Potential, Not Credentials…Poll on Hiring Trends Illustrates New Trend

By J. James O’Malley, Former Andersen National Director of Experience Recruiting,

Jim joined TalentRISE as a partner in 2012 to focus on clients’ executive leadership challenges by leveraging his passions for executive search, on-demand recruiting, workforce planning and analytics and executive coaching. jimomalley@talentrise.com

In the July issue of this newsletter [link here to the previous article], I addressed the challenges of hiring experienced talent. I argued that, if you want to grow your firm, relying on internal talent in today’s labor market is not a viable strategy. Within virtually every sector of professional services, demand outstrips supply, making hiring from the outside an imperative, not a choice. Hiring from your competition, however, is also fraught with challenges. Consider, for instance, that individuals willing to make lateral moves often (but not always) represent less-than-stellar talent.

Another - in my view - more viable strategy is for firms to revamp their foundational approach to hire based on potential vs. experience. This means hiring executives from outside of the usual “Lateral Hiring” channels” who exhibit potential. The concept is catching on: at TalentRISE, we are wrapping up a second poll on the recruitment challenges faced by organizations today. When asked, “What are you doing to become more effective in finding qualified candidates to fill open positions?”, “hiring people with potential, as opposed to credentials”, was selected by 18.5% of respondents. Tied for first place, “Enhancing our employment brand”, was also cited by 18.5% of respondents while “poaching talent directly from competitors”, is currently selected by 15% of poll participants. See the chart below.

This signals three growing trends among businesses that, faced with a decreasing supply of qualified talent, are:

Re-thinking their hiring criteria

Focusing more on selling themselves to candidates

Becoming more aggressive in attempts to lure talent from others within their industry

As far as prioritizing potential over experience, businesses aren’t necessarily lowering the bar on the caliber of talent that they hire; they are just re-balancing the scales. Hiring for potential, as opposed to career experience and other credentials, does however require a more thorough and thoughtful approach to the entire recruitment process. First, you need to define the characteristics of "high potential" which means doing an analysis, specific to a particular job, to describe the skills, knowledge and behaviors critical to success in that specific role. There are certainly other considerations to take into account during the sourcing process, such as cultural fit and the ability to take initiative and deliver results (for an excellent summary discussion of how to define “high potential, go here). Careful assessments using front end assessment tools and technology are also key, as is onboarding and assimilation coaching for the first 90 days, particularly for the more senior level experienced hires.

Ironically, most professional services firms get the concept of hiring for potential - in fact, they perfected it in their campus recruiting programs. Taking a calculated risk and extending the concept to experienced hires will be a game changer for the firms who can implement and execute this strategy. When “done right”, hiring for potential will also help your firm “import” new perspectives, gain momentum as an innovator, and possibly even expand your customer base. No wonder the trend, as shown by our survey, is gathering momentum.