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March 31, 2024

Why Hiring for Potential Is A Smart Move


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Many organisations still hire based on candidates’ experience. However, some are coming to realise that, in the evolving job market, there are benefits to hiring for potential instead. Discover the advantages of hiring for potential and how to identify potential within individuals. Gain insights on how to nurture potential in your future hires and your current team.

Brenda’s Experience

The organisation that Brenda worked at was expanding and seeking talents for various departments. As department head, Brenda had a couple of vacancies and went about the hiring process in the usual way. She informed HR and drafted job descriptions with traditional metrics such as years of experience and skills. Then she posted the openings on job boards and waited for applications to come in.

She soon experienced the frustration and complaint common to numerous managers, hirers and even C-level executives: the lack of suitable candidates. Brenda spoke with a friend who’s a recruitment consultant. She learned that she’s certainly not alone in having to face this issue. One solution was to prioritise hiring for potential instead of focusing squarely on experience.

Keeping that in mind, Brenda shortlisted Martin, a young man who had little direct experience. But Martin seemed to have the right qualities. While some of her colleagues had doubts about her choice, Brenda betted on what she saw in Martin. He had an eagerness to learn, and a knack for problem-solving and how he had overcome challenges in the past.

Hiring for potential means looking beyond the obvious criteria such as years of experience, and seeking instead the mindset and qualities that will still enable an individual to succeed in a role.
Hiring for potential means looking beyond the obvious criteria such as years of experience, and seeking instead the mindset and qualities that will still enable an individual to succeed in a role.

In the months that followed, Martin proved her right. Despite being relatively new to the field, he quickly grasped concepts and brought fresh ideas to the table. His willingness to take on new challenges and collaborate with colleagues from different backgrounds surprised the team and injected new energy into them.

Martin’s growth and contributions validated Brenda’s decision to hire for potential. It also inspired a shift in mindset across the organisation’s managers and team leaders.

The benefits of hiring for potential

When you hire someone for their potential, you are choosing them for their ability to grow, adapt and learn. The person may not have all the technical skills but has the attitude, qualities and skills that are transferable or applicable to the role. 

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Bigger pool of talent

One of the main benefits of hiring for potential is that you expand your pool of candidates. When seeking to fill a position, many organisations have a very set list of experience and skills that they hope to find. Most job descriptions are heavy on the list of requirements, even for relatively junior positions. The chances of finding your “perfect” candidate are low. If this person exists, you will face stiff competition from other organisations who will also want to lure him or her over.

Instead of limiting yourself to candidates who have already performed a similar role, seeking candidates with potential means you may discover diamonds in the rough.

Speeds up the hiring process

Organisations often need to fill positions quickly. Finding the “perfect” candidate with lots of experience and skills will undoubtedly take a longer time. If you are flexible with your requirements, you will have access to more candidates which will, in turn, speed up the process. You will be able to kick off the interviews sooner rather than wait for candidates who meet a strict and long list of requirements. After all, delays in hiring can mean a loss of productivity and perhaps even a loss of morale for teams that urgently need more members. 

When you choose to hire for potential, you open up your pool of candidates. You also speed up your hiring process by not limiting yourself to a narrow range of options.
When you choose to hire for potential, you open up your pool of candidates. You also speed up your hiring process by not limiting yourself to a narrow range of options.

Do note that hiring for potential also means you may have a pool of candidates internally. These are your employees who are ready for an upward or sideways move and have already demonstrated promise in being able to take on different challenges. Giving opportunities to your people will earn you not just employee loyalty and engagement. You will also cut down the time needed to onboard an outside hire. That new hire does not need to acclimatise to your organisation’s culture and style. 

Increases agility, diversity and innovation

When you bring in people with different perspectives, experiences and backgrounds, the diversity of thought and ideas can lead to increased innovation and more creative problem-solving. Individuals with unique approaches and methods can inject freshness into a team. They may also be more willing to challenge the status quo, which may seem troublesome, but only to organisations who are afraid of change and are comfortable doing things the old way! 

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On the other hand, when an individual has been performing a similar role for many years, there is a chance that he or she may be stuck in their ways. While you will have the benefit of this person’s many years of experience, he or she might also bring some “baggage”. They may not be able to adapt to your organisation’s culture and they may not even try. Someone with potential, however, will be more willing to adapt and change and is therefore more agile.

How to identify potential

There are a number of traits and characteristics that high-potential individuals demonstrate. They often have a strong work ethic, resilience, adaptability and a willingness to take on new challenges. They may also exhibit strong leadership potential, even if they have not held formal leadership roles in the past.

One of the key traits is a willingness to learn. This is also called “Growth Mindset“. Look for evidence of past experiences where the candidate successfully tackled unfamiliar challenges or acquired new knowledge independently. There should be an initiative to continue learning, even if the individual has been in senior positions.

One of the most important characteristics of individuals with potential is the willingness and initiative to learn
One of the most important characteristics of individuals with potential is the willingness and initiative to learn

Another important skill that is needed across industries and sectors is people skills or social skills. Being socially adept and able to communicate effectively is crucial in today’s workplace. When interviewing a candidate, observe if he or she can understand you. See if they respond well by clearly conveying their message. Also, take note of non-verbal cues to give you hints of the candidate’s character and emotional intelligence. 

Yet another way of assessing potential is by looking at how far an individual has come. If you have two candidates of similar age and experience, the one with higher potential is the one who demonstrates the most progress and improvement in a given period. If an individual has the motivation, determination and consistency to keep pushing his or her own limits in the past, it is likely that he or she will continue doing so within your organisation. 

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Grow your own potential or that of your team

Creating a supportive and growth-oriented work environment is vital in nurturing the potential of your new hire and even your existing employees. You can provide opportunities for professional development by offering training programmes, mentorship opportunities, personal coaching or even challenging assignments. These can help individuals develop new skills and expand their capabilities, eventually leading to a high-performing team.  

There are circumstances in which you must ensure the relevant skills, qualifications and experience are present. If you are looking for a surgeon, pilot or architect, you must have a stringent set of requirements for technical skills and training. However, even within such professions, the individual with potential should be your top pick. An individual with skills, experience and potential is, without a doubt, a top catch. But in our fast-paced, competitive world, you may be better off shifting your focus to finding high-potential candidates. Groom them to grow with your organisation.

Nurture the potential of your new hires and existing employees by providing them with opportunities for professional development, such as training and coaching.
Nurture the potential of your new hires and existing employees by providing them with opportunities for professional development, such as training and coaching.

How we can help

Personal coaching can bring out your potential and that of your team members. As qualified psychologists and coaches, we have a proven track record of unlocking the potential of our clients and bringing them to a higher level of effectiveness. Let’s talk about how we can help you and your team.

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