Can You Predict Potential?

One of the most difficult and important tasks carried about by any human resources professional is predicting potential. After all, hiring someone at entry level and bringing them up through the ranks can yield a great return on investment over time while generating other organizational benefits. Long-term employees tend to attract other long-term employees. If you gain a reputation for being an organization committed to the upward mobility of employees, you will be more likely to attract other ambitious employees. In addition, being able to predict potential will lower your employee churn, reduce your onboarding and training costs, and promote higher levels of workplace engagement. So, how do you predict potential?

Look for Employees who Add Value

Finding employees with a history of adding value can be tricky, especially when recruiting entry-level players, but it is a key part of hiring based on potential.  At the entry level, look for young people who made a lasting impression during their internships. When recruiting mid-career to senior-level employees focus on finding employees who are true change agents: people who have executed major changes within their organizations with lasting results. In interviews, ask questions to directly probe if and when a candidate has added value (e.g., “Can you talk about a time when you helped grow an organization? Was the initiative a success? How did you measure this success?”)

Look for Team Players

Potential is all too often confused with pure ambition. While it’s true that ambitious job candidates may hold great potential, it is not a clear cut equation. An ambitious candidate who is a lone wolf (someone who can only work on their own and is ultimately only interested in their own personal gain) may be a great talent but hold low potential to contribute to your organization over time. In fact, these lone wolfs frequently arrive, take what they can from an organization, and move on to their next post with a year or two. Some outstanding team players appear less polished, at least on paper, but over time, these candidates frequently prove to have much greater potential than their lone wolf counterparts.

Look for Employees who See the Big Picture

Potential is contingent on appreciating that in any organization, there are more going on that meets the eye. You might be hiring an entry level financial analysts, but they should appreciate that they are just one part of the organization’s broader talent picture, and the understanding must go both ways. During interviews probe candidates by asking them questions about organizational dynamics. For example, you might ask job candidates, “During periods of decline, where would you make job cuts? Whose positions are least essential?” Whether or not you’re hiring someone who will ever make such a decision is beside the point. If job candidate assumes it is fine to cut your reception staff, for example, they likely don’t fully understand what keeps an organization running smoothly. In other words, while there is no one right answer to this sort of question, it is a way to easily probe how they understand and approach organizational dynamics.

Look for Employees who Inspire and Motivate

Even new employees can inspire and motivate others and often a younger employee who seems to have a natural gift for breathing new energy into a older and tired team is precisely the sort of employee who has potential to grow over time. Recommendations that describe a job candidate as “inspiring” or “great to work with” or “highly motivated” should all be taken seriously. This too is where volunteerism comes into play. Look for job candidates with long histories of volunteering, especially with under privileged communities.  While you may not be looking for someone who can tutor math, a candidate with a history of tutoring kids on a volunteer basis is likely a candidate who knows how to inspire and motivate others, and these are skills that can be applied to the workplace.

Look for Life-long Learners

A recent graduate who arrives thinking they already know it all is unlikely to keep on learning over time (not without a huge change in attitude) and unlikely to ever rise to the top as leader. While a bit of confidence is always a good thing, a know-it-all is not.  Look for employees who are eager to embrace training opportunities in the workplace and even ask about these opportunities during their interview. Also, look for mid-career to senior-level employees with a clear track record of continuing to acquire new skills, credentials and degrees (e.g., a senior-level engineer who returns to school to complete an MBA or a nurse who returns to school to complete a master’s degree in health information management).

March 25, 2017   Updated :March 25, 2017      

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