How to Integrate a 12 Step Topgrading Interview Process Into Your Hiring Strategy

By Rachel Blakely - May. 11, 2017
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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Rachel Blakely, Content Writer at Top Echelon, LLC, a subsidiary of Patriot Software Company. Her opinions are her own.
As a recruiter or hiring manager, your mission is to place the best-fitting candidates. You might rely on the same recruiting process every time, or you may change up your methods. When you need to fill a senior-level role, you might consider using the topgrading interview process.
Topgrading is a 12-step process for building a quality workforce within a business. Candidates are classified as “A, B, or C Players.” The goal is to recruit A Players.  

The topgrading interview process is a detailed strategy that puts candidates through various rounds of interviews. Topgrading showcases a candidate’s professional background, work ethic, and personal qualities.

It’s important to avoid costly mistakes by thoroughly screening candidates before extending a job offer. A bad hire can cost a company an average of $17,000 or between 3 – 4 times their salary.
Topgrading was invented as a way to improve the hiring process and decrease the chances of undetected inconsistencies in candidate responses. One case study revealed that using the topgrading process resulted in 85% of new hires becoming top performers, versus only 26% of new hires becoming top performers using traditional hiring methods.

Topgrading lets hiring authorities compare and learn more about candidates’ strengths and weaknesses. No hire will be perfect. But, the topgrading interview process lets you understand candidates and helps to make the best hiring decision.

Unlike the typical interview process, topgrading has 12 steps. Here is the 12-step topgrading interview guide.

1. Measure hiring success

To increase the chance that your vacant position will be filled by a good hire, you need to evaluate your current hiring process. For example, use the percentage of strong hires to measure hiring success.

With a typical interview process, measuring hiring success might not even come up. It could be seen as time consuming or unnecessary. But in reality, tracking the right recruiting metrics could end up saving you time in the long run.

2. Create a job scorecard

Under the topgrading process, a job description is second in line to a job scorecard. With a job scorecard, the company provides a measurement of what they want to get out of the new hire. For example, the new hire into one of your open sales positions is supposed to increase outreach by 10%.

The job scorecard is beneficial for both the business and the candidate. It ensures that everyone is on the same page.

Most companies use job descriptions to find candidates as opposed to job scorecards. By integrating a job scorecard into the process, topgrading aims to decrease confusion over the position’s purpose.

3. Recruit from networks

Use the pool of candidates you have in your recruiting database or talent community.

Maybe you’ve worked with an A Player who wasn’t a good fit for previous role, but might be perfect for your current requirement. Take advantage of your network to find top talent.

Using recruiting software with an applicant tracking system (ATS) will simplify the time it takes to source candidates. With an ATS, you can search people in your database by profession, skills, or education level.

4. Screen with work history forms

Get to know each candidate’s previous work experiences. Work history forms should ask candidates information like their salary history, manager ratings, reasons why they left previous jobs, and self-appraisal.

5. Conduct telephone screening interviews

Conducting interviews over the phone is an important step in any hiring process. 
Narrow down the pool of qualified candidates by conducting telephone screening interviews. While interviewing the candidates, ask them topgrading questions about their professional goals, experience, and current or recent jobs.

Weed out candidates who don’t meet all the qualifications you’re looking for. After talking with your colleagues or hiring managers, invite strong candidates to move onto the next step.

6. Conduct competency interviews

This next interview will compare candidate qualifications to what you require from the job scorecard. Each question you ask should be geared toward a specific requirement of the open job.  

Out of this interview, candidates should get about 15 minutes to ask questions. For example, a candidate might want to talk about company culture and decision-making.

7. Conduct topgrading interview

In the topgrading interview, the interviewer poses chronological questions about the candidate’s education. Then, the interviewer asks details about each of the candidate’s jobs, goals, and self-appraisal. 

Though it is a long process, the topgrading interview really allows a hiring manager to get to know a candidate. This is known as the most important step and can range from 1-4 hours long, depending on the open job. It puts together all the information found out about the candidate in the previous steps to make sure they are truthful.

8. Offer feedback to hiring manager

It’s important for hiring managers to know how they do during the interview. If the hiring manager does not ask the right topgrading interview questions, a bad hire could be made. By giving feedback (as an internal recruiter or representative from the talent acquisition team), hiring managers will improve their hiring practices.

For example, the hiring manager might ask basic questions that don’t probe the candidate. Provide tips on improving their topgrading questions and balancing the amount of time they talk compared to how often the candidate talks.

9. Create a report

The report should be easy to do since you’ve been taking notes and gaining an accurate picture of each candidate. Write up a report on each candidate to give to the hiring manager. A report will help compare candidates to make hiring easier.

10. Have the candidate arrange reference checks

With topgrading, the candidate is responsible for setting up reference check calls. The candidate is the direct contact for their previous employers, helping to eliminate phone tag and the time it takes for you or your client to get ahold of other companies for a reference check.

This step lets hiring authorities see who high performers are, since a senior candidate typically does not leave previous jobs on bad terms.

After this step, you are ready to extend a job offer to the candidate.

11. Provide feedback to new hire

When a candidate accepts a job offer, let them know how they can improve as well as areas they excel in. Be there for the onboarding process and through their initial months with the company.

12. Measure hiring success each year

It’s important to continually measure hiring success. With topgrading, you should see improvements in hiring success percentages. You can compare your success when using topgrading to non-topgrading interview processes.

Rachel Blakely is a content writer at Top Echelon, LLC, a subsidiary of Patriot Software Company. At Top Echelon, a recruiting software company, she provides actionable, growth-oriented information for recruiters to improve their processes.


Rachel Blakely

Rachel Blakely is a content writer at Top Echelon, LLC, a subsidiary of Patriot Software Company. At Top Echelon, a recruiting software company, she provides actionable, growth-oriented information for recruiters to improve their processes.

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