As web dependence (data gathering, marketing, eCommerce) increases for your business, a trusted, nimble, and efficient webmaster is paramount to day-to-day operations. Depending on the dynamics of your business and its needs, a webmaster may literally have the ability to turn your business off or on.

 
The myriad responsibilities may include maintaining one or multiple websites, ensuring software and hardware is operating correctly, testing the reliability of your site or systems, and replying to user requests (internal and external). Remember, your online presence is a direct reflection of your brand, large or small. Aesthetics are important. Usability and reliability are essential.
 
Here are 5 rules to keep in mind when interviewing for this position.
 
Diverse Portfolio
 
Talk is cheap. You want a webmaster who can show and talk through actual examples of his/her previous work. A diverse portfolio should convey the individual’s knowledge and skills in visual design, web graphics and programming. Areas to consider are:
 
  1. Attractiveness and visual impact of designs.
  2. Whether he or she can implement the features and functionality you need.
  3. Web site security and technical support knowledge.
  4. How current he/she is with the latest techniques and technologies.
  5. Familiarity with trends in graphic design, website development and usability.
  6. Performance of existing (currently in-market) sites.
 
References
 
In general, always check the individual’s references and the previous types of projects they’ve engaged in. This is especially relevant in the case of a webmaster. Candidates for this type of position will often have worked on a contract basis for other companies or as part of their regular staff. Speak directly to previous supervisors and ask if the webmaster was reliable, results-driven and, most importantly, able to meet deadlines. Telephone and e-mail conversations will initially take more of your time, but ensure that you hire the best person to fit your company’s needs in the long run. Taking the time to find the RIGHT candidate is worth the investment.
 
Specific Technology
 
Before bringing a webmaster on board, you should inquire about the specific publishing, design and content technologies that he/she will use to build your website and if these are compatible with your current business software and operations. Have a basic understanding of what you are looking for and the type of tools available when asking questions. For instance, if your site has a blog component, you might ask if the candidate has experience with WordPress or Drupal, or create one from scratch. 
 
It’s also helpful if the individual has experience web analytics tools that measure web traffic and user behavior statistics (example: Google Analytics). Mobile development experience is an important differentiator as well.
 
Timely Delivery and Responsiveness
 
Your company’s website needs to be operational. A webmaster must have a quick turn-around time when delivering projects. This is important when implementing changes and updating information. Your site cannot afford to be out of date. A webmaster must also be responsive to users’ needs and know how to efficiently manage his/her time to complete all requests and prioritize tasks. Finally, websites crash. Think of your webmaster as a doctor on-call. If your site crashes, you will be completely dependent on this person to restore it. Do you feel comfortable with that? During the hiring process, if you encounter an individual who is not highly responsive to your pre-interview requests, like providing references and a portfolio, or shows up late for an interview, you might want to double-check on his/her reliability when speaking to the references or preferably consider other candidates.
 
Security
 
Hackers come up with ways to break into your system as fast as anti-hacking technology is being developed.  Your clients’ information should be treated with the utmost care. Dissemination of client information due to hacking can bring adverse results, from loss of customers to identity theft. When hiring a webmaster, ask him/her about his/her philosophy when it comes to security. You do not want an individual who can create a beautiful website but lacks knowledge of how to secure that site. Inquire about security programs used with previous clients, their overall effectiveness, and how a particular security application will best serve your business’s security needs. If your webmaster applicant completely neglects the topic of security or has very limited information about programs that secure your online data, you might want to consider other candidates.
 
Summary
 
Hiring a webmaster is not a decision you should take lightly. Your online presence in the form of a website represents your company and how others view you. When you interview candidates for this position, keep the following elements in mind:
 
  • Past work and references.
  • Knowledge of a wide range of web creations and maintenance programs.
  • Compatibility of the technology the individual will bring in with your current operation.
  • Reliability and turn-around time.
  • Information security.
 
What did you look for when you first needed a webmaster for your small business?
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Emery Skolfield
Emery Skolfield is the Sr. Director of Digital Brand Communications + PR for Office Depot. A former sports writer who started his first newspaper job at age 17 (in the pre-laptop, pre-blog era), Emery’s entry into digital came as an online copywriter at HSN. He spent four years there, eventually leading the digital content team that launched social media and revolutionized the online shopping experience through video initiatives and interactive content experiences. Following that, he served as head of e-commerce for The Body Shop's North American business. He joined Office Depot in 2012.

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