By Bruce Powell, Founder & Executive Recruiter

So you’re looking to hire a new team member.  You (or your HR department) have screened candidates and identified the top players in the industry, and now it’s time to interview.  Your mind may drift toward strategies you’ve used in the past, or what you remember from being interviewed: “What are your top 3 strengths and weaknesses” or “tell me about a time…” 
Stop.  There’s a better way.

Attributed Anticipated Reference Checking (AARC)

As a headhunter I’ve seen and used many interview techniques, and AARC is by far the best there is.  For starters, a quick background:

  1. AARC is a modification on part of Dr. Bradford Smart’s Topgrading style of interviewing. Essentially, a Topgrading interview is a comprehensive chronological biography, wherein the interviewee is asked to share their professional story – in great detail. 
  2. It isn’t just “tell me about yourself”. Interviewees are often asked about their families, where they grew up, why they chose their college major, why they started their career in a certain field, who was their first boss…

You see where I’m going with this, but I’ll stop here because “Who was your first boss?” is where AARC comes in. 

AARC - best interview technique

Here’s How it Works:


“So I see you were at ACME Co. from 2009-2011. Who did you report to?”


“The Marketing Manager.”


“What was his/her name?”


“John Smith.”

Now the interview continues.  We talk about that job in detail; the responsibilities, achievements, barriers to success, and why they left.  Then we move on to their next role.


“So I see you left ACME Co. after 2 years for Company ABC.  Who did you report to there?”


“The VP of Marketing, Maggie Jones.”

And we continue as such, digging deep on each step in their career, understanding who people reported to, who their peers were, even who may have reported to them, until towards the end of the interview.  Now it’s time to call back to those references.


“When references are conducted, what will John Smith from ACME Co. say your greatest weakness is?”


“Well… to be honest, he would probably say I’m not great at taking initiative.  I was afraid of making mistakes and tended to defer to other people for direction.”

Good to know, right?  And most people wouldn’t volunteer this information if asked the typical, “What are your 3 greatest strengths and weaknesses?”  It forces the interviewer to see themselves through the eyes of someone they’ve worked for and appraise themselves more objectively.  Plus, they feel more compelled to be honest because you might actually call John Smith for a reference.  It makes them think “What would he say?”  Then you continue chronologically…


“What would Maggie Jones say your greatest strength is? What about weaknesses?”

So there you have it – AARC – the greatest interview methodology there is.  No interview technique is flawless and you’ll never know everything there is to know about a candidate from an interview, but this is the closest you can get to identifying someone’s real strengths & weaknesses without actually conducting the reference.  Whether or not you choose to use Topgrading style interviewing in its entirety, I would highly recommend that every hiring manager and HR professional use some form of anticipated reference checking. 


Click here for more Headhunter Insights, learn more about Executive Recruiter Bruce Powell, and connect with him on LinkedIn.

IQ PARTNERS is an Executive Search & Recruitment firm with offices in Toronto and Vancouver. We help companies hire better, hire less & retain more. We have teams of specialist recruiters in Financial Services & Insurance, Marketing Communications & Media, Emerging Tech & Telecom, Consumer Goods & Retail, B2B & Industrial, Technology, Accounting & Finance, HR & Operations, Mining & Engineering, Life Sciences, and Construction, Property & Real Estate. IQ PARTNERS has its head office in Toronto and operates internationally via Aravati Global Search Network. Click here to view current job openings and to register with us.

Bruce Powell Executive Search

Bruce Powell

Bruce co-founded IQ PARTNERS in 2001 and currently operates as Managing Partner. His personal background includes hands-on management experience in sales, marketing and marketing services. He has built management teams for a wide variety of marketing, communications, media and technology companies. He has also participated in several M&A transactions for service-based companies and is frequently called upon as a resource in the planning and negotiation of such deals.

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