Topgrading 101: The Interview Questions You Need to Know

Topgrading 101 The Interview Questions You Need to Know

If you’re working as a Human Resources (HR) staff member or maybe even as a recruiter, your responsibility entails sourcing top-quality candidates to fill open positions at the company. Selecting the top candidates for the job will help the recruiters, supervisors, and the company run smoothly. But to manually cross-check and match each applicants’ skills, experience and potential will take a huge amount of time, especially if you’re recruiting for a large company. So, what can a recruiter do to select the best possible candidate? The simple answer to that question is to use the right talent sourcing tools and screening techniques, one being the topgrading interview method. Topgrading will help recruiters save their time and increase the match compatibility of the candidates and the job. To learn more about the techniques, interview process, and sample questions of this particular method, continue reading below.

What is a Topgrading?

Top grading is a sourcing technique for recruiting, interviewing, selecting, and retaining top talent, both for new employees and company employees eligible for the promotion. In practice, Topgrading is a 12 step, chronological interview process that includes extensive and in-depth interviews, job scorecards, and research into job history, iterative coaching of the hiring manager, and in-depth reference checks. All these will help the recruiters and hiring managers to identify work patterns, strengths, and weaknesses. The result is to achieve a comprehensive illustration of a candidate’s professional experiences, skills, and personality.

Topgrading also has a system where applicants (or players, as they’re called in the system) are separated into three categories based on which percentage group they belong to:

  • A Players: Applicants who are considered the top 10% of candidates available for the position.
  • B Players: They are candidates within 25% of the talent pool.
  • C Player: These are the candidates belonging to 65% of the talent pool.

What to Prepare for a Topgrading Interview Process?

Unlike normal interview meetings where recruiters tend to favor general, speculative, and even theoretical questions, upgrading interviews serve to inquire answers that show the specific circumstances and results that apply to real-life situations. Topgrading types of questions limit the use of general and cliché answers, something that’s easy for applicants to come up it when faced with general questions. 

Another thing to prepare is the length of the interview. Longer interviews that take about two to three hours to complete will reward the recruiters and hiring managers with more information about the applicants than a 30 – 45 minute interview. Longer interviews will function as an instrument to judge an applicant’s endurance, concrete examples, and the ability to stay sharp and detailed in their answers. Hiring managers and recruiters also have their preparations, mostly selecting the appropriate criteria (15-20 criteria) as the standard of comparison and scoring. Hiring managers and recruiters should also prepare themselves with a list of possible specific questions to get deeper information about the candidates.

The 12 Steps of a Topgrading Interview

Here are the steps of a topgrading interview:

  • 1. Improve the existing hiring process.
  • 2. Create a Job Scoreboard.
  • 3. Promote available positions & start sourcing your candidates from networks.
  • 4. Screen the candidates’ work history.
  • 5. Conduct interviews via phone calls.
  • 6. Conduct competency interviews.
  • 7. Conduct in-depth and advanced interviews using the topgrading method.
  • 8. Give feedback to the hiring managers.
  • 9. Summarize and report the results.
  • 10. Ask the candidates to schedule reference calls.
  • 11. Provide coaching for the new hire.
  • 12. Measure the hiring success annually.

Sample Questions and Answers

Now that we’ve laid out the basic ideas of this method, let’s try to look at possible interview questions applicants will have to face.

Questions about Early Influences 

  1. How does the time at high school, university, and/or first full-time jobs help shape you as a professional? The purpose of this question is to learn more about the history and the start of a candidate’s professional journey in chronological order. Potential candidates driven will share their achievements, honors, and awards, followed by factual statements that will improve their credibility.

  2. What was your major, and why did you choose to pursue it? This question can probably be categorized as a general question compared to the other questions. However, it is a great instrument for hiring managers and recruiters to appraise the compatibility level of a candidate’s educational background and the job responsibilities –if anything, it can also serve as a prompt for candidates to describe their understanding knowledge of the job duties.

Questions about Plans & Goals for the Future

  1. What are your professional goals? The more detailed the goals and systematic the overview of the plan to achieve those goals, the more hiring managers and recruiters can determine whether the candidate is driven. Detailed answers are also a good benchmark of judging how much research a candidate has done to ensure that their goals are aligned with the company.

  2. What do you have in mind for your short-term, medium, and long-term goals? Asking this question dig into the candidate’s motivation and expectation of the company. It’s also a great tool to learn more about how much research they’ve put into to be able to chronologically plan the steps to achieve those goals. It’s imperative to consider that to be able to comprehensively plan these goals, candidates must first research the team members and career trajectory in the company. Recruiters should dig deeper into the reasons and purpose of every goal.

Work History Questions

  1. In your previous position, how did you achieve your most significant accomplishments? The purpose of this question is to learn more about the candidate’s perception and methods of achieving “accomplishments.” A decent way to judge this is whether a candidate views those accomplishments as an individual success without crediting any help from other people or as a success defined by a team effort. It’s also important to understand the candidate’s ability to overcome the challenges and learn how their careers were impacted (honors, awards, and/or bonuses). In addition to that, this question can be a decent tool in viewing the candidate’s perspectives of those rewards.

  2. How have your past mistakes at work shaped and/or changed your professional ethics and values? This question will help the hiring managers and recruiters see a candidate’s ability to recognize, admit, and fix their mistakes. This will also help in evaluating a candidate’s genuineness and receptiveness for coaching. 

  3. What circumstances led to your resignation? A potential candidate will answer your question in detail without putting any of their past colleagues, supervisor, and boss in a bad light. If their resignation is only motivated by a lack of benefits in the company, the candidate is not suitable.  If the answers are vague, recruiters should use this opportunity to probe deeper for unstated reasons. 

Self-Appraisal Questions

  1. What would you consider as your shortcomings? Candidates are typically wary in answering this question and end up using cliché (or safe) answers, such as “I work too hard” and/or “I’m a perfectionist.” These answers tend to paint the candidates in a self-serving way. A top candidate will admit their shortcomings and follow them up with their actions to improve them. On the other hand, this question is a perfect evaluation tool to judge how honest, self-aware, and dedicated to changing a candidate.

  2. What do you consider your strengths, and how would you use them to contribute to the company? When answering this question, candidates tend to rehearse several strengths-related terms like “a team player” and/or “a fast learner.” While these are all valid answers, hiring managers and recruiters are looking for candidates who can show proof of performance. That’s why candidates need to describe the activities that showcase the strengths. 

  3. Who was your supervisor? Will you be willing to arrange a reference interview with them? Conducting reference interviews before officially extending job offers is crucial and provides a third-party perspective on a candidate’s work history, achievements, and experience. It’ll be more efficient to arrange the reference interview as they already have a relationship with the supervisor. Another purpose of this question is to evaluate a candidate’s ability to maintain professional relations.

  4. How do you describe your leadership style? A clear and concise description of respective leadership styles will give hiring authorities comprehensive imagery of a candidate’s problem solving, conflict management, communication, and interpersonal skills. This answer should also be followed by genuine examples of their previous experience in leadership and contributions. What’s even more crucial is the evaluation of how the candidate perceives the leadership position.   

  5. Please describe your decision-making approach. This is a method to gauge the candidates’ response to challenges and their ability to think on their feet when faced with a problem. Hiring authorities are not looking for individuals who idle around waiting for orders but for proactive and independent people in fulfilling their duties.

Other article examples

Your guide to topgrading interviews: Process, interview questions and criticisms (

Topgrading Interview Guide (

Also read Good Questions to Ask an Interviewee in 2021

Topgrading 101: The Interview Questions You Need to Know

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