What are employers committing to when they hire for potential? When an employer hires for potential, they are taking on candidates who may not have the necessary technical skills when they start but do possess the personal traits that make them a great fit for the organization. It could sound counterintuitive to some, but companies have to remember the labor market we are in has a tight supply of workers. And oftentimes, training someone who is the right cultural fit has many advantages.
This idea and its benefits came up during a panel discussion on DE&I at Executive Forum North America held earlier this month in Austin, Texas. Rather than hiring based on a stereotypical profile with a set list of skills, hiring based on potential could help bring nontraditional candidates from diverse backgrounds.
“Hire for potential; it’s more important than merit and your past experience,” said panelist DeLibra Wesley, founder and CEO of National Recruiting Consultants. “That’s the only way you’re really going to improve the metrics as far as DE&I goes because there’s just not a lot of minorities at the very top. So, in order to make effective changes with gender bias, minorities/BIPOC, we have to start looking at potential.”
The benefits of hiring for potential are seen across different segments, including IT.
“Many of the skills that are necessary to be effective in IT are very much learnable and can be taught on the job,” Arthur Hu, senior VP and chief information officer at Lenovo, said in an article in Computerworld. Hu also noted in the article that by sourcing candidates from nontraditional schools, “We can bring in some really great talent as well as increase our diversity at the same time.”
But employers may be unsure about hiring for potential. For example, an article by the US Chamber of Commerce said many hiring managers will hire a candidate who is overqualified for the position rather than invest in someone’s potential. But that may not be the right move. Hiring candidates with potential may result in workers who grow and provide more value in the long term.
It might be time to give hiring for potential a chance. But what does the hiring process look like?
For starters, you’re hiring for fit within the organization. You’re looking for personality or character traits that tell you the candidate is someone who is willing to learn and grow with the organization, according to a blog post by Don Shapiro, an executive coach and author. Develop interview processes to identify people who are open to coaching and feedback, who are motivated to achieve results and change, and are problem solvers, for example. You can take those people and train them on specific skills that will help them get the job done.
But it does require employers to assess the candidate’s strengths and willingness to do the job before hiring. Done right, you have the people you need doing the jobs needed to be done. It’s a win-win for clients, the talent and staffing firms.