The goal of this interview is to understand the candidate’s story and patterns. These stories and patterns are predictive of the candidate’s future performance.
With a top-grading interview, you are working through the candidate’s last five positions (in chronological order), asking a set of questions to determine how successful they were. It's important that the hiring manager responsible for the role is the one who conducts this interview.
Our top-grading interview is inspired by the Who interview in *Who: The A Method for Hiring.* This style of interviewing is the most valid and reliable predictor of performance, according to a half-century’s worth of thousands of research studies in the field of industrial psychology.
It can be an intense interview, so open it by preparing the candidate for what's ahead:
“Thank you for taking the time to visit with us today. As we have already discussed, we are doing to do a chronological interview to walk through each job you have held. For each job, I am going to ask you five core questions: What were you hired to do? What accomplishments are you most proud of? What were some low points during that job? Who were the people you worked with? Why did you leave that job?
“I'll be making notes live throughout the interview. At the end of the interview, you will have a chance to ask me questions.
“Finally, while this sounds like a lengthy interview, it will go remarkably fast. I want to make sure you have the opportunity to share your full story, so it is my job to guide the pace of discussion. Sometimes, we’ll go into more depth into a period of your career. Other times, I will ask that we move on to the next topic. I’ll try to make sure we leave plenty of time to cover your most recent and, frankly, most relevant jobs.
“Does that make sense?”
The questions are as follows. Make notes throughout the interview, because you will not remember enough afterward. You should ask these questions for each job the candidate has held over the last five years, starting at their earliest job.
What were you hired to do? Here you are trying to discover the scorecard for the candidate's job, had they written one. What were the missions and key outcomes? What competencies might have mattered? A players should know this like the back of their hand.
What were your priorities? What did your accomplish, and how? A players talk about outcomes linked to expectations; they talk about concrete results. B and C players talk about events and people; aspects but not results. Ideally these accomplishments should match up with the position's scorecard.
What were some low points during that job? These can be difficult to tease out of candidates, but don't stop until you have something of substance. Keep reframing the question; for example, “What was your biggest mistake?” “What was your biggest lesson learned?” “What would you have done differently?”
Who was on your team? How were those relationships? You want a list of names you can potentially reference check, particularly if the relationship wasn't good.
What was your primary manager's name? Ask for the spelling because it shows the candidate that you're going to reference check them directly, and thus inspires honesty in the next question.
How did your manager rate your performance on a scale of one to ten? Asking for a score will help make the answer more concrete. Once you have a score, ask the candidate to elaborate. For example, what strengths will your manager mention? What weaknesses?
What were your reasons for leaving? This final question will give you an insight into what motives the candidate and how they think about their career. Was the candidate promoted, recruited, or fired from each job along their career progression? Keep digging; don't accept vague answers.
- Use the candidate's answers as a tool to dig in more by asking “What,” “How,” & “Tell me more” questions.
- You have to interrupt the candidate. It’s more rude to let them ramble or waste time. Show enthusiasm about the story they are telling and guide them back online with a targeted question.
- Consider their accomplishments and outcomes in context with the three Ps. Compare to previous? Compare to plan? Compare to peers?
- Put yourself in their shoes—get specific information rather than general. Facts are king!
- Look for stop signs (inconsistencies in body or language) and dig in and ask for more info.