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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 4 years ago

Hiring: potential vs. experience

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Instead of asking job candidates about their experience, ask questions to reveal their potential to succeed in your company to assess whether they're a fit.
by: Denise Federer Bottom-line Behavior

How often have you been faced with the dilemma of being unsure of whether to hire an applicant for a position in your organization? Their resume and past experiences suggest that they should be able to do the job, yet something intangible just doesn't feel right. Or perhaps in anticipation of changes in your industry and business you have decided to create a new role, but are unclear as to exactly what you are looking for in the right candidate?

Traditionally, when hiring for a position we look to someone's past performance to predict their future success. An individual who had a previous job doing a similar function at another company was thought to bring his experience and would rate high amongst the candidates. Yet we all know cases where someone looked great “on paper” but didn't make the transition and onboard successfully into a company.

Not only is it frustrating to make a bad hire, but it can be both a financially and emotionally costly mistake for your organization. Therefore it is important to consider modifying both your approach, as well as change the questions that you ask yourself to determine what constitutes a good hire.

In a recent HBR article by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz on spotting talent, he concurs that this is exactly the type of modification in thinking that must occur. Furthermore, he states that the past emphasis on competencies in hiring has been erroneous. Instead he proposes that we should focus on the candidate's future potential in the new job. In this context, high potential is defined as the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging new roles.

Therefore, senior leaders must be willing to take a different approach to prepare for the interview process. The key to determining if a candidate possesses high potential for the role you want to fill is preparing appropriately for the interview process and asking the right questions.

Utilizing a behavioral interview technique where you ask the candidate for specific examples of his past behavior or how he might handle a scenario can give you great insight into his potential for meeting your organization's needs. It can also reveal a prospective employee's ability to fit into the culture and vision of your company.

Three key steps for hiring a high-potential employee
Articulate your vision for the role
Prior to beginning the interview you should be able to articulate your vision for the role. For example, if you want the candidate to be able to bring in new sales prospects, you must be able to identify the characteristics of the ideal client. You might want to ask for specific ideas of how they might target both meeting and closing the deal with these ideal prospects.

Define your company culture
It is important not to underestimate the significance of a candidate fitting in with the rest of your organization. You need to be clear about what type of person will connect with the other members of your team. Asking questions that will help illuminate their values such as what motivates them or whether they are competitive yet comfortable collaborating with others will help you to discern if they will be able to successfully join your team.

Identify behavioral expectations
To predict a candidate's ability for sustained success, you must learn about their behavioral work style. For example, if the exact responsibilities of the new role are vague, you may need to hire someone who is independent and doesn't require as much structure or direct supervision. You might ask for specific examples when he or she was able to initiate behavior, overcome obstacles and successfully execute to achieve a goal.

Or perhaps how a candidate demonstrates his work ethic or the need for open communication are important issues that could impact his success in the new role. Ask for an example of a time when he faced an ethical dilemma and how he resolved it. (Hint: If he says that has never happened it is likely he is not comfortable being forthright and transparent).

This shift to emphasizing future potential rather than past performance when considering hiring a candidate is compelling. However, I don't believe that this means that people who have performed well in the past will not continue to add value to the future of your company. Rather this viewpoint suggests that technical expertise and competency in a field are no longer sufficient by themselves for ensuring the success of a newly hired employee. Equally as important is someone's ability to be agile in his role, as well as being able to fit in with the culture of your company both now and in the future.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]

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