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September 06, 2022 | 5 min read
Potential Vs. Experience: What Is More Important When Hiring?

If you’re hiring for an open role at your company, you may feel discouraged by a lack of candidates. If your hiring decisions are based almost exclusively on skills and experience, you may want to reconsider your strategy. With the job market quickly evolving, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find (and secure) candidates who match the exact criteria you may be looking for.

Read also: Hear From Job Market Experts: What Should Employers Be Doing Right Now?

As workforce trends continue to change, hiring for the “perfect fit” will continue to cost you. Not only can it drag out your hiring process, but you risk burning out the rest of your team if they are left to shoulder the burden. When options seem few and time is ticking, what should you do?

While a perfect candidate may not be available, there is a solution to this problem—Hiring for potential.

What does “hiring for potential” mean and when would you do this?

When you hire for potential, you commit to hiring candidates who may not have all the necessary technical skills when they start but do possess the personal attributes and transferable skills that can make them a great addition to your company. With that being said, it can be hard to know whether you should hire someone for potential or experience. On one hand, there are some scenarios where hiring someone who has spent years honing their skills in a particular field can make a lot of sense for you and your team. These employees can hit the ground running, mentor colleagues, and provide strategic direction. On the other hand, it may make sense to hire someone for potential when many of the job duties can be taught or learned. Or, you are looking for someone you can mentor and mold into a high performer.

The benefits of hiring for potential

While an experienced hire may sometimes be the safe bet or the right choice, experience isn’t always the most critical element to consider. Sometimes, hiring for potential can lead to better outcomes, and could offer benefits you may not have considered if you’ve only hired candidates based on their experience. Some of these benefits are:

Speeding up your hiring process

By being more flexible with requirements, you can expand your candidate pool. With access to more candidates, you can start the interview process earlier and make a faster hiring decision. However, if you hold out for an applicant who checks off all your boxes, you risk dragging out the hiring process. This can create other problems, like damaging your bottom line, losing out on top talent to a competitor, and lowering employee morale and productivity. Read also: 4 Ways To Speed Up The Hiring Process To Win Over Top Talent.

Building employee loyalty

When you hire for potential, you’re making a commitment to help your new hire hone their skills and develop in their career. Since you were willing to give them a chance, your new hire will likely be more eager to impress, hit their goals, and stay loyal to you. If this becomes part of your overall hiring strategy, you could see increased retention rates across the company over time.

Diversifying your company

76 percent of job seekers report that a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers. If you work at a company with demographics that have gone relatively unchanged for years, it can be harder to find and attract fresh talent. However, if you hire for potential, you’re in a better position to source new hires who bring in diverse experiences and perspectives. Not only can this encourage innovation and creativity at your company, but companies who are considered diverse and inclusive are 35 percent more likely to outperform their competitors.

How to hire for potential

If you’ve decided to hire someone based on their potential, you’ll have to reevaluate your current hiring strategy and implement changes as necessary. As you go through the hiring process, be sure you do the following:

Edit experience requirements

Hiring for potential doesn’t mean you have to hire someone without any experience or industry-specific knowledge. However, it does mean being flexible in your experience and technical requirements. As you start the hiring process, determine what experience and skills are 100% critical to the role, and what can be learned on the job. If they have enough of a foundation, they should be able to hit the ground running with a little support and additional training.

Look for candidates who are a good culture add

Part of hiring for potential means evaluating whether an individual would be a good complement or addition to the team. By focusing on personal attributes that can bring value to your team or company versus strictly hiring for specific skills or experience, you are more likely to find the right long-term fit. During the interview process, ask questions to determine if this will be the case. Do they bring in skills, knowledge, and experience that your team is lacking? Do they have the personal attributes necessary to succeed at your company? Can they help you achieve your future goals? If the answer to these questions is yes, their addition can elevate everyone on your team. Read also: Why You Should Be Hiring For Culture Add, Not Fit.

Evaluate transferable skills

If a candidate isn’t proficient in a particular program or tool you’re looking for, but they do have expert-level knowledge in a similar one, it pays to give them a shot. Since they’re already knowledgeable in a similar program, they’ll likely to be able to pick up on the desired skill if they’re given some initial guidance. While it may take some time to get them up to speed, hiring for potential based on transferable skills will pay off further down the line. After all, those given the chance to prove themselves and feel their employer is invested in their growth will be more loyal in the long run!

Ask behavioral and situational-based questions

How do you decide if a candidate has the potential to be a great employee? During the interview, be sure to ask them behavioral and situational-based questions. Some questions you can ask are:

  • How do you handle conflict, and can you provide an example?
  • How do you accomplish tasks while working on a tight deadline?
  • Can you talk to me about a time where you took a risk that didn’t pay off? How did you handle the situation?

These types of questions can provide you with valuable insight into a potential employee’s ability to handle adversity and their general attitude, which can ultimately reveal how they’ll be able to work and grow within your company.

Consider an internal talent pool

If you’re seriously considering hiring someone based on their potential, utilizing an internal talent pool can be a great option! This could mean promoting someone on your team who has demonstrated strong potential or exploring an internal transfer. By providing employees with opportunities to transition to entirely new roles or matching them with positions where their strengths are better suited, you can create a learning culture where staff is motivated to advance with the company throughout different stages of their careers.

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