Finding top employees to telemarket his company's educational videos is critical to Tom Blangiardo, president of $10-million Basic Education and Training Associates (BETA Group), in Fishers, Ind. "Every time the phone rings, it costs us $15 to $20 a lead," he says, "so we'll go broke if we have marginally effective people handling those calls." In fact, BETA Group's hiring process resembles the initiation rites at an exclusive fraternity or sorority: to get three or four good sales employees, the company starts with approximately 100 candidates, whittling them down in stages. Kara O'Connor, BETA Group's employee training manager, explains how the process works:

"For every ad we place, we get about 100 applicants. I interview everyone over the phone, because the way you come across on the phone is very important here. I evaluate voice tone, friendliness, and persuasiveness," O'Connor says.

Within a week 30 or so candidates are chosen for group interviews. O'Connor and human-resources director John Brown explain BETA Group's philosophy and benefits, and show the candidates the videos they'll be selling. "We try to determine their level of interest and enthusiasm," says O'Connor. Typically, after the interviews, 9 candidates are eliminated, 6 are made offers, and the remaining 15 go on to individual interviews with Brown.

Brown discusses BETA's selling technique in depth; he might also ask candidates to role-play a sales call. "We tend to close a sale with one call, so they have to be very persuasive," says O'Connor. Another 7 candidates or so drop off.

The 10 to 15 survivors -- including those offered jobs after the initial group interview -- are hired and put through a one-week orientation that includes product and technology training, taking live calls, and more role playing. "We put people on the hot seat to see how they behave," says O'Connor. By midweek as many as half may crack, and by the following Monday, only 7 to 9 are taking live calls.

Within 30 to 60 days, half of those employees leave, because, says Blangiardo, "it's too intense for them or they're just not selling enough." However, O'Connor says retention is improving -- in the last two classes, three-quarters of the new hires stayed with BETA. "We're getting better at training people and identifying what makes a successful candidate," she says.

Published on: Mar 1, 1996