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This week I have had the pleasure of working with a highly inspirational and successful leader who is a candidate for several CEO and Executive level positions. One company has asked him to a Topgrading interview. “A what?” I hear many of you ask.

Topgrading can be described more as a recruitment strategy (a very time consuming one) than a single interview, often used by employers that are aware of the huge cost of mis-hires, especially the higher up the organization you go. Organizations use this technique to ensure they hire A players – “one who qualifies among the top 10 percent of talent available for a position” – in other words, someone who is best of class. Check out the Brad Smart’s book Topgrading, 3rd Edition: The Proven Hiring and Promoting Method That Turbocharges Company Performance.

My experience of Topgrading has seen me on both sides of the table, both as an interviewee and, having survived that particular experience (I’ll admit I may have even enjoyed it!), then working to hire and identify A Players for Executive level roles in a large international organization.

This week, those two experiences have helped me navigate my coachee through both the perils and nuances of this particular type of recruitment approach, hopefully whilst still retaining their enthusiasm for interviews and securing their dream job!

Whilst still fresh on my mind this week, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some useful tips on how to prepare for this style of recruitment approach should you ever be lucky enough (or should I say unlucky enough!) to be invited to a Topgrading interview.
Firstly, lets get a bit more of an idea of the way in which Topgrading is used. I’ve heard Topgrading described as a recruiter’s ‘Jedi weapon’ to help companies find ‘stars‘. Topgrading holds 3 criteria of upmost importance in finding A players – average job tenure should be 3+ years, compensation grows nicely over time and the threat of a reference check (you will be asked for the name of your most recent hiring managers and asked what score each hiring manager will give you when they call them for a reference) that will drive away any individuals that are not high performing.

What to Expect from the process
1. Request to complete a Topgrading Career History Form
This becomes the company application form, requesting all the usual information but also all the information employers want but resumes never contain – the ‘truth serum’ – full salary history, manager ratings of overall performance, reasons for leaving an employer and a self-appraisal.

2. Telephone Screening Interviews
To review information contained in your career history form and select the best candidates.

3. One-hour Competency interviews
Only the best candidates will be invited for face to face interviews. There will usually be two interviews with different managers with the opportunity to ask questions.

4. Topgrading Interview (to be conducted by 2 managers or sometimes consultants trained in Topgrading)
This is a chronological interview starting with education years then asking around 14 questions about every job, then finishing with questions around goals and self-appraisal (usually around 4 hours in length, yikes!) The interview covers approximately 50 competencies and is extremely thorough. Finally the individual is asked to provide references and to set up reference calls to confirm the interviewer conclusions (note that having heard from the candidate what each of their previous managers may have to say about them, the interviewers get to choose the managers they want the candidate to contact for references. This is where C players (underperformers) tend to drop out! A Players want to arrange the calls because they know their former managers will have great things to say about them.

I’ll finish by stating the obvious – its long, its tough but most importantly, you need to do A LOT OF PREPARATION to succeed!

I’d love to hear about your experiences of Topgrading and have a number of tools and resources I’d be happy to share with anyone that gets invited to a Topgrading interview.

Please contact me here for any help or support.

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