Hiring for Potential vs Experience

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Whether you work for a startup or an established company, it’s the people that can mean the difference between a business’ success and failure, which is why recruitment is so critical. It’s the single business process that identifies which individuals should come in to help the organization grow and achieve its goals.

When scouting for talent, a recruiter will often focus on candidates with the right level of experience. However, looking at experience alone will narrow the talent pool and cause employers to overlook an applicant’s potential. Moreover, an individual’s experience with another organization doesn’t necessarily guarantee future success with yours.

On the flip side, hiring for experience also has its tried-and-tested advantages for most employers. It may even be necessary for some roles such as leadership positions.

If you’re facing the dilemma of whether to hire for potential or experience, read on to get some insights on what course of action to pursue.

Hiring for potential

According to Inc. Magazine, “Potential is generally defined as the capacity to develop into something great based on unrealized ability.” It can be found primarily in an individual’s problem-solving skills and level of conscientiousness.

When attempting to identify a candidate with raw potential, it will be the ability of a person to adapt his strengths to the responsibilities of a work position that will be the key success factor.

Why hire for potential?

Here are a number of reasons for employers to focus more on a person’s potential over his/her years of experience.

  • Adaptability. People lacking in experience but has high potential tend to adapt more quickly to change. Because they have no formal experience and hindsight, these individuals don’t have to deal with previously-set opinions and even bad habits.
  • Innovation. High-potential and talented individuals often bring with them fresh perspectives that can lead to new ideas and possible innovations for the company, especially during idea sharing during cross-trainings and seminars.
  • Lower salary expectations. High-potential individuals without experience often demand a lower salary than their highly-experienced counterparts. By recruiting someone who is relatively unknown in the industry, employers can hire rising stars without the rockstar costs.
  • Diversity. Organizations, especially those in customer service and product design, will benefit from the diversity recruitment with the various viewpoints it would generate when both high potential and experienced talent are part of the employee pool.

What roles and company growth phase are best for high-potential talent?

Jobs that involve plenty of problem-solving and are constantly presented with change are best occupied by high-potential individuals. While they may not be immediately placed in more senior or managerial roles, these talents will be motivated to perform in roles that allow for growth.

Talented and high-potential individuals will thrive in fast-paced, growing startups, but they can also flourish even in established organizations that are in the process of change management or processes.

How to hire for potential

Here are a few ways to find and assess candidates for their raw potential.

  • Run group contests. Group contests are an effective way to source talent for potential. If employers or recruiters anonymously run online technical contests, the winners could prove to be eligible candidates for the available position without having to look at their background or experience. This could be an especially effective option for when hiring a web development team.
  • Use online assessment tools. Tools like Codility for technical positions and Revelian for administrative roles can help recruiters find talented individuals who may have little to no experience or background.
  • Don’t forget cultural fit. It’s also important to look at an individual’s cultural fit, as it will determine the person’s potential to succeed within the framework of the company.

Hiring for experience

Experience is what most recruiters traditionally look at when hiring to determine how qualified we are, which is why it’s what most of us list in our resumes. Experience combines both the knowledge and actual work performed by an individual. It is the cumulative term for any previous work experience, training, and/or education. Unlike potential, the experience is measurable and more objective.

Why hire for experience?

Hiring for experience offers a number of advantages to the potential employer. These include:

  • Ability to work at/with every level in the value chain. Experienced talent has experienced working at (or at least with) every level of the value chain at work. If an individual has substantial experience and a high skill level from being a junior web developer to managing a team of both front-end and back-end devs, an agency looking to hire can benefit from hiring the said experienced person.
  • Character and hindsight. Experienced professionals have more or less worked out what their identity, capabilities, and areas for improvement are, which makes them more grounded. They are also often a source of best practices and lessons learned and can use hindsight in decision-making.
  • Fewer uncertainties. While risk taking is important, some organizations need experienced individuals that can guarantee that the business can maintain order and function even in the midst of challenging situations. Recruiters can easily evaluate experienced individuals through the traditional recruitment process such as tests, interviews, and reference checks to reduce guesswork and uncertainties.

What roles and company growth phase are best for highly-experienced talent?

Highly-experienced individuals are best positioned in jobs that require the management of people or coordinating workflows. Roles like these will need the knowledge or experience of someone who understands that some processes need structure and routine.

Candidates with substantial experience will thrive when placed in a company that has long been established or is reaching its peak and needs to maintain or enhance the successful processes in place.

How to hire for experienced talent

The process for hiring for experienced talent has three key steps, all of which are commonplace in most recruitment strategies.

  • Initial screenings and tests. These tests are often overlooked, but they are valuable in shortlisting, especially when there is a large pool of applicants that recruiters need to go over. They are also an excellent way to know if an individual has real experience or flubbing his/her resume.
  • Interview performance. Doing an interview is still an effective way to measure a candidate’s proficiency. Experienced individuals will have no problems answering interview questions because they can draw from their background to provide valuable responses.
  • Reference checks. Speaking with former managers and colleagues can reveal not just the level of experience a candidate has, but also his or her working attitudes such as proactiveness, self-motivation, and capacity for teamwork.

While experience provides stability and fewer uncertainties to employers, potential can also be valuable in providing fresh perspectives and adapting to changes. With the descriptions of the differences, advantages, and how-tos in hiring for both experience and potential listed in this article, may you be equipped with the knowledge needed to decide on which kind of applicant to go with.

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