Hire for Potential Not Experience by Asking These 5 Key Questions

Past performance is no longer an accurate proxy for future success. In hiring, the most critical skill is the ability to learn on the fly.

learn more about Stefan Groschupf

By Stefan Groschupf • Jul 24, 2014

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The people you hire directly affect how successful your business becomes. As the technology industry quickly expands, businesses are on the hunt for qualified candidates who can take their company to the next level.

But to find the right fit, hiring employers need to ditch the long-held belief that experience trumps all. Instead of looking for what a candidate has previously achieved, they should consider what applicants have the ability to accomplish. Using this new paradigm, focused on hiring for potential instead of experience, past performance is no longer an accurate proxy for future success.

Related: The Strategy Behind Weird Interview Questions

According to the fifth annual Silicon Valley Bank Innovation Economy Outlook report, 80 percent of global technology executives plan to expand their business in the near future, yet they're challenged by finding the right talent. The same report found that 90 percent of executives have a difficult time finding the right person for the job. And when rushed to fill a position, employers often hire the wrong person costing their company even more. A recent CareerBuilder survey found that for 27 percent of U.S. employees a bad hire could cost their company more than $50,000.

So it's crucial to invest in recruiting, hiring and retaining the right people.

So how does an employer predict potential?

Rely on Korn/Ferry's hiring and training strategy that identifies 67 core competencies that are desirable in candidates including business acumen, career ambition, composure, compassion and ability to deal with ambiguity.

In addition, interviews examining behavior style have been used by Apple and Google units to assess overall talent performance and zero in on employees who demonstrate a propensity for characteristics or behavior proved by data to be tied to workplace success.

In hiring, the most critical skill is the ability to learn on the fly. A candidate's resume may indicate that the individual managed a successful project at a high-end company. But it's even more important to know what conflicts that person encountered and how he or she overcame them. To discover if a candidate is an agile learner, ask candidates to reflect on experiences and provide specific scenarios, approaches and results. Here are some sample questions to ask:

Related: 9 Questions to Ask Candidates' References

1. Can you describe a time when you suddenly changed a job or situation?

2. Could you tell me about a time when a professional crisis made what you'd been working on obsolete or ineffective?

3. Can you recall an instance when you had a professional problem and did not know what to do?

4. Can you explain how your work habits change when you don't know exactly what to do

5. Would you be willing to tell me about a time when you had more to do that you could possibly get done.

There are no right or wrong answers, but assessing an applicant for these competencies can help locate a candidate who would excel in the position.

People don't underperform because of their lack of experience; they underperform because of their lack of soft skills. And these soft skills identified by the Korn/Ferry strategy can help transcend the requirement for experience.

Related: The 10 Unique Soft Skills Employers Desire in New Hires

Stefan Groschupf

CEO of Datameer

Stefan Groschupf is co-founder and CEO of Datameer, a provider of big-data analytics. A big-data veteran and serial entrepreneur with roots in the open-source community, Groschupf was one of the early contributors to Nutch, the open-source project that spun off Hadoop.

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