction between two people that you’ve ever made?
  • What’s an opinion you hold that most people disagree with?
  • What’s the best book or article you’ve read recently and what made it great?
  • If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you in this role, what did we achieve together?
  • What would you change about our community to make it better?
  • What do you think makes a strong community?
  • Can you give me an example of a thriving community and tell me what they are doing so well?
  • What are some of the most important metrics you consider when tracking results from community management?

Thanks to Danya Cheskis-Gold (Arq), Audrey Lo (Gogobot), Adam Hendle (Famebit) and members of the CMX Facebook group for their contributions to this list!

Tips To Make Sure The Interview Goes Well

1. Draw from Experience

Hiring for a community manager position is tricky territory. It’s a relatively new discipline, so it’s rare to find someone with pure community experience. Candidates are coming in from other fields — some related (such as communications or marketing), some unrelated (the arts and technology), and others with no experience at all. And that’s okay — you can find ways to link what you’ve done in the past to the role for which you’re applying.

2. Show Your Personality

Community managers are some of the most unique and fun people in any company. Fact! Show that you have an interesting personality and that community members would get along well with you. If there’s any field not suited to being a bland corporate drone, it’s community management.

3. Be Honest

By all means, put angles on your experience to show relevancy to the job in question, but don’t lie or twist things around because you think that’s what the interviewer wants to hear. Be honest from the beginning, because you don’t want to end up in a role you’re unhappy with or one in which you can’t perform well.

4. Demonstrate Your Skills

These are the most sought-after skills your interviewer will be looking for in their perfect candidate. Demonstrate as many of these as you can throughout your interview.

  • Communication – written. Most of your communication as an online community manager will be digital: via email, social media, forums, and more. You will need to show that you can communicate effectively when interacting with your team members, other employees, and your community members through the written word. You may be asked to provide a writing sample.
  • Communication – verbal. Think about not only the words you say, but how you say them. There are lessons to be learned from the service industry. Have you ever encountered an exceptional Starbucks barista? If you can put on a friendly smile every day you’re dealing with people, you’ve likely developed essential skills for interacting and engaging with community members and solving their problems.
  • Communication – listening. Truly understand what your community members are saying to you and you will be able to solve their problems quickly and keep them coming back.
  • You are also:
  • adaptable to the ever-changing environment of the online world
  • tech savvy
  • friendly
  • a self-starter
  • attentive to detail
  • cool in a crisis
  • skilled at handling difficult situations

Read more: 3 Essential Traits of an Exceptional Community Builder

An important point to remember about demonstrating your skills: Anyone can list off all the skills they supposedly possess, but your words are meaningless unless you can back them up with real world examples. Instead of saying you’re a self-starter, tell your interviewer about a time you began working on something before being asked. Telling stories that show you have these skills will set you apart from other candidates.

Questions To Ask Your Interviewer

A community job interview is a two-way street. Not only will your interviewer grill you with the questions above, but you have the opportunity to find out more about whether the role is the right fit for you. Pick two or three questions to ask (but no more than that):

  • What will I be expected to accomplish in the first 30 to 60 days?
  • What specific goals or metrics will my performance be measured against?
  • What can you tell me about the team I’d be working on?
  • If hired, what could I do to immediately make your job easier?
  • Can you tell me about a recent issue you faced with a community member?
  • How do you plan to deal with [big challenge currently facing this community]?
  • What do the employees here do in their spare time?

When your interviewer turns the tables on you by saying “Do you have you any questions for me?” you do not want to say, “No, I think we covered it all.” Make sure you have backup questions in case the interviewer already answered your questions during the conversation. This is a key part of the interview to show that you’re inquisitive and want to know everything there possibly is to know about the role.

What to Do After the Interview

You’ve made it to the end of the interview and feel confident in your performance. Time to sit back and wait for the job offer to come through, right? Wrong.

Follow Up

Later that day, after you and the hiring manager have had time to mull over your conversation, send a quick follow-up email. Thank your interviewer for their time (because finding the right candidate is a time-consuming and often frustrating process), let them know that you’re very interested in the position and that you hope to hear back soon. You can also connect with them on LinkedIn to build your professional network.

The interview doesn’t end at the handshake—you’re expected to follow up and you could ruin your chances if you don’t.

Ask for Feedback No Matter What

If you don’t get the job, don’t let it get to you. There are many possible reasons why you were not hired, many of which could be out of your control. Do ask for honest feedback from your interviewer so that you can learn for next time.

If you do get the job, do a happy dance! Make sure you negotiate the best pay for your role. And once you’ve started your new job, ask your new manager for feedback about the interview process. What did you do well and not so well? What made them choose you? Their feedback will help you understand what they saw in you, and what they expect from you going forward.

Get Your References Ready

Many companies require a reference check of your previous employers, so make sure you’re ready for that. How? By maintaining contact with past colleagues and giving them a heads-up that they could be hearing from a recruiter. I’ve had old colleagues come out of the shadows after years of not keeping in touch, asking for a reference. I decline, because I have no idea what that person is now like in their career. Make sure you maintain contact with your professional network, especially past colleagues who can speak to how well you work.

Best of luck

There is no one path to becoming a community professional. Whatever your experience, you will likely be able to shape your role and bring your own unique experiences to the company. Throughout the hiring process, apply the advice in this article and show your passion and enthusiasm for the job — this will help you rise to the top above all else.

Good luck!

Donal O'Conghaile
April 2, 2015
May 3, 2024

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