Topgrading Interviews in a Startup

Hiring a person that doesn’t work out hurts growth, profitability, and morale. For certain positions the outcome of a bad hire can be much worse. One method of interviewing that has a high degree of success is known as Topgrading (book on Amazon). The book is a massive tome that covers many excruciating details and is worth skimming. Overall, the concepts and methodologies are sound and should be understood by entrepreneurs.

Here are some general comments on Topgrading interviews and process:

  • Much more time and thought should be put into the hiring process. If you’re going to potentially spend thousands of hours with a person, shouldn’t you spend more than an hour or two interviewing them?
  • The core tenet of Topgrading is the chronological in depth interview. Start from college, regardless of stage of career, and ask deep probing questions of the college experience as well as each job. Find out how the person thinks and why they moved from position to position.
  • For each and every single job, ask about the following:
    Job title
    Start and end date
    Starting and ending compensation
    Roles and responsibilities
    State of affairs when joining
    Results and accomplishments
    Mistakes and failures
    Most enjoyable and least enjoyable aspects of the job
    Circumstances that led to change of jobs
    Manager name and phone number
    Manager strengths and weaknesses
    What manager would say about candidate’s strengths and weaknesses
    Names of direct reports, their strengths and weaknesses, and rate them A through F
  • After the jobs review sections ask questions about the following:
    Analysis skills
    Judgement/decision making
    Creativity
    Continuing education
    Integrity
    Organization/planning
    Independence
    Stress management
    Interpersonal competencies
  • Plan on three to fours hours for this interview and take breaks every 90 minutes

Topgrading is great because it forces much longer and more detailed conversations to not only understand a person’s background but to also understand more of the how and why as opposed to just the what.

What else? What do you think of Topgrading interviews in a startup?

4 thoughts on “Topgrading Interviews in a Startup

  1. If companies are really engaging in this “knowledge economy” then they must provide just as much attention, focus and care to their human capital acquisitions as they do for any other “mission critical” component to their venture.

    The only thing I think is missing here is the work the interviewer must do beforehand, or at the very least while they are reflecting on the recent interviewee, is understanding what all the response data really means to them. A lot of confirmation bias risk associated with this approach (the interviewer latches onto 3-5 things they care about, and filters out the all the other potentially contradicting data)

    How well would this approach scale for large organizations?

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks so much for breaking this down. It’s a great reminder of the ultimate impact each new hire, regardless of level, has on a start-up.

    At OpenView, we actually have each new member of the recruiting team read Brad’s son’s (Geoff Smart) book – Who – to explore and learn the A-method of hiring. It’s a great read as well and one that also incorporates the tenets of topgrading.

    Thanks for this great reminder.
    Jess

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