Top Grading is the Absolute Worst

For those in the HR and Recruitment space you have likely heard of the hiring practice called “Top Grading“. I encourage you to do a Google search to figure out your own definition of what it is, what it does and its value to hiring top talent. It’s a very involved and detailed practice that requires a ton of patience, organization and commitment.

At its core top grading is meant to obtain an incredibly detailed and comprehensive overview of a candidate, from education to professional work experience to personality, and everything in between. Not only are you trying to fully capture everything there is to know about the candidate you are also trying to identify patterns in their history. Another way of putting it, you’re trying to identify inconsistencies in what you’re seeing and hearing. As I always say, “you can easily bullshit your way through a couple of meetings, but your true colours eventually shine through over time”.

Based on the above you’re probably thinking that I’m a fan of top grading. But… I’m not, and here’s why. And by the way, I did a 4-month trial of top grading in a recent gig. It was painful at best.

First Reason

The overall experience for both the candidate and those doing the hiring truly sucks. Isn’t the whole point of a recruitment process to figure out if a candidate will do well on-the-job in the company you work for? How in the world does talking in detail about your specific job responsibilities from 1999 achieve this? I can’t tell you how frustrating and demoralizing it is to sit in that room with a candidate for hours on end asking the same boring questions about stuff that is so dated. The candidate gets exhausted, and those interviewing start to lose focus.

Second Reason

It is a well-known fact that the interview itself is proven to be an extremely poor method of making hiring decisions. How could it possibly? You’re sitting in a controlled environment between four walls asking someone questions. Is this what happens during the course of a work day? No. So how in the world does anyone think it’s a smart idea to do something that provides a horrible experience, and uses a method that is known to be ineffective?

The Answer

It’s not rocket science that the traditional recruitment process is not ideal. We talk all the time about this idea of “cultural fit”, and that you can’t train it. A candidate is either a fit or not a fit, culturally. From a technical perspective (e.g. software development) you can train this. Now of course if you are hiring a doctor they should be certified to practice medicine. You get my idea though. Think about how you go about your recruitment process. Do you start with assessing culture or technical competence? If you said the former you’re lying. A resume, LinkedIn profile and other online profiles do not enable you to evaluate cultural fit. It’s impossible. If you’re like most companies you wait until the end of the recruitment process to evaluate cultural fit. And how do you do this? How do you determine cultural fit? Over a coffee? A beer? Phone call? Something else?

What if we started the process by evaluating prospects and applicants for cultural fit? If you can’t train it then why wouldn’t you start here? On paper, someone could possess everything you ever wanted, but culturally, they could be an absolute disaster. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you know, or how good you are technically, if you don’t fit with the company you’re working for, you’ll fail. Every single time. So start with evaluating culture fit, and if there’s a match, continue on with the rest of what you normally do. If they don’t fit culturally, stop the process. Don’t waste your time.


The answer is quite simple. You need to go to and check them out. Fortay is a predictive culture screening and analytics platform. Be warned that starting with culture within your recruitment process is not an easy thing to do. It basically turns the traditional recruitment process upside-down and around. You will likely feel a little bit uneasy about it, and even doubt its effectiveness. Just be sure to track your progress and compare it against how you used to do things. Over time you will see a noticeable difference.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *