Why You Should Hire for Potential, Not Experience

Ryan McGrath
Jul 3, 2023
min read
Why You Should Hire for Potential, Not Experience

In today's competitive business landscape, the traditional approach to hiring often prioritizes experience over potential. However, what if we challenged this paradigm and looked beyond the resume to consider the untapped potential of 'inexperienced' talent? By shifting our perspective and embracing the power of potential, we can unlock a wealth of innovation, fresh ideas and transformative growth within our businesses.

As Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, famously said, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." This quote captures the essence of hiring for potential. By bringing in individuals with untapped talent and diverse perspectives, organizations can foster a culture of innovation and breakthrough thinking.

Hiring beyond credentials

As organizations embrace the wisdom of hiring for potential, a shift in mindset becomes necessary—one that emphasizes competence over credentials. While credentials such as degrees, certifications and years of experience can provide valuable insights into a candidate's background, they are not the sole indicators of one's ability to excel in a role.

Competence encompasses an amalgamation of skills, knowledge, adaptability and a willingness to learn. By prioritizing competence, businesses can identify individuals with the necessary attributes to thrive and contribute significantly to their organizations. This focus on competence allows companies to discover individuals who may not have traditional credentials but bring unique perspectives and capabilities that can fuel innovation and drive success.

Harnessing the power of diversity

Studies consistently show that diverse teams outperform homogenous ones, bringing a wider range of perspectives, experiences and ideas. By prioritizing potential over experience, businesses can tap into a more diverse talent pool, fostering a vibrant mix of backgrounds, skills and approaches. This diversity fuels creativity and problem-solving, enabling organizations to stay agile in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

One example of harnessing the power of potential is Google's practice of hiring based on potential and intellectual curiosity. Google's notable "Googleyness" interview criteria focus on identifying candidates who can thrive in a fast-paced, innovative environment rather than solely considering experience in a specific domain. This strategy has allowed Google to build a highly diverse and talented workforce that continually drives disruptive thinking.

Unleashing untapped potential

When hiring for potential, businesses can identify individuals hungry to learn, grow, and contribute. While experience may be valuable in certain roles, it should not be the sole determinant of a candidate's potential. By assessing attributes such as adaptability, curiosity, resilience and passion, businesses can identify individuals with the raw ingredients for success.

Five effective strategies when hiring for potential

  1. Broaden the Search Criteria: Expand your recruitment efforts to reach candidates from diverse backgrounds, industries, and educational experiences. Partner with organizations focusing on diversity and inclusion to access a wider talent pool.
  2. Rethink Job Descriptions: Craft descriptions that emphasize qualities and attributes sought in potential candidates, focusing on skills, values, and perspectives aligned with your organization's culture and goals.
  3. Implement Skills Assessments and Behavioral Interviews: Use assessments and behavioral-based questions to evaluate candidates' potential, learning ability, adaptability, and growth mindset.
  4. Emphasize Transferable Skills: Look beyond industry-specific experience and focus on transferable skills that candidates can bring to your organization. Evaluate how these skills can contribute to your business goals and offer growth opportunities.
  5. Leverage Internship and Apprenticeship Programs: Establish programs to attract and develop talent with potential. Provide hands-on experience, mentorship, and opportunities for growth to cultivate a pipeline of future talent.

One challenge in hiring for potential is balancing future potential and immediate organizational needs. This involves identifying key roles where the potential is crucial and complementing them with experienced hires to meet immediate requirements effectively. Organizations must assess roles that prioritize learning, adaptability and innovation over specific experiences. By earmarking these positions, they can recruit candidates with raw ingredients for success, like curiosity and a growth mindset.

Alongside potential-based hires, experienced professionals should be brought in to fulfill any immediate requirements or client needs. This approach creates a well-rounded workforce capable of delivering present results while nurturing potential-based hires for future success. By achieving the right balance between potential and immediate needs, organizations can foster innovation and drive growth, creating a dynamic workforce that excels in both the short and long term.

Hiring for potential rather than just experience can be a game-changer in a rapidly changing business landscape. Business leaders can foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement by harnessing the power of diversity and unleashing untapped potential. Companies like Google have demonstrated the power of hiring based on potential, leading to diverse and dynamic workforces that drive transformative growth. By shifting our focus to the potential within individuals, we can unlock a world of untapped talent and pave the way for unprecedented success.

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