Hiring for Potential, Is It the New Trend?

Caitlin Wiles
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There is an ongoing criticism of society that you need a job to gain experience, but you need experience to get a job, making it very difficult to get said job and acquire expertise. That has started to change, though. More and more, companies are hiring based on potential rather than experience, especially when it comes to tech careers (though they are certainly not the only ones). While this hiring method is undoubtedly on the rise, is it the new trend?

Companies are favoring hiring for potential versus experience for a variety of reasons. Mainly, though, is the belief that while specialized skills gained by experience can be taught, skills like determination, adaptability, and communication cannot. Companies are looking at the variety of experience an applicant has, gauging how well they were able to adapt to different specialties. A Forbes article points to characteristics such as “curiosity, determination, engagement, insight and motivation” as symbols of success for potential employees. Employers are looking for demonstrations of persistence and teambuilding throughout their work history. These are all skills that are essential to any position, but experts may still lack it. You can find an applicant who is the best computer programmer in the state, but if they aren’t reliable, they may not be someone you’d want to hire.

Companies are also finding that experience isn’t always the best thing. Experienced workers may be set in their ways and struggle to adapt to specific company policies. If someone has been doing something the same way for five years, it may be a hard habit to break. Candidates that lack experience but have outstanding potential are blank slates—your company’s standards will be the only ones they know.

It is also becoming more common for companies to expect employees to wear more than one hat, especially when there are a limited number of workers. Your average employee may be expected to work 2-3 different jobs. According to Forbes, this is especially true in the case of up-and-coming technology businesses, as they have small teams that require employees to fill multiple positions. New hires have to be capable of picking things up and fast. Being able to learn how to succeed in different positions is one of the most useful skills an employee can have, and that is often gauged by potential. Applicants with fundamental skills and a can-do attitude may be more capable of adjusting than applicants with experience alone.

Of course, not all companies are following this same path. Quite a few still value experience over potential, arguing that people with experience often have potential as well. Even companies making a conscious effort to hire based more on potential rather than experience are often expecting a certain basic level of expertise. If applicants don’t have a healthy amount of background knowledge in a subject, they may flounder in a job that requires specialized skills.

While some companies may disagree, it definitely appears that hiring for potential versus experience is trending. At the very least, it is worth looking into—some companies are having great success with it, while others are steering clear. It may be more or less appropriate depending on your specific field, as well. But either way, hiring for potential seems like it’s here to stay.


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