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Strong Organizations Hire for Potential

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

Hiring for potential can be a great way of developing a diverse and well-rounded team. Leaders tend to want to hire people based on experience. Experience-based hiring is a safe bet to make in most organizations. Few organizations will question a leader's judgment if they hire someone with previous experience doing the job, especially if that individual has worked for a prestigious company. While this approach might be safe, it has flaws. Prior experience does not equate to an individual's job mastery. It also does not predict how well an individual will perform the job they are being hired for. Relying too heavily on prior experience may also limit the size and diversity of the applicant pool. When making hiring decisions, employers should consider the employee's potential for growth in addition to their prior experience. Employers considering growth potential when making hiring decisions better position themselves for long-term growth.

Benefits of hiring for potential.

Companies broaden their application pool by shifting their primary focus from experience to a broader focus on potential and experience. Macroeconomic shifts and changes in individual employees' preference for where they work create an opportunity for employers to hire individuals who started their careers in one industry but are looking for opportunities in others. These potential employees have developed skills and knowledge within their current field that, with some training, could be easily transferred into other industries. For decades, large corporations have recruited retired military veterans to transition into corporate America. Companies have hired veterans based on their leadership potential and taught them the fundamental of their industry. Companies could do the same for teachers, retailers, artists, and other professionals who have developed management, communication, influence, creativity, and teaching skills but need training on applying those skills within a different industry.

Define the ideal candidate.

The first step to hiring for potential is to define the ideal candidate. For every role, there is a minimum level of knowledge and experience that an individual needs to succeed. For some positions, this will mean particular licenses and or certifications. In establishing your minimum, it is prudent to leave the minimum requirements low enough to include individuals that could gain the necessary knowledge and experience within six months of working with the organization.

It is also beneficial for companies to define what type of person does well within the organization. All companies have organizational cultures; some candidates will fit better than others. Organizations that are clear about their values are more likely to attract candidates that share similar values. Communicating the company values on the company's website and during the interview process will increase the likelihood of attracting candidates who will be a good fit.

Build rapport with the candidate.

At the beginning of the interview process, managers should focus on building rapport. Interviewers should use the first 10 minutes of the interview to participate in small talk and begin to learn basic information about the candidate. The goal here is to reduce the candidate's stress or anxiety and to get a baseline understanding of who the person is. Hiring for potential requires you to learn the individual's capability for growth. The interviewer can gain valuable insights by getting the interviewee to open up and share their story. Candidates will be more transparent if there is a comfort during the interview process.

Ask behavioral questions.

Hiring managers should spend most of the interview asking open-ended questions that allow the applicant to talk about the skills they have developed and how they learn. As hiring managers listen, they should look for examples of the applicant

These stories will give the hiring manager clues into the environment in which the employee thrives, their learning ability, and adaptability.

Identify the applicant's values.

During the interview process, seek to understand the applicant's values. Values play a significant role in motivation and how people engage with others. An individual's values will help to drive their behavior. In addition, employees perform best when their values align with the company. Hiring candidates whose values align with the job's needs and the organization's values is ideal.

Be unconventional.

One of the best ways to get to know someone is to see them in a different environment. Polished interviewers rehearse sitting in an office and discussing their past accomplishments. Often, hiring managers are amazed by scripted answers presented by applicants that present whom they would like to be, not who they are. One tactic for mixing the interview process up is not completing the entire interviewing process in a traditional office environment. Doing something as simple as going on a walk, standing in a conference room, or going out for lunch can shift an interviewee off script so that the interviewer can see a less rehearsed, more authentic version of the candidate.

Get a second opinion.

Hiring managers should seek out the opinions of others when making a hiring decision. Including team members in the interview process helps the company gain different perspectives on potential employees. One effective best practice is to have potential employees engage in "day in the life" activities to shadow future peers. Shadowing days accomplish two goals. First, it allows the employee to learn more about the company and the job to discover if both will fit them. Second, it allows future peers to meet the candidate and provide the hiring manager with a different perspective on the candidate. Using multiple interviewers can shed additional insights into the candidate's interests, capabilities, and potential.

Identify what makes the person unique.

Every person has something unique and special about them. Through the interview process, a hiring manager seeks to understand what makes an individual unique and how their uniqueness can help satisfy a need within the company. Employees can maximize their contribution to organizations by adding something unique and special currently missing from a team. Managers that can identify and close current gaps by adding new talent position their organizations for success.


Too often, hiring managers rely too heavily on experience to guide their hiring decisions. A focus on hiring for experience limits a company's application pool and can result in hiring individuals with limited growth opportunities. Hiring for potential requires more judgment because there are no quantifiable measures to predict how much someone will grow once they are in the role. Hiring managers must rely more on subjective analysis of candidates' ability to communicate how they take on new challenges, learn new skills, and expand their capabilities. While hiring for potential may carry some additional perceived risk for managers, it also brings the potential for many more rewards. Having a broad range of individuals with diverse talents and experience strengthens organizations. When organizations can add talented individuals with high growth potential, they expand the possibilities for their entire organization.


Dorian Cunion is an Executive Business Coach with your Path Coaching and Consulting. He specializes in coaching services for managers, executives, and small business owners.

For tips on leadership and professional development, follow me:

If you are interested in working with me as a coach, contact me at

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