Uncommon Sense

Top Grading: The Secret to Hiring A-Players

May 30, 2017

“The biggest reason that startups fail is miss-hires”_Anonymous Startup Mentor. Building a team is about truly knowing who you are hiring.  It’s not just about the skills, talent, and experience that a person brings to the table, it’s about the culture you are trying to create. My interview style has always been about getting to know the person as much as possible but this has been hard to do within the typical 30 minute to 1-hour interview slot that I have been allotted.  That is a problem of the past, as I have recently been introduced to an interview methodology that aligns with my style and has been shown to result in the hiring of only the best candidates, the style is Top Grading.

So, here is an overview to save you some time:

Top grading is a methodology that dives deep into a person’s history to find what they are really all about. The goal is to find, what the founder of the idea Geoff Smart in his book Who, refers to as A-players. To do so you can think of the process by means of the below graph. Where 25% are A-players are high cultural fit and high performance and execution and 25% are C-players (those you do not want on your team at all) with low fit and performance. The remaining 50% of those you interview will be, B-players.

Here’s how you do it.


Follow these steps to hire A-players:

1. Use the TORC technique

This is the Truth Serum: at every step of the process let candidates know that the final step is for them to arrange reference calls. This is the TORC Technique (Threat of Reference Check). Once they set up the reference calls for you, make the calls. Almost always, C-players will bug out and A-players will love to jump right in and will arrange calls quickly.

2. Have them fill out the career history form

Career History Forms Ask:

How would your boss rate you?

-You want them to provide this for every boss.

What is your current compensation?

-Every book says don’t say it but A-players will tell you.

What is your true reason for leaving?

-A-players are sought out by others, so the item is why did you leave? Was it 100% you, were you fired, or was it mutual. For A-players it is almost always mutual. Verify this when you do the reference calls but you will find that A-players always tell the truth.

3. Do the top grading interview (ask a tandem partner)

This is a comprehensive interview with questions about every single job. The ideas is to reveal patterns that accurately rate a person on up to 50 competencies.

Starting with the first job and ask about:

  • Successes-How did you pull it off? Looking for Resourcefulness. How do you get over barriers to success, grit? A-Players will not give up.
  • Mistakes / Failures-A-players will admit mistakes and tend to not repeat them.
  • Candidates appraisal of their boss-What were the strengths and weaknesses of your prior bosses?  Ask yourself if you I fit the profile? What do you think your prior boss would say about you?
  • Ask for the reason for leaving?

4. After this, you and your tandem partner figure out who you want to talk within the person’s past and ask the candidate to arrange those calls. A-players will be back quickly about all 6.

5. Do the calls to verify conclusions.


That’s it! It’s that simple.


For more good info on top grading check out these resources:

002: Scaling Up! Topgrading: Methodology of Hiring the Right Person for Your Company with Sean…


Brad Smart Topgrading Speech



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