Hiring for potential

Almost every job description contains specific reference of the number of years’ experience the candidate should have. It is a fair enough demand, but a practice that looks very outdated in today’s world of employment..

by Nick Band

The trouble is that five years’ experience often means the same year’s experience for five years. It completely ignores potential which is the lifeblood of any business.

Imagine if Ukrainian electors had decided that comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskyy was unsuitable to become president because he had no experience of public office. The country would have been deprived of the greatest leader in its history. Imagine the world of Hollywood without Johnny Depp who made his acting debut in Nightmare on Elm Street with zero acting experience.

In today’s workscape, changing careers is a national pastime, particularly amongst the young. That means the likelihood of amassing experience in one kind of role is limited. But who says a year as a digital account handler plus a year as PR account manager does not qualify a candidate for an AM role in an advertising agency? In fact, I would argue they are better qualified to take on the role with a broader experience across multiple disciplines.

When you’re looking at candidates it’s critical to evaluate not just where they are, but where they’re going and how fast they’re getting there. Hard skills gained from experience can be taught, but attitude can’t.

You only have to look at the world of celebrity to see how career changes have worked out for some of the most famous people in the world.

  • Brad Pitt – limo driver
  • Harry Styles – baker
  • Stephen King- school janitor
  • Pope Francis – bouncer
  • Harrison Ford- carpenter

Hiring on potential is most definitely a long play strategy. It’s about hiring for tomorrow rather than today. It’s like buying clothes for children- you always buy a size too big in the knowledge they will grow into it.

Hiring for potential

Paying less attention to experience also opens up the candidate search field resulting in more applications from more diverse backgrounds. I always remember an old boss of mine who used to hire people he met in restaurants. He liked the cut of their jib and saw potential for greater things than waiting tables. His recruitment strategy was pretty successful and many of his spontaneous hires ended up climbing the ladder very rapidly.

There is, of course, another reason why lack of experience is a benefit. You’re not paying the salary an experience candidate would expect.

So what does hiring for potential involve?

  • Don’t ignore experience. It is important, but don’t be a slave to the length of experience
  • Look for career progression. Moving jobs for a career progression is a good thing
  • Consider running psychometric tests
  • Test the candidate’s appetite for tasks outside their comfort zone

As recruiting become ever more difficult in today’s job-rich market, then employers have to be even more resourceful, looking beyond the traditional strategies. See more blogs here.


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