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All you need to know about topgrading

9 min read

Hiring success is like a puzzle where all the loops, sockets, and knobs are your tactics and strategies. Each piece in the puzzle has to be arranged in the right order to see the best result.   

You can rush and accomplish the task quickly by misplacing some of the pieces and be content. But that’s not what you want, don’t you? You want to finish it with perfection even though it costs you more time.   

That’s how a typical topgrading’s purpose and the process would look like. More about it, coming through your way. 

What is topgrading anyway?  

Topgrading is the brainchild of Brad Smart, who was upset by traditional and behavioral interview methods that yielded mediocre results. So, he developed a methodology where the candidate is put through a series of interviews that focus on competencies, work history, personality, which help the recruiter gain a broad picture of the candidate’s weaknesses and strengths.  

The 12-steps process enables the recruiters to identify dishonest answers and disqualify candidates failing to meet the gold standard criteria. Criteria here refers to the ‘A’ players i.e., top 10% in the talent market. B (25%) and C (65%) players are regarded as indifferent and laggards.   

Benefits of topgrading  

  • Personalized hiring process will leave lasting impression on candidates. 
  • You will ultimately save your company from large costs incurred by bad hires. 
  • Your team’s performance will be improved progressively as a result of consistent feedback exchange between peers. 
  • Top talent will refer your company to other A players in the market when they receive best candidate experience in topgrading process. 
  • Your reputation in the market grows through word of mouth, and company review sites like glass door that will help in attracting talent. 

Topgrading process  

Topgrading’s 12-step process is rigorous and needs patience to work.  Investment of your time pays out in the end in the form of hiring both skill and culture-fit candidates.   


The first and foremost thing you need to do is to deeply analyze your talent requirements and understand what you actually need from the talent. hiring processes. Developing a clear vision and expectations help you to stay organized and focus on what’s necessary. 

Job scorecard  

A job scorecard goes a step further than a job description as it clears and fixates important skills required from the candidate. It is the hardest part of topgrading as the recruiter needs to understand and set mission, results, and competencies for a job role.   

Quantifiable skills in the job scorecard help recruiters understand the candidates’ performance and comparison against another.  

Job posting   

Once everything is ready, the job opening details are to be communicated with candidates. In this case, you need to be cautious, and you’ll have to target the right channels to tap on premium talent. Utilize job sites, social networks, referrals, and most importantly, professional connections across the community.   

Work history form  

As your job advertisement gains traction, numerous applications and resumes start to pour in. Reviewing and distinguishing each can be a tiring process and also draws in costly errors. To avoid complications and ease the process, a work history form is provided to the candidates. This form entails information such as the candidate’s past work experiences, reasons for job transition, and self-appraisal.  

Work history forms are compared against each other to shortlist effectively and save loads of time.  

Telephonic Interview  

You’ve now shortlisted the candidates through work history forms, but that’s not enough. Your goal to find top talent is still far away, and that’s where telephonic interview comes to bridge the gap. Telephonic interview ensures all the information submitted by the candidate matches verbally and excludes candidates if it doesn’t. It also acts as a pre-interview to learn more about the candidate before conducting intensive interviews.  

Competency-based interview  

After the telephonic interview, the eligible candidates are subjected to an hour-long competency-based interview. The interviewer needs to carefully prepare the questionnaire so that each test out the candidate’s specific skill. The answers can be compared to job scorecard developed earlier to understand where the candidate stands.  

Topgrading interview  

If you and your candidates have made it till here, then brace yourselves for the most extended interview ahead.   

Topgrading interview questions follow a pattern to understand essential milestones and events in candidate’s timeline from his/her’s younger age to the present day. Topgrading interview digs out candidate’s background details starting from their high school education, career and job history, which could take a couple of hours (1-4 hours approx.). During this, the interviewer gets a deeper understanding of candidate’s behavior and capabilities.  

Here are a few Topgrading interview questions for your reference,  

  1. What did you think of becoming after completing your school/graduation? 
  2. Why did you choose the job? 
  3. What did you like and dislike about the job? 
  4. Why did you leave the company?
  5. What are your future goals? 
  6. What are your strengths, and weaknesses?   

Feedback among interviewers

Giving feedback to fellow panel members is essential as much as it is to providing feedback to candidates. The feedback process ensures improvement of interview effectiveness progressively and sharing techniques and resources to help interview team members do better the next time.  


Documenting the interview sessions is a tough job, but doing so would help the interviewers compare mutual findings of the candidates. The interviewer can summarize and translate the data to conceivable patterns, which aids in making the hiring decision by hiring managers.  

Request candidate to arrange references  

At this stage, the candidates are required to set up meetings/calls with their previous managers and colleagues. There’s a psychological reason behind this act—the exceptional candidate has no problem connecting you with their references, but the candidate who doesn’t have a good rapport with previous companies might think other ways.  

This is a turning stage as you’ll find out the ‘A player’ and roll out the offer.  


Your talent is now subjected to training and development programs to help them overcome the skill gap or improve their skill-set. Since the candidate is focused and engaged with the process, he/she will quickly jump into the learning phase and start contributing to the team and company.  

Measure the outcomes  

Hiring success is what matters every time. Measure your employees’ performance who are hired through the topgrading process and talk to them regarding the challenges they face and find ways to help them. Pay close attention to your recruitment metrics to understand the health of your hiring success.  

Is Topgrading right for your business?  

It’s a proven fact that topgrading improves hiring success many times because you employ the top A players. But it comes with price—time and budget. Certain businesses can afford it while some cannot. 

Topgrading can be tailored to fit business needs. A company can reap good results by incorporating topgrading for senior and important roles while carrying out their normal hiring process parallelly for the rest. It depends on what the company wants to do with it.  

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    Meet the author


    Product Marketer

    Sarath is an enthusiast product marketer here at Keka. He is keen on writing articles, social media, and creating content for the HR domain. During his leisure, you can find him making videos and learning cinematography.


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