Recruiters are tasked with finding the best candidates and top talent for a position. Reading a resume is the first foray into the candidate’s ability to succeed in the company. A cover letter unearths more clues, especially about whatever the candidate deems most important to highlight. Finally, the interview is a chance to confirm the information in both documents and get a better sense of whether the candidate would be a good fit. The combination of what is learned about the candidate through his resume, cover letter and an interview leads to a hire decision.

Yet resumes and interviews largely focus on past experiences—where the candidate previously worked, what skills and qualifications he has accumulated throughout his career, and previous industry experience. Although this information is important to finding a good candidate, it is not the only thing to consider. Recruiters must look between the lines and calculate how all those experiences and skills translate into future potential. The candidate’s potential is what will prove most important in his success at the company.

Times are changing. The recent economic downturns have driven people to switch careers or search for alternative jobs where they can still apply their experience. The younger generations that are entering the workforce are multi-skilled, fast learners who expect new challenges and opportunities to grow. The change in times means it’s time to look at candidates from the angle of their professional potential to yield better, more successful employees.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for the potential in candidates and not just their experience.

  • Company goals. The first thing to keep in mind is the company’s goals—what kind of potential are you looking for in a candidate to meet these goals? Is the company just starting and looking for employees that thrive in an entrepreneurial environment? Are you well established but looking for new angles and ways to do business? Is your company looking to expand into different markets and thus in need of employees who are more flexible? Make sure your search is aligned with the goals and objectives of the company.
  • Fresh perspectives. One of the main perks of looking for the potential in candidates, rather than their past experience, is the possibility of finding someone with new ideas and ways of looking at things. Traditionally, candidates who are right out of college are offered entry-level jobs, or not even considered at all because they don’t have experience (and how could they, if they just graduated from school). Yet having little or no experience is not necessarily a bad thing, whether it’s because the candidate is fresh out of college or has spent the last 20 years in a different industry. Thinking outside the box can be a real game-changer for companies, and new perspectives often come from creativity and imagination rather than past experience.
  • Exceptional performance. Consider this: Would you hire someone who has had 30 years of experience in the industry but no real accomplishments, or someone with only 5 years of experience but who has already made waves? Experience matters, but exceptional performance is a more accurate factor in determining future potential, especially when talking about people who have accomplished a lot with very little experience or training. Use the interview to ask questions about past accomplishments and specifically what role the candidate had in them. You might find someone that has turned the little experience they have on paper into tangible successes.
  • Work values. Potential has a lot to do with work values. How a person values his career, profession, and work is vital in determining what role they could have in moving your company forward. A candidate’s work values are also a glimpse into his perspectives about work—is he considering the position just another job? A stepping stone for his career? Or a place to grow and contribute? This will provide clues about his potential at your company.
  • Ambition. Finally a candidate’s view of the future, rather than his recounting the past, is a key way of determining his potential.  This long-term view is helpful for the recruiting process as well, since it focuses on candidates who are ambitious beyond the position they’re applying for. These are candidates who demonstrate potential to advance within the company. Recruiters would do well to ask candidates about their career goals and read between the lines of their resumes—have they made mostly lateral moves or do they show a desire to move their careers forward?

If a candidate has little or no experience, this doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t thrive in your company, just as a candidate’s decades of experience is no guarantee he’ll accomplish much. Balancing the past with the future is crucial to finding the best people for the job.

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Adina Miron


  • Avatar Nicole Dune says:

    “Creativity is intelligence having fun” by Albert Einstein is my motto when it comes to recruitment. Nowadays, industries are changing very fast and companies need people that can adapt easily and find solutions for any unexpected situation. I really enjoy recruiting people with attitude that are willing to improve things with their ideas.

  • Avatar Chris says:

    I totally agree that hiring should be done based on the potential of the future employee. Experience is important but previous achievements do not guarantee the same accomplishments. I strongly believe that any business needs people with initiative that can identify with the goals of the company. This symbiosis can have great results in the long term.

  • Avatar Karla says:

    I like to think outside the box, but we have to be honest and admit that experience is an important criterion. Entry-level job do not necessary require experience, but when we are talking about senior position, experience is essential. Also, experience implies a lot of practical knowledge in the field. Many people can be creative and have ideas, but not all of them are able to turn those ideas into reality.

  • Avatar Suzanne says:

    Thank you for this article, I really enjoyed reading it. It’s true, because of this dynamic market, recruiters have to search for potential, while experience stopped being such a valuable aspect. Every candidate has equal chances, what makes them different is commitment and passion. Nowadays, companies are rather interested in employees who suit their mission and vision than in experience. Why? Because shaping employee’s behavior on their values means a high rate of engagement. The employee will empathize with the values and will feel integrated and comfortable in that environment. So, a comfortable environment will determine productivity – a major goal of any company.

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