Monday, March 26, 2012

Hiring for Experience vs Hiring for Potential

It’s happened to any of us in a management position. You’ve gone through a few rounds of interviews, and find yourself needing to make a decision between one of two very different candidates.

One candidate has a strong resume demonstrating years of experience in your industry. He has all of the skills and qualifications you could expect, and you know he could hit the ground running.

The other candidate is younger, and hasn’t held positions that would translate directly to this role. But she’s been successful at every turn. Your gut says think that in a few years you might really be kicking yourself for having passed on her.

Which do you pick?


Hire for your objectives, and for theirs

Of course, there’s no one right answer, but the first thing you should do is take a look at your organization’s objectives.

Is there a time-crunch causing you to need immediate help? Are you launching a new product? Is this a highly skilled technical role? Then you’ll probably lean toward hiring based on experience.

However, if your company has a strong mentorship program, is growing steadily and looking long-term, or more interested in innovation, then the candidate with potential might be the way to go.

It’s not all about your needs, either. Take a long look at what the candidate will want to get out of this role, as well.

Make sure your company’s values align with theirs. Consider whether one candidate is a stronger cultural fit for the organization. Be certain that they will have all the tools they’ll need to succeed, whether they have the experience or the potential.


Watch out for red-flags

Experience and potential aren’t always positives. If that first candidate spent fifteen years in a position, was it because he had no motivation to rise above? Did he lack the skills to take his career to the next level? Does he limit his problem-solving abilities by resorting to tried-and-true methods he’s relied upon over the years?

Conversely, potential is always difficult to measure. Her high GPA doesn’t necessarily translate to intelligence. Someone possessing the ability to rise to her potential will already have demonstrated the ability to stand out from the crowd; she’s done more than her peers of a similar age and background. You don’t know that she’ll have the dedication to stay with one organization long enough for your investment to pay off.


Final considerations

Many employers will look at those red-flags and err on the side of experience. Hiring for potential is a risk, but not everyone has it. Experience happens over time, no matter what.

A short-term, safe approach may stagnate your company, as well. Ideally, you’ll have a mix of experience and potential on your team. The attributes complement each other, and both sides of the spectrum will have something to learn from the other.

Most importantly, make sure the candidate wants to do the work that comes along with the position. It sounds obvious, but whether your candidate has the experience or the potential, the most successful hire will be the one who is willing to do whatever the job requires.

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