Business Management / Human Resources

Hiring for potential, not direct work experience

Laura Dolan

Jan 08, 2020 · 7 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

hiring for potential

The requirements for recruiting a new hire have shifted over the past few years, what was once invaluable has been moved to the back burner, as recruiters are now finding more value in potential talent rather than work experience. During my job search before being hired at Keap, I noticed recruiters were more impressed with my variety of jobs than my staying power. Sure I’d accumulate three years here, two years there, but what attracted them to my resume was not work experience alone, but rather that I was ambitious enough to leave a job that did not see my full potential.

Not only are people changing jobs when they’re not satisfied, they’re switching their entire careers; this is especially true from a millennial point of view. Now that the younger generations are starting to comprise the majority of the workforce, no longer is it impressive to keep a job for 10 to 15 years, as job experience can result in stagnation and become repetitive, especially if they’re stuck in a company that doesn’t promote growth.

Along with a desire for advancement, recruiters are still looking for technical skills, a solid education, and drive when hiring for potential. And while work experience could be the icing on the cake that can influence new hires’ potential contributions to the company, that doesn’t necessarily translate to stellar performance. Here’s why hiring for potential could yield more successful recruiting:

This misconception of experience

Most companies hiring today still value work experience and require it mainly for entry-level positions with the common belief that prior knowledge will result in less training. Hiring someone with more experience can save the company money and effort in the onboarding process and the new hire will be up and running sooner and become more productive at a faster rate.

One misconception about experience is that just because a person knows how to do the work doesn’t necessarily mean they’re skilled at it or even enjoy doing it. They may be falling into the same stagnation pattern that caused them to leave their last job, thinking the grass would be greener somewhere else, but really all that’s changed is the scenery. Then you’re stuck with an unenthused employee who has become jaded to the point where they’re not even honing their talents.

One requirement that exceeds experience is motivation. What does the person’s attitude reveal during the interview? Are they excited to be doing the same job they’ve been doing for five years, or are they looking to grow in other ways and will contribute to your company by their enthusiasm to try something new?

Hiring for attitude

Sometimes attitude is everything. Someone who’s looking for a fresh start by honing new skills could be the best thing that will ever happen to your company, as the new talent will be open to learning new ways of doing things rather than being set in their habits or beliefs.

Sometimes experience spurs rigidity toward change, or a hesitation in learning the latest technology. Old practices also might not be conducive to a new industry or your company’s goals.

Molding new talent makes it much more ideal to teach standard behaviors rather than expect experienced workers to forget everything they’ve learned, which can cause frustration and resentment toward your company’s new processes.

Companies such as Southwest Airlines, Ritz-Carlton, and Zappos “hire for attitude and train for skill” and have had much success in hiring new employees centered on a non-credential based method.

Many college graduates now entering the workforce are pursuing careers that provide continuing education opportunities. Companies that provide extra development training attract employees with a willingness to learn that inspire positive attitudes and boost morale.

Recruiters aren’t seeing graduates as inexperienced, but rather as people who represent a clean slate on which hiring managers can project new skills and help them develop their strengths to become more valuable in the workforce.

A fresh outlook

Taking a chance on hiring a novice can benefit a company, as they pursue challenges and obstacles with a willingness to take risks, suggest more progressive ideas and drive innovation.

The new hires also understand that they have something to prove, as their lack of experience requires them to ask more questions and engage in brainstorming sessions that can lead to more efficiency. They’re also more likely to make building relationships, collaboration and problem-solving their main priorities.

It’s more cost effective to hire new talent

Start-up companies looking to hire new talent are better off searching for entry-level candidates, as newer workers are more willing to accept jobs for less pay at companies that are still trying to get off the ground. They’re also aware that they may be less qualified and may want to build their skill set during on-the-job training.

A more alluring factor when considering working for a start-up is the opportunity to grow with the company and being recognized for contributing to the bigger picture. This can result in more loyalty among new hires, as they found an environment they can thrive in for a few years while growing as a professional before it’s time to move up in the company or pursue different opportunities.

Less experience means more potential

The ambiguity that comes with hiring new talent yields unlimited potential on how the person can be successful. Not restricting them to prior experience leaves them open to acquiring new skills and exploring opportunities that benefit both them and your business. They’re a resource you can turn to when all other employees are maxed out with their tasks.

Green employees are also more enthusiastic to take on new projects and pursue endeavors that expand their abilities and prepare them for potential new positions. Taking on different kinds of projects is a great resume builder and younger employees find this invaluable.

Focusing on soft skills

During a job interview, a recruiter has an opportunity to really get to know their candidate not just professionally, but also from a personal standpoint. What is their personality like? Would they complement the rest of the team? Taking the time to inquire about experience outside of work can reveal how easy or difficult it would be to interact with this person daily.

This is where a recruiter would explore a candidate’s soft skills. Soft skills involve personality characteristics and social behavior, basically skills that are inherent. These reveal how well a person would handle team communication, collaboration and leadership. Basically, are they a good fit on a human level?

Soft skills, as opposed to hard skills, which are basically defined as expertise in your field, define who we are, how we interact, and how we contribute to a company’s culture.

Hard skills may improve or diminish as time passes, but our soft skills follow us throughout our lives and help us grow on a more personal level.

Recruiters who insist on focusing on hard skills and work experience rather than hiring for potential might actually be missing an opportunity to hire someone who would put more than just the bare minimum into the company. Finding someone with heart, compassion and a hunger for learning could help put your company on the trajectory toward more success.


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