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The Most Revealing Hiring Interview Guide

Written by: Dr. Brad Smart


To watch the vlog please click on the play button below.  To read the blog please scroll past the video.

I’ll start this blog with my commitment to you:  Stick with me on this Beginning Topgrading blog series and you can double or even triple your hiring success, just as tens of thousands of managers have done.

What began as blogs on how to interview better has evolved into a series we’re calling Beginning Topgrading and this might evolve into 10 or 20 blogs, depending on you – how interested readers are in improving their hiring success.

This blog integrates the first 3 blogs with a dynamite interview guide making a package – 4 blogs that constitute a great short course on how to use the Topgrading Hiring Solution- the best hiring method to create a team of almost all high performers.  View the  1st, 2nd, 3rd and new 4th blog to get the whole package.


 In recent months blogs have explained:

  • The Topgrading “truth serum” to motivate candidates to tell you the whole truth,
  • How to get candidates to arrange reference calls with their bosses, and
  • The top 10 most revealing interview questions

These are all integrated in this short course in hiring, with the focus of this blog on how to conduct the most important, most revealing hiring interview ever, using a short version of the Topgrading Interview Guide.  But first …

 Prior to the Topgrading Interview —   Conduct a Telephone Screening Interview.  Here’s how:

  • Let candidates know that a final step in hiring is for them (not you) to arrange reference calls with their bosses and others YOU choose after interviews. Inform them that this request is likely to come at the time of a job offer, and that offer will be contingent upon “no surprises” in those reference calls.
  • This “truth serum” has worked for over 40 years. Low performers and the 25%+ candidates who have lies in their resume and commonly hype successes and hide failures … drop out.  Good!  You just interview the honest, high performing candidates.  Literally millions of those reference calls have been arranged and here’s another benefit when candidates arrange the calls — no phone tag!
  • Answer their questions about the job first,
  • Then ask about the most recent 2 jobs (using the questions below), their plans for the future short term and long-term
  • If you want to move ahead and they do too, explain that the Topgrading Interview will take (45 minutes for clerk, 2 hours for sales rep, 4 hours for mid-manager) and it’s a chronological interview.


Restate the “truth serum” including: “we’d ask you to arrange calls with bosses and others only at a time you are comfortable with – like when a job offer might be extended.”

EDUCATION (15 minutes for mid-manager)

Please go back to your high school and college years, and briefly go through the high points:

  • Grades
  • Degrees
  • Activities/leadership
  • Summer jobs
  • Important influences – people who contributed to who you are today in terms of your career interests, your personality, and your values.

FOR EVERY FULL-TIME JOB (90-minutes for mid-manager who has had 8 jobs; 5 minutes on first job if short and very low level; 20 minutes on most recent 2 jobs each)

  • Confirm resume: After graduation you worked at ACME as an Accountant from (dates), right?
  • Why did you take that job?
  • What were your main successes?
  • What were mistakes or failures?
  • Appraise your manager: his/her strengths and weaker points.
  • What is your best guess as to how that manager, if you arranged a reference call would appraise your overall performance and list as your strengths and weaker points?
  • Why did you leave and what did you look for in the next job?


  • Self-appraisal: We’ve asked what bosses would say and now we’re asking you to please list your strengths and weaker points.
  • What is your ideal next job?
  • How does our job stack up against your ideal … and any other possible jobs of interest?
  • What are your 5-year and 10-year goals?

To learn more about Topgrading go to and download the eGuide, Topgrading401.

How to Get Candidates to Arrange Reference Calls with Bosses

Written by: Dr. Brad Smart

To watch the vlog please click on the play button below.  To read the blog please scroll past the video.

Hi, I’m Brad Smart, Founder of Topgrading and frequently referred to as the “World’s Expert on Hiring.” I doubt I really am “the” world expert but I do have the experience to help you hire better – to achieve 80%+ HIGH performers hired. This is the second in a new Beginning Topgraders vlog series on how to hire better.

Two of the biggest problems in hiring are:

  1. candidate dishonesty in their resumes (about 40% of resumes contain lies) and
  2. poor verification of what candidates tell you. This blog tip is a 40-year proven remedy for candidate dishonesty.

These first two blogs give you quick, easy, but highly effective solutions.

The first tip in this series explained how to get the whole truth from candidates, and that’s to tell them up front that a final step in hiring is for THEM to arrange reference calls with bosses and others YOU want to talk with. Low performers and BSers drop out. Good! So, how then do you actually get them to arrange the reference calls?

Beginning Topgraders Tip #2: How to Get the Whole Truth in Interviews: Just Ask Them!

 It’s about that simple. Later in this series, I’ll describe the most proven and effective interview techniques, but for now do this: After all your interviews, at the time of a job offer, ask a managerial candidate to arrange reference calls with:

  • all their bosses in the past decade (to confirm outstanding performance)
  • 2 A Player peers (to see how much of a team player the candidate is), and
  • 2 direct reports (to see how effective the candidate’s leadership style is)

Actually, candidates don’t actually “arrange” or schedule calls. They just talk to the people on your list and say, “(name), the person I’d report to would like to talk with you, okay?” Almost all agree so you ask, “When is the best time (hiring manager) can call you and at what number” … and pass that information on to the people who will do the reference calls, usually the hiring manager.

Voila! By using the truth serum and getting candidates to arrange reference calls you have just solved 2 of the biggest problems hiring – candidate dishonesty (candidates with lies in their resume drop out) and poor verification (because you talk to bosses and others.)

Looking for more information on how to hire better? Visit  and download the Topgrading 4.0 eGuide.

How to Get the Whole Truth in Interviews

Written by: Dr. Brad Smart

To watch the vlog please click on the play button below.  To read the blog please scroll past the video.

Hi, I’m Brad Smart, Founder of Topgrading and frequently referred to “The #1 Expert in the World on Hiring.” This is the first in a series of three blogs that will help you hire better. This tip will:

•   Cost you nothing,

•   Save you a lot of time, and

•   Improve your hiring success …

Two of the biggest problems in hiring, solved with this tip are:

1.   Candidate dishonesty in their resumes (about 40% of resumes contain lies) and

2.   Poor verification of what candidates tell you. This blog tip is a 40-year proven remedy for candidate dishonesty.

Background: I’ve interviewed 6,500 candidates for executive jobs, and initially did not like my chosen profession. When I finished my Ph.D. I joined a firm of management psychologists who did just that … interview finalists. I quickly learned that clients REALLY just wanted us to find out who are the BSers – which candidates hype their successes and strengths and hide failures and weaker points. It was mental sparring. Low performers know they can hype resume and interview claims, and hide their mistakes and weaker points, and get away with it because they can just allow reference checks with their buddies – NOT their bosses who if they agreed to a reference call (and most wouldn’t) might be critical of them. You have the same challenge – trying to sort the truth from the BS, right?

Then I interviewed a guy who had a terrific hiring record and when asked how he did it, he gave me the “truth serum” tip … which I passed on to clients … which enabled them to weed out low performers and only send me really good candidates … which resulted in their hiring almost all A Players … which made their businesses more successful … and I had a heck of a lot more fun interviewing high performers than low performing BS-ers.

If you hire people, I assure you, you will have a “heck of a lot more fun” interviewing honest, high performers, and you’ll avoid those costly mis-hires. This tip explains how.

Tell candidates (or have your recruiters do it) right from the start: A final step in hiring is for candidates (that’s you) to arrange for reference calls with your managers in the past decade (and others) … at a time you approve (usually when a job offer has been made).

 More than two dozen Fortune 500 companies plus hundreds of start-ups and mid- size companies have benefitted from this tip. When candidates are given this short “truth serum” speech, the C Players (with a lot of BS in their resume) drop out, knowing they are busted – they cannot get away with this charade. They know they couldn’t get their bosses to talk with you and they would not want them to, for fear bosses would say they were lousy performers.

So, use the “truth serum” and you no longer will waste hours and hours screening candidates that are low performers … and most important, you are much more likely to avoid those costly mis-hires.

Topgrading is the most effective and most proven hiring method. Want to learn more? Go to and download the eBook, Topgrading401.

No More Resumes?

A July article in the Chicago Tribune ( chronicles the demise of resumes in hiring, and the rise of chatbots, artificial intelligence, automated games that “reveal” traits, and video interviews that measure 20,000 facial expressions (HireVue). The goal of all these approaches is to save money (fewer interviewers) and minimize bias. Proponents see some reduction in turnover. Problems with the approaches include MORE bias when algorithms try to repeat patterns of success and successful employees happen to be old white guys from Harvard. Candidates complained of auto video interviews in which follow up questions asked by the canned voice did not relate to the previous answer. Personality tests are most common – a $4 billion industry. Companies just sent a link, candidates take the online test, and those who score below a cutoff score are rejected. Simple!  But … do they work?

Brad Smart’s opinion: Yes and no. Yes, I can see that technology will help improve talent through better hiring tools. But no, they are not “there” yet. The CEO of a major HR technology company told me there are 40,000 apps in the HR technology space, all promising to improve your hiring but NONE of the new apps showing significant improvement in talent.

I happen to be an expert on personality tests, having properly validated personality tests. Every personality test with a cutoff score that I’ve validated did more HARM than good – it eliminated as many A Players as C Players. (Maybe I should do a 15-minute webinar and prove it). YOU can do a short version of what I’ve done with 10,000 candidates over a 3-year period.

  1. Administer your personality test to at least 30 candidates (BEFORE they are hired), and don’t score it.
  2. After 6 months bring out the test. Score it. Get performance ratings on all (12) who were hired.
  3. Count how many high performers (A Players) were rejected (not hired because their score was below the cutoff).

OOPS! If as many As as Cs were rejected, the test failed itself!

I have my own built-in bias – in favor of the Topgrading approaches with proof of improving talent in dozens of case studies ( I predict that technology will eventually help improve the efficiency of Topgrading, but I also predict that:

  • resumes will prevail (though right now resumes and Facebook profiles and LinkedIn profiles are loaded with fabrications), and I predict that …
  • when candidates know they will have to arrange calls with bosses the low performers (with falsehoods in their resume) will drop out, saving companies time and money. And I predict that:
  • good old fashioned face-to-face interviews will be the only way to fully, fully understand candidates, and finally, I predict that
  • no-phone tag reference calls with managers of candidates will continue to be the solid verification of what candidates told you.

What do you think?

Psychological Principles All Hiring Managers Need To Know

This blog is the second in a series of three that explains how to spot and get deeper insights into candidates who use common defense mechanisms.  Projection was addressed in the first blog, this blog will explore Denial and Rationalization.

Many is not a qualification to effectively interview candidates and hire the right talent but it helps to understand some key psychological principles.   I’ve proven that sharp managers (like YOU?) can achieve professional level (85%+) hiring success without having an advanced psych degree.  I’ve shared GE’s prodigious improvement from 25% high performers hired to 90% using Topgrading, and Argo is another great example.

Topgrading’s business model helps large and small companies conduct Topgrading interviews and reference checks themselves – the interviews that produce 85%+ high performers.  Part of our training teaches  key concepts in psychology to deeply understand candidates for selection.

Here is one of the psych concepts that have helped us understand candidates,

Psychology Concept: Denial/Rationalization:  I’ve combined the two because they are so closely related.  We’re all quite familiar with both because we see them in the course of most days.  Denial is when someone sticks their head in the sand … because psychologically they cannot bear to face the truth:

  • I can drive – I’m not drunk
  • I didn’t lose the customer – they will buy again
  • I did too send it; if you didn’t get it maybe your PC is the problem

Rationalization is pulling one’s head out of the sand and then making up “logical” (but incorrect) excuses for failure.  It’s easier to blame others or outsides influences rather myself.  However, two hours ago I was taking a soaring (glider) lesson, and trying to find thermals to get more altitude.  My instructor said, Brad, you keep losing the thermals and if you want to get better blame yourself first.  Maybe it’s not your fault, but if your first hunch is that YOU turned into the thermal too fast or too slow, or you sped up too much or not enough you won’t learn to do better.  So don’t tell me the thermal was too narrow or petering out, or the glider is just not responsive enough.  True! So become suspicious when you ask for failures and mistakes in each job and the responses show candidates don’t take responsibility for failures and mistakes.  If they don’t take responsibility for their mistakes your interviewee might be hard to manage, unresponsive to developmental suggestions, or lacking in resourcefulness.

To clarify the question:  After asking for successes and accomplishments in each job, the next question is, We all make mistakes – what were mistakes, failures, or things you might have done better in that job? I’ve heard responses 65,000 times (6,500 interviews, X 10 jobs) and so I’m really, really sure that high performers admit mistakes to themselves and learn from those mistakes.

 A powerful follow up question:  If you do NOT hear admission of mistakes early in the interview, maybe your candidate is playing the game – “admitting” no serious mistakes, thinking that will impress you.  I want to give them a chance, so I have a powerful follow up question.

Remaining candidates are honest and high performers … yet maybe 20% still try to hide any weaker points.  So Topgraders might follow-up with Pat, I’m not hearing real mistakes or things you could have done better, but all of us make mistakes in every job, and hopefully by recognizing them we learn to avoid them in the future.  You know that a final step in hiring is for you to arrange calls with bosses you’ve had in the past decade.  We talking about a job you were in from 2012 – 2015, reporting to Chris Smith.  Keeping in mind that if we move forward you will arrange a call with Chris.  So, I’d like to ask again, in that job reporting to Chris what were some things that in retrospect you could have done better?”

 That little, but powerful speech will produce real mistakes … unless Pat is suffering massively from Denial/Rationalization.  More good news is that with candidates told they have to arrange reference check calls the ones who drop out are the low performers who have not learned much from their mistakes.

Have you come across this type of behavior when interviewing candidates?  Leave a comment and share your experience.