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August 6, 2019 General

The BrainSell Four-Step Interviewing Process

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By Theresa Conway

As a small company, our success depends on hiring the right people. This is why we use a four-step interviewing process. Although this process requires significant time investment from our leadership team, it helps us select potential employees who will really thrive here at BrainSell. We don’t have an HR manager or business partner with hiring experience, so we created a process using third-party research, business and leadership books, and online guides. This process has drastically changed the way we interview candidates for open positions.

The Process

Step One: The Phone Screening

The phone screening allows us to gauge the candidate’s interest in the position. Are they really interested in working with us or did they just submit their resume for practice or out of convenience? These interviews are not tailored to specific hiring needs or position descriptions, they are preliminary questions designed to determine whether the candidate meets basic requirements to be considered for the position. At the end of the phone screening, you should be able to answer:

  • Did they submit their resume without understanding the position or researching our company?
  • Where are they in their job search?
  • Why are they interested in the position and what attracted their attention?
  • Why are they interested in leaving their current position?
  • What are their compensation requirements?
  • Does the position align with their career goals?

If the phone screening goes smoothly, we ask them to take a pre-employment assessment and submit writing samples to ensure they have good written communication skills (since every employee contributes to our marketing program with quarterly blog posts).

Step Two: The Pre-Employment Assessment

The candidate completes this step after passing the phone screening. We use an online pre-employment testing platform to gather a wide range of input from the candidate.

The first part of this assessment is a personality profile to measure “soft skills” such as conscientiousness, resiliency, and comfort with ambiguity. According to LinkedIn, 63% of traditional interviews fall short in assessing these skills.

In the second part, the candidate completes a cognitive aptitude test that measures spatial reasoning, verbal ability and math, logic, and analytical thinking.

The final part is a position-specific questionnaire based on U.S. Department of Labor career profiles (as well as our own customized position requirements).

Step Three: The Interview

Once the candidate passes the phone screening and pre-employment assessment, we invite them on site to meet one-on-one with each member of the leadership team for the third step – experiential or behavior-based interview questions.

One of the core tenants of our interviewing process is our belief that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. Therefore, we ask questions in this step of the interview process to gain a better understanding of past performance instead of hypothetical performance.  This allows us to focus on how they accomplished past results, rather than what they accomplished. We phrase our questions with lead-ins such as:

  • Tell me about a situation where…
  • Describe a time when…
  • What experience do you have with…
  • What was your best…
  • Have you ever…
  • Can you share a story that…
  • Explain to me…

Each one-on-one interview is centered around a specific theme (i.e. core company values, position-specific skills, aptitude for technology, company culture). We build a panel of questions based on these themes and each of the candidate’s answers are scored on a scale of 1 to 5. The candidates who score an average of 4 or above are invited back to participate in the last step of our interviewing process.

Step Four: The Work Sample

The final step is gathering a sample of the candidate’s work. Sometimes you must think creatively to achieve this objective! When we interviewed candidates for the Director of Marketing position, we asked them to complete and present a 30, 60, and 90-day marketing plan for us. When we interviewed candidates for our Sales Development Representative positions, we created four roleplay scenarios where the candidates mock-called one an employee acting as a prospective customer. We give the candidate enough time to prepare and make ourselves available to answer all questions prior to the deadline or presentation. Through this, we measure the candidate’s levels of preparation, curiosity, adaptability, and understanding of our company.

Finally, we debrief with the candidate afterwards to gain their perspective. This segment has proven to be one of the most valuable to us in making a final decision. We require a unanimous agreement from all leadership team members in order to close out the interview process with an offer (conditional on reference checks).

Helpful Tips

  • There is a lot of value in a cover letter. Surprisingly, most candidates do not submit a cover letter with their resume, even when explicitly asked to. This is a significant missed opportunity! Anyone who has taken the time to submit a cover letter will at a minimum receive a call from our CEO for a phone screening. A cover letter allows the candidate to:
    • Highlight specific skills or experience that are aligned with the position
    • Communicate that they have researched our company
  • References are very important. The one question I ask references that has proven to extremely useful is: “What is the one thing we can do to ensure their success as a BrainSell employee?” For example, if the answer is a structured onboarding program, the candidate may not be a good fit – since we need employees to be self-directed learners who can ask questions, seek out external sources of information, and use previous work experiences to help connect the dots about their new position.
  • Do your research before you develop your own interviewing process. We took advantage of several resources. Our favorites include:

If you’re looking for more tips on this four-step interviewing process, contact us and we can chat about your business challenges and talent management practices.


Author Bio

Theresa Conway

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Theresa Conway

Ready to rock? So are we!

hand gesturing 'rock on' with a silver studded leather bracelet on the wrist.

Benefits of working with BrainSell:

  • We guarantee you’ll get in touch with us on the first call.
  • We practice what we preach – business growth (since 1994).
  • You’ll get Big-Firm advice, without the sticker shock.
  • You get a partner for the long haul — your success is our success!