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WS857: My Questionnaire For Hiring Class A Talent with Whitney Sewell

A prospective candidate questionnaire is an incredibly useful tool for you to use when you set out on the hiring journey. You will likely receive more applications than you know what to do with, so the questionnaire is a great way to streamline the selection process. You want A-players on your team and a rigorous hiring process allows you to get closer to that top talent. 

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In today’s episode, Whitney shares how the book Topgrading helped him draft questions and how it helped him view the hiring process. We then find out more about his prospective candidate questionnaire and some of the questions he included in it. We hear about the TORC technique, the importance of following up with references and learning about candidate’s attributes like their intelligence and their morals. You can train anyone for a role, but you cannot teach people skills like honesty and integrity, which is why it is important to gauge this early on. If you are in the process of making your next hire, this show will add great value to you.  

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Some of the benefits of having A-players, as outlined by Topgrading.
  • The definition of topgrading and A-players.
  • Hear more about Whitney’s folders with details about prospective candidates.
  • Insights that the prospective candidate questionnaire offers.
  • TORC technique: what it is and how it scares C-players away.
  • Other details included in the prospective candidate questionnaire.
  • How many candidates Whitney ended up interviewing.

[bctt tweet=”A-players is really best of class in that top 10% of talent available. — @whitney_sewell” username=”whitney_sewell”]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Whitney Sewell on Twitter



Kolbe A

About Whitney Sewell

Founder of Life Bridge Capital LLC, Whitney Sewell began his real estate investing career in 2009. Whitney’s passion is working with investors, helping them secure financial security via the exceptional opportunities that multifamily syndication offers. Whitney hosts the Real Estate Syndication Show, a daily podcast where he has now interviewed over 600 experts providing cutting-edge tools and strategies for the syndication business. Whitney and his wife, Chelsea, are on a mission to help other families through the process of adoption. They have personally endured the financial burdens that the process puts on families and have committed 50% of their profits to this goal. Whitney and Chelsea have three children by adoption.

Full Transcript


[0:00:00.0] ANNOUNCER Welcome to the Real Estate Syndication Show. Whether you are a seasoned investor or building a new real estate business, this is the show for you. Whitney Sewell talks to top experts in the business. Our goal is to help you master real estate syndication. 

And now your host, Whitney Sewell.


[0:00:24.4] This is your daily Real Estate Syndication Show. I’m your host Whitney Sewell. I hope you have been considering growing your team and first, by hiring the executive assistant and finding that class-A talent that’s going to help you move to the next level with next to less stress and get there more efficiently. 

I want to continue that today, I hope you’ve listened to show 800 and then 850 where I’ve gone into different details of this process and it’s the different things that I’ve learned recently to hire the top talent, which I’ve recently done. First, I thought I would go over a couple of things. Again, if you’re looking at YouTube, holding up the book Topgrading just so you can see it by Bradford Smart. I encourage you to have this in your home library so you can reference this, it’s on Audible as well.

I listen to a lot of it. Well, I wanted the book in my hands because there’s numerous documents in here that also have an assistant or somebody on our team to recreating word or just type out different things and we’ll go over some of that today with you, we’re going to hit the perspective candidate questionnaire, which is so crucial in this hiring process and I want you to understand why it’s important and why you need to go to these steps.

But I wanted to back up a little bit and talk about A-players a little bit and who they are and because he does obviously a great job in this book of just detailing what an A-player is. There’s some examples here I thought might be useful to think about and it says, “A paper client is managed by A players have 94% higher profits.”

[0:01:55.1] More talented investment banking associates are twice as productive as those average in talent. Return to shareholders for companies with top talent practices averages 22% above industry means. Top 3% of programmers produce 1,200% more lines of code than the average and top 20% produce 320% more than average. Top 3% of sales people produce up to 250% more than average. Top 20% produce up to 120% more. 

Okay, I want you to think about that when your team – I mean, this is the same, sales people in general or programmers in general or share – return to shareholders, there’s a big pull there that they’re talking about.

When you’re thinking about your team, when you’re first getting started, this may be the next person on your team or maybe as a business partner and this will be the first person you will hire or it’s a much smaller pool here and it’s so important that this person is the right person and that you spent enough time to ensure that you’re going to – the extent necessary to ensure the correct hire.

I wanted to share with you too just what Topgrading is, there’s a good definition in this book. Again, I didn’t come up with this, I’m just reading this part right out of this book but it says, “To top grade, to fill at least 75% of positions in the organization with higher performers, which is A-players.”

[0:03:20.2] “By hiring and promoting people who turn out to be high performers, at least 75% of the time.” Think about that and again, a lot of times, this is focused on kind of large, very large organizations and if they’re hiring 50 people a year, a hundred people a year or a thousand people a year depending on the size of that organization.

Obviously, it’s so important they have these steps in place but I think it’s just as crucial, he even goes into that in this book that this is for any organization, doesn’t matter the size. Especially if you have one person and it’s you or two people. This hire is so important, this person could just make or break you over the next year or take up so much time from you.

You know, positively or negatively, depending on who they are in their abilities. Another thing I wanted to point out, the definition of an A-player, it’s a high performer, we talked about it a little bit but someone in the top 10% of the talent pool available. B-players would be in the next 25%, C-players would be in the bottom 65%.

A-players is really best of class in that top 10% of talent available. Obviously, that means after giving compensation level, any specific company, maybe you’re in a particular industry or location, specific accountabilities, available resources, there’s numerous things there that you need to think through, right? Where you’re thinking about who are the top talent, top A-players. How are we going to find them?

[0:04:49.6] Been going through that over the last few solo shows, you know, show 800 and 850. I think this is 857. I want to help you through this process but today specifically, I want to go over this document that helped me so much in finding that person and so we talked about in show 850 that job description, the top thing on the instructions at the bottom of that job description said actually, it said to apply, “please submit the following via email to”, and then I provided the email address that I wanted them to submit it to. The top thing said, number one, Prospective Candidate Questionnaire, it says, download here and it’s a link.

Again, I made it a link, they have to download it, they have to have some technical ability to make that happen. Many actually did not, they were not able to download it. If they asked, I would send it to them anyway, just in case there was an issue, I wanted them to still have the opportunity to submit this document and go through the rest of the steps.

I did take note of some of those things. Just to – I’ll share some of that as well. When I was going through this process, I had like a folder on my computer that said, business development and there’s numerous things in there, things I’ve learned, notes from different books and downloads and whatnot that I’ve had over the years.

[0:06:09.7] One specific way that I did this was just I had an employee recruitment folder and then you know, I would list every person that applied. As soon as I received their information through that email, I would make a folder for them, I would immediately download all their documents to that folder but I would also print that email to PDF and put it in that folder.

Because remember, there’s numerous things that I ask them to do and I’m going to tell you about a couple more in a minute but that email is going to show us, you know, did they answer the other questions? Did they tell us – did they send a cover letter like I asked in PDF of the resume because many people are going to send that in a Word document, they’re not going to send it like you’ve asked in a PDF.

Did they tell you in the email how they heard about the position, did they submit the strengths finder and the cold VA index, those other assessments or reports like you asked? That’s how I’m going to be able to go back and find that but also, I’m going to go over another show is about tandem interview that we completed. My business partner and I, you know, we interviewed the final people.

I want him to be able to look at these documents, I want him to know the standard, this is what we’re asking and I want him to look at them before he and I talk about a candidate. I don’t want to help him develop his opinion about somebody or how they submitted something, we want him to develop his own opinion and then us discuss it at a later time, right?

[0:07:32.7] Maybe even document some things that we both think about specific people or just their skills or their abilities and the way they presented, the documents, did they do everything we ask. Then, he and I meeting about that.

I’ll go over a little more of the tandem interview that we completed at a later time but on my computer, as soon as I would receive somebody’s information, obviously I respond and say, “Thank you for that information, it has been received, we will be in touch soon with further steps or not.”

One way or the other, obviously I’ll download all the stuff whether I knew right away or not, I wanted to document what they had sent just in case it ever came back later is through this process.

The prospective candidate questionnaire is so important, I can’t stress to you enough. This document saved me a ton of time when we had hundreds and hundreds of people apply. This helped me to narrow it down, how did – did they submit it, most people are going to look at this and are going to – we’re on our way right there, they’re not going to complete it.

[0:08:29.9] However, most of it is very simple but it still took some time for them to complete it and you know, I don’t want somebody that’s going to halfway do it and when you apply or when you put a job indeed, you’re going to get so many people, obviously I already had the canned presentation or resume, already in there, they’re just going to hit apply.

If it sounds like anything they might want, they’re just going to hit apply and however, I put that same job description in the deed and if they just hit apply on the deed and there’s not other communication, they didn’t do what I ask, they did not receive any communication from us or maybe, I think maybe we tried to respond to say sorry, you are not selected but that was it.

We did not say, go into much detail or anything like that because I wanted to ensure they read the instructions and could follow the details that we asked. prospective candidate questionnaire are at the top says, directions for completing this form. “Number one. We use this form to gain insight into past work history and core competencies to better assess a potential fit with our organization. Please fill out this form in its entirety. Do not skip any questions.”

I mean, I think, it makes it pretty clear, do not skip any questions. Yeah, simple, right? “Number two. If you need additional space, type your additional content into this Microsoft Word Document. Number three. Please know that before an offer of employment is made, you will be expected to set-up reference calls with every prior supervisor for the last ten years.”

[0:10:04.1] Now, did you hear that? You’re expected to set-up reference calls with every prior supervisor for the last 10 years. That was a big shocker for me when I first started learning about that and what top grading calls that is the TORC technique and that stands for Threat of Reference Check. It says, the TORC technique, the Threat of Reference Check technique, which lets candidates know at every step in the hiring process that the final – 

A final step in the hiring process is for them to arrange personal reference calls with former bosses and others that we want to interview or that would be for us, you know? They’re going to set that call up with us or obviously this new boss or whoever is interviewing to talk with.

Talks about this threat of reference checks scares C-players away, which is good, exclamation mark. C players can’t get their former bosses to talk to you and C players wouldn’t want you to talk to them anyway, this is right out of top grading what I’m reading right there.

It says, decades of experience confirm that high performance do get their former bosses to talk and are happy to make the arrangements.

[0:11:17.3] Tell them every step of the process, even before you begin, they need to know. That was something very new, I’d never heard of that before but I do think that that helped save us a lot of time. It does encourage you in the book to not skip that step because you do want to follow through on what you said you were going to do.

That was crucial. When they see that, I’m sure there’s a lot of people that said “Nope, there’s no way I’m doing that, I’m not having them talk to this person,” or they’re going to leave maybe a specific job or career that they had off of this form that you’re going to have to investigate a little bit and figure out some time discrepancies and things as you’re going through this form.

What I found though is that a lot of people you know, work for maybe one or two places in the last 10 years or maybe they haven’t even been in the workforce for 10 years but they’re very qualified which my executive assistant, that’s the case.

She hadn’t been in the workforce for 10 years but she’s had some great success and done very well at one or two places in the years that she has been working and so she was very qualified how great experience that I was looking for.

[0:12:20.9] It wasn’t an issue, she was fine with talking to a supervisor to speak with me, her current supervisor and past. Number four is, once this form is complete please email to, I have that email address in there again and it says and write career history form, your name in the subject line. 

Career history form that has your name. Very specific in the subject line and if applicable, please include a copy of a formal resume and says, you may also include a cover letter and PDF of your resume and it says StrengthsFinder Top same thing as before as the instructions Kolbe A Index are optional.

It list those again there but again, tells them a specific way to send this to us and tells them what to put in the subject line and that will help you later on as you’re organizing lots of resumes and lots of emails and it’s going to be helpful that they do that. 

Not all will and that sonic complete disqualifier, it’s just a one more thing to show you their level of attention to detail. Right after that, it says, “Disclaimer, returning this form does not guarantee employment, this form is simply an exploratory data collection tool.”

[0:13:36.1] Then it goes, career history form. It says: “This information will not be the only basis for hiring decisions. You are not required to furnish any information that is prohibited by federal state or local one.” But again, I am not an attorney if you feel like this is too detailed, you can talk with your attorney but I feel like most of this is great information and just to see how they respond but right off the bat, personal information. Obviously, their name, their home address, street address, telephone, those things, position applied for. 

You know, it says, write N/A if there is not a specific position to which you are applying. You know ultimately, we only had one position but still, did they complete it? Then the next line is “earnings expected” that’s interesting to – an interesting space there to see what they put in there. What do they expect to earn and do they complete it? Many will leave it blank and they’re not bold enough to tell you what they are looking to earn. 

Right off the bat, it says business experience. It says your present of most recent position. It says the firm has their address, business type, obviously they employed from and to times and then it says their base salary and do they get bonuses, what was their initial compensation, final compensation, what was their title, who is their supervisor, their name, title and then it says, “What do or did you like most about this job? What do or did least enjoy? Reasons for leaving or desire to change.”

“Did you resign voluntarily or were you asked to resign or where you terminated? Please explain.” Pretty important questions there, you need to know why are they desiring to leave and a lot of times, you know if they’ve had numerous positions in this document is going to continue to tell you this, you know depending on why they left, it may be a series of things happening there that is going to only come into your company as well and so that just provides a great way for you to have a better questions during the interview process as well. 

[0:15:32.7] After that it says, “Your present or most recent position continue,” and it says, “The second round of our selection process will include a reference call with your previous supervisors and the below questions will be posed to them in the call. Please rate yourself as you believe your former supervisor will rate you.” Very interesting questions here to see how they think they’re previous supervisor or current supervisor feels about them. 

Then it says, “On a scale of 1-7 (being very low, 7 being extremely high), please rate this person’s resourcefulness to do the following: to seek out and seize opportunities, go beyond the call of duty; passionately find ways to surmount barriers; be an action-oriented “doer,” achieve results despite lack of resources; re-stimulate languishing projects; lives a “bias for action” and “do it now” personality at work. I mean that is one question, how would your supervisor rate you on these things. 

The next one is, “Please rate this person’s intelligence to do the following: demonstrate the ability to acquire understanding and absorb new information rapidly; is a quick study. Note: this competency reflects neither motivation to learn nor willingness to accept change; rather, it reflects the intellectual capacity that, when combined with motivation, results in learning.” 

All right and then the last one, “Please rate this person’s integrity in the following areas: has “ironclad” integrity; does not ethically cut corners, remains consistent in terms of what one says and does, and in term of behavior toward others; earns the trust of coworkers; maintains confidence; puts organization’s interest above self; does what is right, not what is politically expected; fights fair; -Intellectually honest; does not play games with facts to win a point.”

[0:17:27.1] Some important things there and obviously, they are judging themselves but it is just some good information, good things that you can ask them about during an interview and then it is going to go through the same thing for every previous employer over the last 10 years. You know if they have been employed eight times in the last 10 years and they are serious about those position, they’re going to fill this out, you know that what I just read you eight times. 

Then it just has you know, that on the same sheet numerous times so that they can fill it out or copy it for the next position that they were employed by before and then towards the end, there is another section that says, “Which employers do you not wish to be contacted?” Just in case there were a couple employees or employers that we shouldn’t contact, they can explain it there and tell us why. That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t get the position but it may be something that we talked about obviously during an interview. 

Then were going to ask about military experience, do they have it? What branch, date entered, nature of duties, what was their rank, things like that. Education, we want to know where they went to college. This was – it was nice that my assistant does have college. She is very educated, however that was not any central point for me. I was much more concerned about their integrity and their drive. To have integrity to do what’s right, to not operate in a grey area similar to what the question said. 

That is so much more important to me than their level of education. It’s great, I want them to be very experience and be as experienced as possible but you cannot teach them to be integrous. That is something I need them to have before they come into our organization. I can train them to be a good assistant or to underwrite deals or look at markets, which is not what my assistant does but we can train them to have certain skills but I cannot train them to have integrity. 

[0:19:11.9] Just keep that in mind, education is very important and sometimes too, you know there is thing on there too for extracurricular activities and rewards. Some of that will show you just drive that they’ve had for many years. You know where they driven in school and in college and did they earn awards? Just something to keep in mind, maybe they did other things. Maybe they don’t have college but they had to really push to do this other thing that they did. 

It just shows a lot about their personality that could be very important and then it says, “List additional education. What undergraduate courses did you like most and why?” Did you like them? Not like them? Part-time and summer work.” You know, I would stress to think about that too. Did they work hard? What did they do with their summers? They are going to put it on there and how is your education financed? That just tells you a little bit about them as well depending on how they answer that. 

Part-time and summer work upon, not everybody works in the summers when they’re out of college. How hard did they work? How hard did they have to work and maybe it is going to show you some more about their personality or maybe there’s other courses or seminars they were taking at that time? There are maybe memberships that they’re a part of or different things that you want to ask about. There is a lot of other things here that we could go over. 

Right now, just think about you got to get to know this person quickly. You are going to ask him about weaker points areas or areas to improve and all of those things of course. Then you’re going to ask about are they willing to relocate if that is important to you. I left it even though I didn’t require them to relocate, I left the question on there. I wanted to know if they were willing to relocate for this position. Some were, some were willing. 

Some couldn’t, whether their spouse is in school or they have a family situation where they can’t move or their spouse has a career, a job where they can’t relocate but there were some that were willing so I left it on there even though that wasn’t required because I wanted to know that. 

[0:20:56.9] Then it says, “Amount of overnight travel acceptable.” You know, we don’t require overnight travel but again, I want to know how committed are they and it says, “What are your career objectives?” then the last page says, “Do you have the legal right to work for any employer in the United States? Have you ever been convicted of a crime other than a minor traffic violation?” and then it says: “We ask the every candidate” here is a big one too that we help get in our listing.

It says, “We ask the every candidate to handwrite a brief response to the following question: Why are you considering leaving your current position?” If you notice, I said, “We ask the every candidate to handwrite a brief response” you will get everything in there. Many will not answer at all. Some will actually print it out and handwrite it like you’ve asked but obviously that is another step and you are just going to check to see did they read it. 

Can they follow detailed instructions? It is not a deal breaker if they didn’t do it correctly but it is another method to say they did read it, they did get it or they didn’t and then there is a place for it to mark “referred by” and so you know who referred them. If they did come through a referral and then there is a place for signature and date. 

Obviously I went through that document very quickly. There is things about it too that we won’t have time to go over today but that is the gist of it. I encourage you to have something like that because that document and requiring them to complete that and having specific ways for them to send that to me was crucial in narrowing down the process. You know like I said, we had I don’t even remember now, I said it in show 800 but I can’t remember now how many hundreds of applicants we received through Indeed and then there is also, I know I don’t even remember now, I mean we’ve got tons of applicants through referrals as well. 

We did end up hiring through Indeed and so I know I’ve said numerous times that I was going to tell you which way we were successful because I did track it and I wanted you to know where did the most people, most qualified people come from and where did we end up hiring from and it was through Indeed. 

[0:22:55.8] My current assistant, she applied, completed everything very well to the detail, I mean to every detail and so obviously, she made it to the top interview or to the interview process but obviously most did not. We only completed four interviews and I am going to go into that into more detail in another show but we only completed four out of hundreds and hundreds of applicants and this document will help me narrow that down. 

Did I read every detail of this documents? No, I didn’t have to. I mean some did not submit it at all, some submitted it half-way, some printed it out and filled it in by hand extremely sloppy. You know, I’m sorry if you do it clearly by hand that’s fine but it needs to be legible, right? It just shows me your attention to detail, shows me how much you really care about this position and how you’re presenting yourself because how they presented it themselves to me there is going to reflect how it represents themselves to investors and clients and people I work with in the industry. 

Even greater detail should have been better when they are submitting it for the job. Obviously, pretty quickly that eliminates them but it’s going to tell you so much about that person right off the bat that’s going to help you to narrow it down. In most cases, after I do that, we go through that I would respond like I said and say, “I am sorry you were not selected for the position. We will keep your file on hand maybe for future opportunities potentially.” 

If they were somebody that I felt like we might hire in the future or look at again but I hope this was helpful for you to think about this perspective of candidate questionnaire. We’ll do another show on the dual tandem interview that we did. Nothing too crazy there but there are lots of questions that you need to think about asking someone that, that I didn’t know about. I mean I thought I did a pretty good interviews.

[0:24:34.8] I have been interviewing position whether it was a state police and as a federal agent, you know I have been interviewing people for many, many years not in this context but still, whether it’s on the side of the road or in a situation as an agent, you know interviewing lots of people and obviously around the podcast, right? Interviewing 850 people or more here over the last couple of years but this is a little different, right? 

This is a little bit different. You do develop a skill there but there are certain questions that I had not thought of before that I learned through this book and through other books that I am going to share with you in the next show. I hope you have learned a lot. I hope you are moving forward to grow your business and your brand and I hope we’re helping you with that.

Again, if you think of questions you like me to ask on the show or something you’d like me to cover, email us at You can always message us through the group too, The Real Estate Syndication Show. I have not done a great job in being very active in there but I will try to do better about that in the near future but I hope that you will reach out and let us know things that you need to know to improve your syndication business. 

If you are an investor, reach out through, hit the “invest now” button or go to our “contact us” page. That’s how you will get in touch with me or our team. We’ll reach out and schedule a call and I look forward to speaking with you and learning about your goals and helping you achieve those through real estate and investing in large commercial real estate. 

I hope you have a blessed day. I look forward to hearing from you, talk to you soon. 


[0:25:57.6] Don’t go yet, thank you for listening to today’s episode. I would love it if you would go to iTunes right now and leave a rating and written review. I want to hear your feedback. It makes a big difference in getting the podcast out there. You can also go to the Real Estate Syndication Show on Facebook so you can connect with me and we can also receive feedback and your questions there that you want me to answer on the show. 

Subscribe too so you can get the latest episodes. Lastly, I want to keep you updated so head over to and sign up for the newsletter. If you are interested in partnering with me, sign up on the contact us page so you can talk to me directly. Have a blessed day and I will talk to you tomorrow.


[0:26:37.7] ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to the Real Estate Syndication Show, brought to you by Life Bridge Capital. Life Bridge Capital works with investors nationwide to invest in real estate while also donating 50% of its profits to assist parents who are committing to adoption. Life Bridge Capital, making a difference one investor and one child at a time. Connect online at for free material and videos to further your success.


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