How to Interview for “Fit”

Summary:  Most mis-hires are attributable to “poor fit,” and Topgrading is by far the best method to determine “fit.”

Over the decades, we Topgrading Professionals have informally surveyed tens of thousands of hiring managers and Human Resources professionals about their hiring success … and failures.   The vast majority of managerial mis-hires seem to be because of “bad fit,” and the single biggest challenge in screening candidates is determining how they will “fit.”

What “bad fit” means. “Bad fit” is a catch-all phrase and can encompass literally dozens of competencies.  Topgraders routinely screen against the following 50 competencies, and if someone is Poor on any one of these, they could be labeled a failure because of “poor fit.”

Competencies Chart




























Topgrading is the only hiring approach to accurately measure “fit,” because Topgrading is the only hiring method that routinely evaluates candidates against 50 (for managers) competencies.

Prove it? Okay.  The standard interviewing approach is for candidates to participate in a series of round-robin competency or behavioral interviews, usually 50 minutes long.  Typically the interviewers as a group focus only on eight or fewer competencies.   The format is to ask, “Pat, can you describe a time you were  …” and fill in the blank for standard competencies … “well organized,”  “a good team player,” “highly motivated to succeed,” etc. Our research shows a consistent 75% failure rate, globally, using this, the most common approach to interviewing, because anyone can easily fake such interviews, revealing little to nothing about how they might fit the new culture.  I met with just the #1 human resources executives at the largest 100 companies in the world and they admitted 80% failure as hiring managers.

Topgrading, on the other hand, starts with a “truth serum” that motivates candidates to be totally honest.  Then the Topgrading Interview traces the candidate’s total career chronologically with 16 basic questions about every job (plus follow up questions), delving into every key accomplishment, mistake, relationship, and decision, and asks how every boss would rate their overall performance, strengths, and weaker points.  As a candidate describes a success 10 years ago taking over a major project, you learn a lot about “fit” – how the person worked with others, points of tension, what they liked and disliked about the job, how their boss would rate them, and much more.  Describing successes and failures in great detail reveals what the culture of the company was like and how well the candidate will fit in.

After a long Topgrading Interview, Topgrading interviewers ask a senior candidate to arrange 6 – 8 reference calls with former bosses and others, and the interviewers of course talk to all of those people, determining, among other things, how well the candidate will fit in that job, in that culture, in that company.

Suppose, for example, the candidate loves structure, order, bureaucracy, and only a little pressure to change … and has been an A Player in a company that has been successful with such a culture.  And suppose your company is a hot bed of change, on steroids, with very little bureaucracy.  In a Topgrading Interview you will hear about accomplishments that took place at a snail’s pace, no appreciation for taking risks, and you’ll hear how the candidate loves the structure, order, and slow pace.  Without even realizing it, candidates that will not “fit” will disclose hundreds of examples that tell you why.

There are are culture fit tests that seem to be worth using … but only in addition to the Topgrading Interview, which misses none of the dozens of “fit” factors.

Published November 26, 2013

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