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Need A-Players? Look Past Experience and Hire for Potential

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You have a crucial spot to fill on your team, and the best strategy for hiring your A-player to drive results is to look for comparable experience in a similar role, and even better, a similar industry….right?  Not so fast…

It’s a Trap

Looking at only previous experience that closely aligns with your role, and only at those who are already familiar with your industry seems to be a recipe for success, and those criteria certainly can help you identify someone who can do the job.  But is that all you really want?  Or do you really want someone who can excel in your role and help your company drive business success?  If so, you need to step outside your comfort zone.  What you’re looking for is an A-player, and these elusive creatures aren’t necessarily identified by a list of skills and previous employers on a resume.  What you really want is to hire for potential, not experience.

Reach for the Stars

Decision Toolbox CEO Kim Shepherd calls this recruiting approach “hiring Colonels with potential.”  She believes that if you need a General in your organization – you know, that person who is going to come in and lead others, make an impact, and win the war for your company – you shouldn’t necessarily go out looking for that General.  Instead, you look for someone who shows motivation, someone who aspires to be that General but hasn’t yet had the opportunity to prove themselves, but has all the makings of a great General.

Potential Traits

So how do you identify that Colonel with potential?  There are many complex studies out there that dissect the anatomy of a high-potential employee, but this list from Forbes contributor Claudio Fernández-Aráoz is beautiful in its simplicity and hits the potential on the head:

  • Curiosity: a penchant for seeking out new experiences, knowledge, and candid feedback, and an openness to learning and change.
  • Insight: the ability to gather and make sense of information that suggests new possibilities.
  • Engagement: a knack for using emotion and logic to communicate a persuasive vision and connect with people.
  • Determination: the wherewithal to fight for difficult goals despite challenges, and to bounce back from adversity.

While having experience in your industry or a similar role certainly doesn’t hurt, the high-potential employee is capable of  expanding on the skills they have to fill in any gaps in their experience base and will embrace the challenge of learning the skills needed, thanks to their endless curiosity. They’ll dive headfirst into the role, making sense of all the information they have at hand, taking your business goals into consideration and coming up with creative ways to meet them.

Potential = Passion

Attracting and engaging passionate employees seems to be the target we’re all aspiring to hit.  While there are many factors that impact the passion of your employees (including your company culture), you can’t ignite passion if there’s no spark there to start with.  Assessing your hires for potential, then knowing how to tap into their passion will fuel your company’s success.


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2 Responses to “Need A-Players? Look Past Experience and Hire for Potential”

  1. June 04, 2014 at 11:27 am, Leesa Goldin said:

    Thank you for the article. I can help but wonder if the author really means “Colonial”. The term doesn’t make sense in this military analogy. Perhaps Colonel?…

    co·lo·ni·al /kəˈlōnyəl,-nēəl/ adjective adjective: colonial

    1. of, relating to, or characteristic of a colony or colonies.
    “British colonial rule”
    •relating to the period of the British colonies in America before independence.
    •(especially of architecture or furniture) made during or in the style of this period.
    2. (of animals or plants) living in colonies.

    noun: colonial; plural noun: colonials
    1. a native or inhabitant of a colony.
    2. a house built in colonial style.


    • June 04, 2014 at 12:04 pm, Kelly Graham said:

      Great catch, Leesa! Typo for sure and it has been corrected. Thank you so much!


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