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Lynch on Hiring, Part III: The Topgrading Face-to-Face Tandem Interview

As I have written previously, when hiring for any role in your company, it is vital that you follow a proven process. That’s where the Topgrading methodology made a huge difference for me. I learned to follow a disciplined hiring methodology to significantly increase my chances of hiring A-Players for every role.

I define an A-Player as a person who consistently achieves the agreed standard for RESULTS in their role, and who consistently demonstrates BEHAVIORS aligned to the Core Values.

In essence, there are 2 dimensions to an employee’s performance. RESULTS + BEHAVIORS. Both requirements must be met consistently to be considered an A-Player.

Human resources team during job interview with woman

You take hiring shortcuts at your peril. Hiring is too important to get wrong!

Here is the 5 step process I recommend:

Step 1

You create Role Scorecards to describe every functional role in your organization and use these as the basis for job advertisements

Step 2

You ask each applicant to fill out a Career History Form. I personally never look at resumes. I use this step to filter out the tire kickers and get each applicant to tell me exactly what I want to know. When all applicants fill out this form, I can “compare like with like".

Once you have whittled the applicants down a list of strong candidates, there are 3 types of interviews that need to be conducted:

Step 3

Phone Screening Interview (1 hour)

Step 4

Face to Face Tandem Interview (the topic of this article)

Step 5

Reference Check Interviews (with the people you specify)


I have written in detail about the basic interviewing principles that you should incorporate in all your 3 types of interviews: (1) Why past performance is the best predictor of future performance, and (2) How to check and verify. Make sure you refer to these.

With these basics interviewing principles in place, here are some additional guidelines for conducting the Face to Face Tandem Interview. (Note - this is just a high-level overview of my recommendations - not a comprehensive “how to”).

It’s a 3-Hour Interview


The notion of conducting a 3-hour Topgrading interview freaks hiring managers out who are not familiar with the process. Why 3 hours? Firstly, that’s how long it takes to ask the right questions and thoroughly flesh out the answers. Secondly, it’s hard for a candidate to lie to you for 3 hours. In a 3 hour period you wear down their facade and you start to see the person for what they truly are. By 3 hours you start to get a pretty good handle on the truth.

For senior leadership roles, I would also recommend having other members of your staff or yourself conduct additional shorter interviews with the candidate for 60-90 minutes each. These interviews can be on different dates and at different locations (you might want to meet them for lunch at a cafe etc) to see how the candidate changes their behaviors in a different environment where they might be more relaxed and let their guard down.  

Make sure you communicate these expectations with the candidate & familiarize them with the process and time commitment upfront.

I recommend you select at least 3, but no more than 3 candidates for Face to Face Tandem Interviews. It’s a big time commitment for all parties, so only select the top 3 candidates who have indicated their A-Player potential in the earlier stages of the process (Role Scorecard, Career History Form, Phone Screening Interview). Spending time with 3 strong A-Player candidates gives you some basis for comparison.

Tandem Interviewer Roles

It’s called a tandem interview, so there will be 2 of your staff present. 1 person asking the questions, and 1 person observing the candidate’s body language and taking notes to record their answers.   

Both interviewers should meet prior to the interview to review each candidate’s Career History Form and Phone Screening Interview notes to identify issues or concerns you may want to revisit for clarification.

When it comes to assessing a candidate’s ability to perform a role, I’ve developed a Tandem Interview form with a master list of behavioral competency questions that can be used when recruiting for any role (you can get examples from the Topgrading book).

From this master list, I whittle it down to the top 5 behavioral competency questions related to the role in question (as per the Role Scorecard). These are the 5 competencies that “must” be explored in depth in the Tandem Interview. I remove all the others.

In addition to these top 5 competencies, every candidate, regardless of role, will be asked for examples of where they have demonstrated behaviors consistent with your Core Values in their past roles.

For some roles, you may even include a practical element, where you ask them to demonstrate skills commensurate with the role.

Just like the Career History Form, every candidate undergoing the Face to Face Tandem Interview gets asked the exact same questions. You must use a consistent, repeatable process in order to compare candidates effectively.

How prepared is the candidate?

Have they researched your company and industry? Have they given the role much thought? Do they seem serious about the role? Are they asking good questions? Or are they asking things they should already know the answer to?

Record the questions they ask verbatim. The questions they ask are important feedback about their priorities and personal values. As always, answer their questions truthfully. You want to know the truth about them, and they want to know the truth about you.

Concluding the interview

Do NOT offer the candidate the role in the interview, no matter how much you like them. Many times in my life a thorough Reference Check Interview has saved me from making a hiring mistake.

Never offer the position to the candidate at interview. Just give them a firm date by which you will get back to all candidates to advise whether or not you will proceed further with their application, and let them know exactly how they will be contacted.

But there is the last thing I always do. I ask them this one final, telling question:

“Is there anything else you would like to say or ask before we conclude our interview today?

Do not prompt. Just be silent and note down exactly what they say. What they do or don’t say can be very telling.

For example, if the candidate is applying for a sales role (or any role where the ability to persuade and influence is one of the core behavioral competencies), if they do not try to close you and ask for the job on the spot, they are highly unlikely to be a good salesperson.

A good salesperson will try to close you by saying things like, “I’ve really enjoyed this hiring process, and based on our discussions to date I think I would be a great fit for this role. You won’t find anyone who will work harder than me. I really want this job.”  

If a candidate says something like, “No, I have nothing else to ask. Thank you for your time”, I would be very wary of hiring them.

Of course, you never take hiring shortcuts. You always conduct reference checks before making any job offer. But the final impression a candidate makes on you in the Tandem Interview as they respond to this final question is a pretty solid indicator of their true nature in my experience.

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Topics: hiring growth

Stephen Lynch

Author of the award winning business book Business Execution for RESULTS & President of RESULTS.com, Lynch is an internationally known Strategy Consultant and a contributing writer for The Economist magazine.

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