Topgrading Interview: What Is It and How to Conduct A Topgrading Interview

One of the key responsibilities of a recruiter is to ensure top-quality candidates are sourced for any open positions available at the company you are recruiting for. Often, it can be challenging to know whether the candidate you have found is the best possible hire for the role, as it can be difficult to judge competencies such as vision, intelligence, and integrity. 

There are numerous ways to go about it, like resume/CV screening, traditional phone interviews, group interviews, and behavioral-based or competency-based interviews. The hiring manager can hire independently, but the more efficient way is to add a top-grading interview to your evaluation process. These help recruiters understand whether a candidate is a right person. 

In this article, we’ll share all-thing topgrading interview, from its definitions to how you can conduct one. Let’s jump right in!

topgrading interviewing tips
Topgrading Interview Tips

What Is Topgrading Interviewing?

While the aforementioned recruiting practices are useful ways to assess a candidate, they may not be the most suitable for sourcing the highest level of candidates, as advanced recruiting practices will be needed to ensure the candidate is a top performer.

This is where topgrading interview comes in, where the candidates face numerous interviewers in multiple stages, which provides a more comprehensive picture of a candidate’s experience, skills and personality. When companies implement topgrading interviews, they are proactively seeking and employing only A players, while redeploying those with a weaker ability or performance. 

Comparing to other interview types, topgrading interviews include methods and questions that are designed for thorough screening. Topgrading interviews are a more holistic approach to identify a candidate’s intangible soft or core skills. Traditional interviews are also more vulnerable to dishonest answers and unqualified interviewees. It is the hope that topgrading interviews will provide results that showcase a candidate’s likelihood to succeed at the company. 

Why Should You Use Topgrading Interviews?

Using the right tools and techniques when searching and selecting for candidates are therefore essential in making sure any new hires made are the best possible.

Topgrading interviews not only help recruiters make evidence-based and well-informed decisions when hiring, but also to build a high-quality workforce with top-performing workers.

Integrating topgrading interviews as part of the hiring process will also ensure the hiring process is well-structured to target the best talent, who will be able to bring the most value to the business. 

Topgrading Interview Process

There are typically 12 key steps in the topgrading interview process to ensure the implementation is effective. However, the steps within the process can be rearranged, altered or eliminated to tailor to the open position available.

1. Evaluate your current hiring process.

The first step in conducting a topgrading interview is to carry out an evaluation on the current hiring process. You can start off by identifying any correlations between turnover rate or employee satisfaction and make suitable adjustments accordingly.

This will help make sure the process candidates will go through truly reflects the company culture, which is arguably the most important step in attracting high-quality and cultural fit talents. 

2. Identity criteria for your ideal candidates.

The next step in implementing a topgrading interview is to create a job scoreboard that lists out the criteria for an ideal candidate.

Identify details such as qualities and abilities and pin them around the persona to help visualize what this person may look like. This will help make sure the right type of candidate is being targeted during the hiring process. 

3. Post your job listings

Once you have your targeted candidate in mind, it’s time to post your job listing. It is important here to make sure that the job description is clear, listing a comprehensive set of experience, skills and personalities required for the position.

Advertising the job listing at the right places will also help to attract the type of candidate you are looking for. 

4. Screen applicants based on their work history. 

This next step in a topgrading interview helps to filter out candidates that are weaker or not suitable for the vacancy. During the hiring process, applicants should be provided with a detailed questionnaire that allows them to list out their professional history. This will also help reduce the time and effort needed to decipher resumes and check applications.

5. Start with a phone interview.

Once candidates begin to line up for interviews, a good idea for the first of a topgrading interview is through the phone. This does not only save time and costs compared to face-to-face interviews, it provides the opportunity to carry out initial conversations about the candidate’s work history and motivation remotely, allowing the first batch of applicants to be filtered out. 

6. Conduct competency interviews.

The next step in a topgrading interview is to conduct a competency interview. This allows more details such as a candidate’s attitude, behavior and proficiency to be observed, providing further insights into a candidate’s fit for an open position. 

7. Conduct topgrading interviews.

For the final round of interview, a topgrading interview should be carried out, where conversations should be held with candidates to understand how their stories and experience have shaped who they are today and how their journey has led them to this point. This should be in a chronological order starting from high school (or university), ending with discussion around future aspirations. 

8. Receive interviewer feedback for interviewers. 

Continuous improvement plays a big role in the topgrading interview process and interviewers should also receive feedback on how they have conducted the interview, as well as tips and trainings as needed following each interview. 

9. Summarize and analyze interview results.

The results from the topgrading interview process should then be analyzed and summarized to help understand the type of candidates that the company is attracting and the professional experience they hold, which will allow any trends and patterns to be spotted. 

10. Ask the candidate to arrange an interview with their reference.

As part of the topgrading interview process, candidates are expected to contact their reference, such as their previous employers or academic advisors, to arrange an interview with your company, who will vouch for their work history. However, in some cases, this step can be skipped.

11. Welcome and mentor the new hire.

Once the new hire comes on board, efforts should be put into training and coaching the new employee. The topgrading methodology is one where it goes beyond just the interview process, as it recommends working on expectations and developments immediately, in order to help staff and the organization continuously improve and ingrain this mindset early on in the stage. 

12. Perform annual evaluation. 

The last step in a topgrading methodology is to carry out evaluations on the hiring process annually. This means that employee performance and staff retention rate should be analyzed to help identify any areas for improvement within the topgrading interviewing system and address them with appropriate changes as needed.  

Topgrading Interview Example Questions

In a topgrading interview, questions are broken into four key areas, which are early influences, work history, plans and goals, and self-evaluation.

Early Influences  

  • Looking back at your time in high school, what people and experiences were the most influential to you, that you feel have shaped your personality and values
  • What were the highest and lowest points of your high school career?
  • What did you do after leaving high school? What career ideas and plans did you have in mind?

Work History

  • Were there any projects related to this position that you worked on in the past? What was your role and what did you achieve?
  • What is a problem you had to overcome in your last job and how did you solve it?
  • When was the last time you took a major initiative? What did you do and what did you achieve?
  • What do you think your manager’s honest opinion of your strengths, weaknesses, and overall performance were? 

Plans and Goals

  • What are your future career plans and goals?
  • Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
  • What do you hope to achieve in this role?
  • How do you think this role aligns with your long-term goals? 


  • If there is one thing you would change about yourself, what would it be?
  • What would you say are your strengths and talents?
  • What are your weaknesses and shortcomings?
  • How would you break down your skills and abilities?

Topgrading Interviewing Tips

Whether or not to adopt the complete topgrading interviewing process depends on your organization. Take a look at our topgrading interview tips to know how to to successfully impletmenting the whole process.

💡 Utilize job scoreboard.

Using a job scoreboard from the topgrading methodology for each open position will ensure your interview process is unbiased and unprejudiced. Having multiple interviewers involved will also make sure the candidate is judged accurately through different lenses, and that their skill set can be analyzed more comprehensively. 

💡 Create a candidate persona. 

You may also want to incorporate this topgrading tip into your hiring process, where an ideal candidate is visualized with the experience, skills and personality you are looking to hire. This will be useful when crafting your job description and attract the type of candidates you want. 

💡 Recruit from your own network first.

Lastly, you may want to consider recruiting from your own network first, as those in your network are someone you can trust and already have a relationship with, there may be a candidate that suits the vacancy whose skill set and abilities that you are familiar with, or you can ask for referrals from your network who can vouch for the candidates they recommend.  


To conclude, using topgrading interview has many benefits for an organization, building a robust hiring process and attracting high-quality talents. The topgrading methodology does not require a full implementation as the benefits can still be enjoyed by adopting aspects of the process, helping recruitment teams make evidence-based and well-educated hiring decisions, in turn supporting companies in building a top-performing workforce with a high retention rate.  

Not sure where to start? Check out our recruitment services and talk to our talent acquisition experts for more information!

— Originally written by Wayne Chang —

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