Candidate Selection Trick Question #101: Hiring for Potential vs. Skills?

By Tess Curle Taylor, PHR, CPC

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Candidate Selection

Working in a human resources department or recruitment team is never easy, especially when you have to make decisions on the selection of candidates. These decisions can made even more difficult when a paltry amount of applications from qualified candidates come in. If a recruiter has to sift through hundreds of poor applications for just one position, the return on this time investment is disappointing at best.

This leads to the trick question that all recruiters ask themselves at one point in their careers:

Is is better to select a candidate based on skills alone or their future potential?  

Why Hire for Potential?

When assignments become available at your company, does your hiring manager like to focus on potential? If so, some companies can succeed using this method. Potential is not something that provides definitive answers. In fact, when you hire based on potential, you are pinning your hopes on the idea that the employee will grow into his or her position based on certain intangibles.

Companies that hire based on potential typically do so in certain situations such as when the candidate possesses unique core values or when the company finds itself suffering through a tough labor market, recruiting at colleges and operating an organization with a large learning curve.

Many companies hit the collegiate circuit each year he hoping to find students prepared to graduate. They look for students who have the drive and ability to be molded into excellent employees within the company. The students are viewed as raw material that can be taught how things operate at the company.

A tight labor market might force a company to hire based on potential. They will take a chance on a candidate who has the ability, but not the experience. Many times, candidates who have the experience might not be available when the jobs become open.

Why Hire for Skills?

Companies that need to hire new employees based on their experience or skills are not doing things wrong either. For the most part, the company needs to determine which method of hiring is best for them at the time they have jobs open. Hiring for skills occurs with technical jobs, a need for mentors, being a startup company and new business ventures.

A company might hire based on skills alone for technical jobs. These jobs are very demanding and obviously require a specific skill-set in order to succeed. Training candidates for these jobs is not optimal for companies, which is why they hire employees based on their skills.

When a company releases a new business venture, it might want to hire professionals who have experience with product releases. Releasing a new product or service is not easy, which is why an employee with experience will help make the venture seamless.

Companies also hire employees with specific skills to mentor their less experienced employees. Mentors will help employees learn specific aspects of the job and the company so the legacy continues to live-on as the years pass. Skills are assets that are transferrable and it's this goal that the organization has in mind. 

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