Topgrading Guide: Build your “A Team” with new & existing talent

Woman interviewing for high-level position

As a hiring manager or recruiter in HR, your goal is always to attract candidates who are the best fit for the role and for your organization. But, maybe you’ve found that your recruiting process hasn’t been pulling its weight lately. Or, perhaps you haven’t noticed that you’ve already got the talent to fill your new opening.

When it comes time to hire for senior-level roles, you’ll want to have a process in place that you can rely on. That’s where Topgrading comes in.

What is the Topgrading hiring method?

Topgrading is a 12-step process that was first developed by Brad Smart. The Topgrading technique classifies candidates as “A, B, or C Players” and the goal is to employ “A Players.”

But, you should really think of Topgrading as more of an analysis tool. A standard practice in many large companies is to first open a position to internal employees. Next, hiring managers and HR bring in some “A Player” candidates to compare to the current talent already working for your firm.

Consider this: do you need to look outside of the organization to find “A Players” that fit the open role? Or, do you already have an “A Player” that you could promote and invest in with some skills-based training? Utilizing the Topgrading methodology can help you determine what will be best for your organization.

How does it work?

The process utilizes a detailed strategy that puts candidates through a series of interviews. The objective of the interviews is to showcase the candidates’ personal values and qualities, work ethic, and professional background.

Why use the Topgrading method over other methods?

According to the developers of the Topgrading method, the interviewing process is “plagued with the huge problems: dishonesty (40% of resumes contain deliberate falsehoods), shallow interviews (competency/behavioral interviews are easy to fake), and poor verification (reference checks are almost worthless). Topgrading replaces those characteristics with honesty, thoroughness, and solid verification.”

Your guide to the Topgrading process

Planning (Steps 1-4)

1. Measure Hiring Success

2. Create a Job Scorecard

  • In Topgrading, job scorecard is more important than the job description
  • Both the hiring managers and candidates should have access to the job scorecard

3. Recruit from Networks

  • Take advantage of your current talent pool to find “A Players”
  • An employee who wasn’t a good fit for a previous role may be perfect for your current opening

4. Screen with a Career History Form

  • The objective of the career history form is to understand the candidate’s previous work experiences
  • Should ask information like their salary needs, reasons they left previous jobs, why they’re looking for a new role, and professional goals

Interviewing (Steps 5-7)

5. Conduct Telephone Screening Interviews

  • Ask topgrading questions about professional goals, current/recent jobs, and professional experience
  • Invite strong candidates to the next round of interviews

6. Conduct Competency Interviews

  • Compare candidate qualifications to job scorecard
  • Each question should address a specific job requirement
  • Leave about 15 minutes for candidates to ask questions

7. Conduct Tandem Topgrading Interview

  • Formerly called CIDS (Chronological In-Depth Structured Interview)
  • The interviewer asks chronological questions about the candidate’s education
  • Next, the interviewer asks details about each of the candidate’s jobs, goals, and self-appraisal
  • Considered the most important step and can range from 1-4 hours long
  • The purpose is to put together the information from previous steps to ensure the candidate is being truthful

After the Interviews (Steps 8-12)

8. Master Advanced Interview Techniques

  • Tandem partner (HR) should provide interview feedback and coaching to help hiring managers to improve their hiring practices
  • HR should provide tips like balancing the amount of time they talk compared to how often the candidate talks and how to improve their Topgrading questions

9. Analyze Data + Write Executive Summary Draft

  • Use your notes from the interview to write a report on each candidate and share it with your tandem partner
  • Use your reports and compare each candidate with your tandem partner’s report

10. Candidate Arranges Reference Calls

  • The candidate is responsible for setting-up reference calls
  • The candidate is the direct contact for their previous employers (helps eliminate phone tag and time it takes for you to get a hold of the reference)
  • Important step: senior candidates typically do not leave previous jobs on poor terms

11. Coach Your New Hire

  • Once you’ve made a new hire using the Topgrading methodology, within the first few weeks let the new employee know how they can improve as well as areas they excel in
  • “A Players” desire feedback, want to be as productive as possible and look forward to developing themselves for future promotions

12. Measure Hiring Success Annually

  • Continually measure success
  • Check for improvements in hiring success percentages
  • Compare successes using Topgrading vs other  methodologies

Still have questions about Topgrading? Download their FREE ebook:

Share This

Related Articles

4 Things to Know About the Rising Field of Digital Marketing

3 Trends Fueling Marketing Agency Growth

9 Top Roles to Break into Marketing and Creative

Start the Conversation

Contact us below or call us at 952-941-0022

"*" indicates required fields

You're looking to hire a ...*
Newsletter Signup
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.