Hire For Potential

The traditional approach to hiring is to look for compatibility between a candidate’s work experience and the skills and knowledge associated with an open position. The more extensive the experience, the higher up a candidate moves in the selection process.

There’s an interesting alternative to this approach. In a June 2014 article in Harvard Business Review, Dr. Claudio Fernandez-Araoz suggests that hiring managers would do better to look for “potential” in job candidates rather than relying mostly on experience (“21st Century Talent Spotting: Why potential now trumps brains, experience, and competencies”).

Dr. Fernandez-Araoz points out that past achievement is not a strong indicator of future success. Hiring managers often assume that candidates with impressive resumes will likely repeat their success at a new job. This rear-view mirror perspective does not take into account a candidate’s ability to adjust to the rapidly changing road ahead, nor does it consider how a candidate can grow into a position and maybe even chart a better course.

So if past work experience is overrated, how does a hiring manager assess potential?  Dr. Fernandez Araoz identifies five indicators: curiosity; motivation; insight; engagement, and determination. He offers interview questions hiring managers can use assess candidates in each area. For example, “What do you do to broaden your thinking, experience, or personal development?” This question touches on curiosity and motivation. (I used to ask candidates, “What books have you read recently?” I was not impressed by anyone who showed such little curiosity that they stopped reading books.)

To be sure, experience should not be discounted entirely. It would foolish to hire a candidate who doesn’t possess some direct or related experience. As well, a candidate’s attitude and how well he or she will fit with the culture of the organization matter, too.

Over the years I have counseled many people who were looking to transition into fundraising from another line of work. I advised those who had potential to be patient. Before long, I told them, an open-minded hiring manager would recognize their potential. I’m proud to say many have gone on to successful careers in fundraising.

Rich Brown is President of RB Consulting and an adjunct faculty member at New York University and Columbia University. Comments on this article can be directed to rbrown1787@gmail.com.




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