Hire me or else! Illustration by Daniel Feren?

Hiring is scary for a small business. Not only can it be tough to find someone who can handle the workload you need covered, but finding someone who can be a seamless extension of your business and maintain consistency with your level of work is even more difficult.

We have a high standard of design and development, and our clients come to us not only knowing that we’ll get the job done, but that we’ll do it well and exceed their wildest expectations. So when our business started growing and we had to hire more people, we knew that we had big shoes to fill.

Interviewing and hiring people over the past year has solidified a process that goes beyond a standard interview procedure to make sure that the people we hire are a good fit for our company, and nobody’s time is wasted in the process.

This process has been shaped and formed with the help of many others who are pros at the hiring process and have learned things the hard way like us. We hope you can use our hiring process to improve your own and find people who are a good fit for yourself, your company, and your clients.

Why Do People Use Your Product or Service?

Start by considering why people use your product or service. Do you serve a need that isn’t being met by anyone else? When clients think of your company, what do they think? Write down all those things and any brand promises that you have.

Next, if you’ve hired someone before that has been a success, think of why you hired them. Look at the emails/communications you initially had with them, and remind yourself of why you brought them in. Were they friendly and showed they read any listings you put out or about your company in general? Did they show excitement about the position and working with you?

Once you have all of these things written down, you know what kind of person you’re looking for. Everything in terms of skills and position requirements should only be figured out after this.

The Listing (Details are Important)

One thing we’ve learned about putting together awesome listings is writing out the responsibilities of the position that you’re hiring for, talking about your team and company, and mentioning what the new hire will be getting (pay, benefits, etc) in return for their work.

But more importantly than this, make sure you’re specific about all of the above – if you’re looking for a designer, are you looking for someone who has a specific style/designs in specific media (web, print, brand)?. If you’re looking for a developer, are you looking for someone who can take PSDs and bring them to life, or someone who can develop fully functional backends with a specific language (e.g. PHP, Ruby, etc)?


We’ve tried both forms for people to fill out and emails for people to apply, and there are definitely benefits to both. While forms can help make sure you get information you want and serve as a pre-interview, emails are our preferred method because it allows people to copy and paste messages and serves as an open conversation that shows how that person communicates.

Regardless, this is the part where you make the first cut of applicants. There are a few things we look for that tell us the person won’t be a good fit:

  • They copy and paste a generic message they’re sending to every listing.
  • They use improper spelling or grammar (communication is really important to us).
  • They don’t have what we’re looking for in terms of skills or experience.
  • They give us something we didn’t ask for.
  • They don’t give us something we did ask for.

However, if the person is a good fit:

  • They send us a personalized message that tells us why they want to work with us and why they think we’re awesome.
  • They communicate clearly and sound excited about the position and opportunity.
  • They give us what we ask for and omit any irrelevant information.

For every 25 applicants we generally get only 1 or 2 that fits the bill. Expect those kind of odds in your hiring process because good people are hard to find!
Before the Interview

Once we’ve got the application and think that the person might be a good fit, we email them back and schedule a time to talk about the position and what it will be like working with us. At this point, we look for two things before the interview even happens:

  • How long does it take them to respond?
  • Do they still seem excited and the same person as in the other email now that you’re communicating with them?
  • Are they on time for the interview? Is it easy to schedule an interview with them? (If they seem too busy, they probably have their priorities mixed up!)

If they don’t do the above, raise your warning flags. In some situations we won’t even bother with getting them on the phone for an interview if getting ahold of them is too difficult because that’s a sure sign that working with them will be difficult as well.

The Interview

Ask anyone who works with us or has been interviewed to work with us – I’m terrible in interviews. I tend to talk more than I listen, and run out of questions to ask. To make sure that I’m on track and don’t get nervous (yes, interviewers get nervous, too), I have a list of points that I know I need to get through. Everything from questions to things I need to mention are written down so that the interview goes smooth. Sure, questions come up that aren’t written down, but in case I run out of things to ask about, I always have something to fall back on.

The way we do our interviews, we need an hour with the applicant to figure out whether or not they’re a fit. Not all interviews go the full hour, but blocking out that much time is important. We break down interviews like this:

  • 15 minutes – Screening
  • 15-30 minutes – Questions and finding out about the applicant
  • 15 minutes – Talking about Phuse, why we’re awesome, answering questions, and talking about next steps


This is the one part of our interview process that I think changed everything. Some companies screen interviewees before an interview is even set up, but we decided that we’d do it at the beginning of the interview. At this stage we talk candidly about the position, how much the position pays, what we offer in terms of other benefits, and the responsibilities of the person.

We also give the interviewee a chance to answer initial questions and hang up if they didn’t realize what they were getting into. This part of the process has knocked out a few applicants because the pay is too low for them or they don’t feel comfortable with any of the responsibilities.

If they’re good with everything we’ve thrown at them, we let them talk!

Let Them Talk

Since at this point I’ve likely talked for a good 75% of the time, I ask the applicant to talk about their experiences, how they got into what they’re doing now from the point they left high school (or sooner if they started sooner) to present day. During this part of the interview I tell them I’m going to be extremely quiet while taking notes to let them talk, and will ask them questions afterwards.

This is the closest thing we do to asking for resumes. I personally dread reading resumes, and think that hearing people talk about their previous positions and education helps me learn a lot more about them. I get to hear about positions they liked versus ones they didn’t like, how long they generally stay at companies, and what sort of responsibilities they had.

During this time, I’ll be writing down what I think of them – are they excited about certain positions more than others? Do I have questions about specific positions? You might also write down a scale for different criteria based on things you’re looking for that you’ll continually rate to see if they’re a good fit.

Afterwards, I’ll ask questions specific about the positions and about the position at hand, and most of the time it’ll be about things right off of the application. Do they know how to do X? How would they do Y? How do they feel about doing Z?

I’m generally looking for:

  • Someone who is genuine and shows excitement and interest
  • Someone who knows what they’re talking about
  • Someone who Doesn’t half-ass answers to questions
  • Someone who can maintain a conversation and seems like an interesting person

Talk about the company and position

Once I’m comfortable with everything that I’ve asked and have been told, I’ll generally talk about Phuse. How did we start? Why are we shaped the way we are? Why do we do things the way we do? Who are our clients? All of this gives the interviewee a chance to take a break, listen, and form any questions they might have about the company (which is a really good sign).

What’s Next?

Once we’ve got everything for the interview wrapped up, we’ll talk about what happens next. For different positions, we have different ways of doing things. Generally, though, we’ll assign a small project not for any clients in particular to see how they do. For this “test”, we ask the applicant to only work one hour. We give a complete brief, and tell them exactly what we’re looking for.

Here are some project tests that you can use to evaluate potential employees:

For developers, the test is generally on an application page we’ve already done. We tell them to look at it and figure out how they’d develop certain technical components of it, and then let them hack away for the rest of the hour. Through this we find out:

  • How they analyze things and if they know how to get the job done
  • How much they get done
  • The quality of the work they get done
  • How they communicate what they’d like to get done and how long they budget for it to be completed
  • What deadline they set for themselves and if they meet it

For designers, we give a wireframe to work off of or a simple brief with things that need to be done, and let them have at it. Again, we’re looking at:

  • How they analyze any problems in the design
  • How they follow the brief and style/brand guides
  • How much they get done
  • The quality of the work they get done
  • How they communicate their decisions
  • What deadline they set for themselves and if they meet it

None of this work is for any current clients and the work is just to see how they do, but we do pay for the hour regardless, at the rate they’d like to be paid.

If everything checks out and other members of the team are happy with the product, we’ll ask them on their first project with us. During this part of the process, we’ll do the same thing – we’ll make sure they deliver on time, deliver what they say they’re going to, and make sure the quality is up to par. Again we assess things and decide whether or not it’s a good fit – if not, we don’t show anything to the client, don’t charge the client, and move on.

How Do You Hire?

These are the processes that have helped us find people that are a good fit for our team. It’s important to be thorough in the interviewing process, and to test applicants on a project before we agree to any sort of contract. That gives us a chance to test each other out (both employer and employee) and decide if we’re a good fit for each other.

What works for you when you hire new employees? Do you interview extensively or let the work speak for itself? How hard is it to find a good fit for your company? Share your stories with us in the comments!

[Illustration by Daniel Feren]

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