Hire potential, not just experience!

August 3, 2022

How to hire a suitable candidate to meet tomorrow’s challenges when none of us really knows what tomorrow holds for us? What are the criteria you use in recruiting when the competences needed today might be obsolete next week?

My grandparents were hired for their muscular power, height or another physical strength. These were the features that were needed in factories and farming fields. My parents and myself got our first jobs based on our grades, appropriate schooling and a suit that fit just perfectly. Later it was semi easy to move forward with your career when you cv had a long list of reputable employers.
What about today when we truly have just little clue of what work will be like in just some years?

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz (ex-McKinsey and advisor at Egon Zehnder) challenges us (Harvard Business Review) to focus on the potential of the candidate. Let’s dig a bit deeper to what potential is and how to look into one’s potential in the recruiting and interview process. And what to do once true potential is finally imported to the organization.

Fernández-Aráoz divides potential to five skills:

  1. Motivation: A motivated person has an extremely high ambition level for whatever he or she will be doing and a humble attitude towards facing new situations. A motivated person wants to commit to mutually shared goals. I think it is crystal clear that the person is driven by internal drivers instead of external ones. Thus for example the desire to continuously become better is far more meaningful than the job title or even the size of the paycheck.
  2. Curiosity: A curious mind wants to learn. A curious person can question and challenge the obvious – also themselves! The person is keen on learning from feedback from others and also actively seeks for honest feedback and is willing to reflect on it.
  3. Vision: A person’s visionary skills have not developed in a vacuum. A visionary person is not just smart but has a better than average ability to connect the dots and can rather effortlessly form causal connections.
  4. Commitment: Commitment is a combination of perseverance and the ability to communicate powerfully.
  5. Determination: A person who is determined has a solid track record of achieving goals. The person is resilient which means that after rough times can quickly revert to the state of optimism and normal working conditions.

So how can you recognize potential in job interviews? Fernández-Aráoz advises us to put a lot of effort to the questions we pose when finding out more about the candidates professional and personal background.

It would be useless to ask ”Are you visionary?” or ”How determined are you on a scale from 1-5?”. Instead focus on questions such as:

  • “How do you react when someone challenges your opinion?”
  • “What tools have you gathered into your toolbox when you need to make sure everyone in the team will contribute?”
  • “What are the steps you usually take when you start doing something new for the first time?”

In sum: if you are hire a chef, don’t forget to ask her to cook a meal!

Truly capable hires – let’s call them high achievers – are kept happiest and most committed once they are given a clear set of responsibilities and the power to make magic. High achievers should regularly and gently be pushed outside their comfort zone so that they can truly help the business grow: that’s most likely why they were hired in the first place!

I strongly believe that all of these skills – motivation, curiosity, vision, commitment and determination – can be learned. Few of us were born with at least all of them. I trust these skills are needed at any job already today and more and more in the future. Thus they also gain more importance in managing and steering one’s own career towards a happier (work) life in general.


Anja Kahri

Source: For more information on Fernández-Aráoz’s thoughts, you might want to start for example here.

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