Hiring for Potential

Hiring an employee is always a nerve-wracking process, doubly so for startups where a single employee represents a substantial resource investment. There’s a lot of options out there in the talent pool, but how do you get the best? Common knowledge suggests that the path to finding top talent is to look for somebody with years of proven experience.

I mean, obviously; everybody wants to get their hands on the transitively unemployed genius with two decades of experience in their chosen field and a passion for whatever project your startup is working on. That’s why these majestic employees are so rare: because everybody is competing for them. They are sought after and they know it; they can demand the best and they know it; and most of all, even if you hire them, they may always be looking for that greener pasture which means that turnover can be exceptionally high. Fortunately, finding an extremely experienced candidate isn’t the only way to pull Grade-A talent from the hiring pool; according to some startup owners, it may not even be the best way.

Startups are almost always competing for hires at a disadvantage. Not only do startups have less money to throw around, each hour spent focusing on hiring represents a larger opportunity cost than it might for their competitors. Because of this, false starts with employees and turnover are things startups should try to avoid wherever possible. Fortunately, there is a way to more consistently find a good, long-term fit for your company; hiring for potential rather than for experience

Now, I know what the knee-jerk reaction to this statement is: “Are you saying you want me to hire some fresh out of college nobody with no experience and no skills.”

To that, I say, “No.”

Let me make this clear; hiring for potential is not the same thing as taking risky gambles on untested or poorly suited candidates. The key to hiring for potential is knowing how to spot all of the indicators of success in a potential hire before you even give a thought to how many years they’ve been in the business. Hiring for potential is about finding that accountant who wants to be an account manager, that student who can readily demonstrate all of the right skills, or that programmer who is clearly smart and talented, but needs a bit of training to use your particular workflow.

One of the key qualities that determine a good hiring manager from a great hiring manager is the ability to hire for potential rather than merely for a good track record. Anybody can look at a resume, see a decade or more of quality experience, and assume that they must be good. It takes a touch of finesse to spot a person who is a couple weeks training away from being the perfect fit for your team. Once you know that perfect fit is out there, you can start looking for them.

Being able to recognize talent with very good potential can be a challenge, but there are plenty of tools to help. Naturally, I recommend TalentCube, as it lets your company keep all their prospective hires in one place and its testing platform can give you a feel for your candidates potential.

Hiring for potential can be a challenging leap to take, but many startups have tried and found that it delivers some of their best employees. In addition to allowing startups to pursue less hotly competed individuals, it also allows them to pick from a broader range of candidates and find someone who is not only a good fit for the job but also for the company.