Chat with us, powered by LiveChat What Is Topgrading? | Interview Questions and Process Steps

What Is Topgrading?

by | Apr 21, 2021 | Placement Process, Top Echelon Blog

As a recruiter, you want every candidate you place to be a good match. But, sometimes, you must find a high-level candidate that is likely to be a top performer. To find first-rate candidates, you need advanced recruiting practices. One sourcing technique you can use is topgrading. What is topgrading?

What is topgrading?

Topgrading is an interview technique that gives a comprehensive picture of a candidate’s professional background and personality. Topgrading involves more thorough screening methods than a regular behavioral interview.

The goal of topgrading is to build a high-quality workforce with top-performing employees. A series of interviews are conducted for an in-depth perspective on each candidate. Throughout the topgrading process, interviewers look at patterns in the candidates’ answers.

There are 12 steps to topgrading. The steps can be modified or shortened to fit your recruitment needs.

Topgrading interview process

If you’re looking for the most qualified candidate, consider using topgrading. The process helps you make well-educated and evidence-based hiring decisions instead of relying on resumes or general job applications to find the best candidate.

The following is a complete list of the topgrading interview process. Depending on the job order needs, you can simplify or eliminate some steps.

1. Measure and improve the current hiring process

You can use the first step to help your clients from the start of the hiring process. Take a look at your client’s current methods for hiring. Find out how many high-performers are employed and how many bad hires they make.

Prepare clients for the interview stage to improve their current hiring process. For example, you might notice that the job description your client gives you is vague and poorly written. Coach your client on effective job descriptions and offer resources to help them. You could even re-write the description for your client.

2. Create a job scoreboard

Before you start your search, have a clear idea of the candidate needed for the position. Talk to your client about what the ideal candidate looks like on paper. It might take some digging to get a full list of details. But, you need the big picture of the best candidate before contacting candidates.

Choose 15-20 criteria points to compare candidates. You will score each candidate based on how their answers match up to the criteria. The scores will show each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

3. Recruit candidates

Start your search with a job advertisement that lists the skills, experience, and personality traits needed for the position. The description must be detailed.

As a recruiter, you have access to a recruiting database of potential candidates. Reach out to those in your network that are proven to be high-performers. Use job board sites and social media to advertise the position.

ATS recruiting software makes it easy to sort and track candidates. You can import resumes and view them in a uniform format, making it simple to compare and find the best candidates.

4. Screen candidates with work history forms

A work history form is a comprehensive list of topgrading questions that ask about a candidate’s past. The form asks for compensation histories, boss ratings, reasons for leaving jobs, likes and dislikes in jobs, self-appraisal, and more.

By using a work history form, you can weed out weak candidates that bend the truth on resumes. Since the form asks each candidate the same questions, you spend less time reading and deciphering resumes.

5. Conduct telephone interviews

Once you have a pool of promising candidates from the work history forms, set up telephone interviews. A recruiter phone interview saves time that would be wasted on unsuccessful in-person interviews.

While on the phone, explain the job in more detail. If the candidate is interested, take about 45 minutes to ask about their most recent jobs. You might ask about their passions, successes, failures, key decisions made, and goals. From this point, narrow down the candidates you want to interview face-to-face.

6. Do competency interviews

Competency interviews cover more general topics about proficiency and behavior, giving you quick insight on candidates. The interviews are usually about an hour long. Give candidates the chance to ask about the open position and work environment.

7. Conduct a topgrading interview

The topgrading interview is a thorough review of the candidate’s past jobs and experiences. This intensive interview creates a roadmap to where the candidate is today. Ask questions about past events, motivations, successes, and failures that led to their current skills, knowledge, and values.

The topgrading interview is chronological. It starts with high school and ends with goals for the future. And, the interviewer usually asks a lot of questions about every job the candidate has held.

The process appears drawn out, but it’s not as burdensome as it sounds. Using the work history form, follow a topgrading interview guide, ask questions, and take notes.

8. Provide feedback and coaching to interviewers

With topgrading, the interviewers give each other feedback directly after the interview. This helps improve each interviewer’s skills. Discuss the interviews with your client after the process is over and offer tips. If you were involved in the interviewing process, let your client give you feedback as well.

9. Write a summary

A summary shows patterns in the candidate’s work history and experiences. Analyze the data collected about the candidate by compiling it into a logical summary. That way, it’s easy to compare potential hires.

10. Have the candidate arrange reference calls

After the interviews are completed, have the candidates arrange reference calls. They need to contact references and set up the interviews.

Step 10 is a unique but effective part of finding the best candidate. High performers usually don’t have a problem with contacting old bosses. In fact, they often leave the job on good terms and enjoy the opportunity to catch up.

Once the references are contacted, place each candidate in one of the following categories:

  • Top 10%
  • Next 25%
  • Others

With topgrading, the job placement process should result in only the top 10 percent of candidates being hired. These are the most qualified and will likely be high performers.

11. Coach the new hire

The candidate placement process doesn’t stop with the job offer. Go over post-interview next steps with the selected candidate. Give the candidate recommendations so they know what is expected of them and can improve weak performing areas quickly.

It doesn’t make much sense to place the perfect candidate and send them straight into a bad new hire experience. Make sure your clients are prepared to train and encourage new hires to succeed. Employers should coach new hires on these three points within the first few weeks:

  • Onboarding
  • Boosting immediate performance
  • Developing for future positions

12. Measure hiring success annually

As a recruiter, you are not in control of your client’s actions once a candidate is placed. But, you should talk to clients about the importance of measuring employee performance. Advise your clients to review employee performance and hiring success annually to keep the team focused on performance year-round.

Topgrading interview questions

Topgrading questions are designed to piece together a candidate’s experiences. Interviews help you understand the candidate’s thought process, values, and communication skills. Including behavioral interview questions in your list is a great way to improve the topgrading process.

The following questions are commonly used in topgrading, but it is not a comprehensive list. Remember to ask topgrading interview questions chronologically.



The topgrading process can help you ensure that your candidate pool is boiled down to the most qualified talent for your clients. By following the topgrading interview steps, and leveraging the questions above, you can create happier clients and more wealth for your recruiting business!

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