The process of hiring employees can be considered as part art and part science. The challenge faced by hiring authorities is where to put the most emphasis: on a person’s resume, which documents (and may overstate) his or her past performance, or on a less tangible determinant, such as future potential.
It’s an unfortunate reality that many people who look good on paper end up not being successful in positions for which they’ve been hired. There are many reasons this can happen, but more important than figuring out why is determining whether these bad hires—which have both financial and emotional costs—can be prevented.
In a June 2014 HBR article about spotting talent, Claudio Fernandez-Araoz espouses that there must be a fundamental shift in the hiring process—moving from emphasis on past competencies to future potential. He defines the latter as having the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging new roles.
This is compelling concept, and while it doesn’t negate the value of past performance, it does support the idea that technical expertise and competence alone are no longer sufficient to ensure new hires’ success. Equally important is whether “new blood” is a good fit for the organization, and this necessitates the use of an interview style that can reveal prospective employees’ ability to fit into a company’s culture and vision.
Here are three key steps to take in preparing to hire a high potential employee:
- Articulate your vision for the role. This entails being specific about what will be expected of this employee. For instance, rather than asking candidates how they would attract new sales prospects, identify the characteristics of your ideal client and then ask them to provide examples of how they would target meetings and close deals with this sector.
- Define your company culture. Ask questions that will illuminate candidates’ values, including what motivates them and whether they are competitive yet comfortable in situations that require collaboration. Never underestimate the importance of “fit,” i.e., the ability to successfully connect with existing team members, as a way to discern if successful onboarding will occur.
- Identify behavioral expectations. Candidates must be able to demonstrate behaviors that will ensure their success, such as work ethic. For example, if you seek someone who doesn’t need much structure and can initiate productive behavior, ask for examples when they’ve been able to self-start, overcome obstacles, and execute to achieve a goal. Also ask about how they resolved an ethical dilemma (and if they say that’s never happened, it’s likely they’re not comfortable being forthright and transparent).
When you engage in the hiring process based on candidates’ high potential, your success will be based on how well you did your homework before the interview; asking the right questions is the key to finding employees who are both technically proficient and a good fit for the organization.