TopGrading: How To Acquire and Retain Top Talent


As business owners we all understand the importance of hiring and retaining top talent. Talent is what drives our companies and gives us a competitive edge in the marketplace. Even if your company has an amazing culture, it doesn’t mean anything unless the right people are working in the right positions.

So as business owners how do we make sure an applicant is suitable for a particular position? Well one method is called Topgrading. Topgrading is a technique for interviewing new prospective employees to gather a clear picture of their personality and their previous work history, but be aware, Topgrading is a more time consuming process than the average interview cycle.

Generally companies use behavioural interviews, but these interviews only delve into a small number of previous work challenges, not the entire picture of an applicant’s personality, strengths and weaknesses.

The Topgrading process begins with a detailed job description that accurately outlines the skills, experience and personal qualities necessary to be successful in the job. Each candidate is then tasked with completing a comprehensive career history form that outlines their professional journey from high school to the present.

Next, a two-person team trained in Topgrading techniques conducts follow-up interviews, which last between two and three hours, and explore the applicant’s education, work experience, and career goals. The top candidate must then arrange phone calls between the hiring company and bosses from all their previous positions over the last decade.

The interview questions should draw information about past personal and professional experiences to help the interviewer understand the candidates thought process, values, and methods of interaction. Examples include: “Describe the most influential experiences that shaped your values and personality.” Or “"What were your targets in your last job and how well did you perform in relation to these goals?".

Topgrading requires considerably more preparation than traditional interviews, both from the perspective of the interviewee and the interviewer. The interviewee should prepare by spending time thinking of real-life examples that demonstrate key interpersonal skills and personality traits. The interviewer must prepare by selecting 15 to 20 criteria on which to compare and score candidates, and must review the career history form and resume of each candidate to formulate interview questions.

Each candidate must now be given a separate score from each interviewer based on the list of competencies required for the position. A list of strengths and weaknesses is then created and candidates are separated into one of three categories: A, B and C. A represents the top 10 percent of candidates, and under the Topgrading system only these applicants are eligible for hire.

This is just a very basic overview of Topgrading. If you feel these techniques and strategies would be useful for your business you can read the full book “Topgrading: The Proven Hiring and Promoting Method That Turbocharges Company Performance” by Bradford Smart.