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See what people CAN do, not just what they have done in the past
Herb Greenberg
Herb Greenberg

Recently, the Harvard Business Review published an interesting article entitled, “The Big Idea: 21st Century Talent Spotting” by Claudio Fernandez-Araoz. It was refreshing to read an intelligently crafted article looking at potential in hiring and developing personnel.

Much has recently been written about the increasing dissatisfaction that employees demonstrate toward their job or their employer. I frequently ask the following question to a group of clients during meetings with regard to how they hire people: When you’re crafting a job description and write, “10 years’ experience required,” why do you ask for 10? Why not 8 or 12? Then, I’ll ask: How often have you hired that person with 10 years’ experience only to find that it was 1 year of bad experience repeated 10 times? Although this generates laughter among the group, it can often be disastrous in practice, when time after time, the wrong hire is being brought on board. A bad hire is a detrimental expense to your company, and you always end up back at square one – in need of filling an open position.

The failure of depending on “what someone has done” in determining whether or not to hire them, rather than looking at “who they are” can be summed up by an axiom in the training industry: “You can always teach skills but you can’t train attitude.”

The use of resume data in making hiring decisions is important in terms of understanding whether someone is a viable candidate for an open role. However, it should not be the sole determinant. If you want to hire a salesperson, of course, you look for someone who has sold before. The reality is in fact that if you integrate a valid personality assessment and other proven tools into your hiring process, you now have a gold mine of data that can then help you create a more robust hiring process.

For example, if an individual possesses the potential to do a job – meaning they show the inherent motivation to function successfully in a role – he or she can be taught to do that job. A simple process of determining what potential an individual possesses in terms of who they are, and then training them appropriately will have immediate impact on turnover, on early productivity, and on hiring people who can not only do the immediate job, but also move up at the organization. And if you have the right person, with the right attitude, and the right motivations, you can always provide them with the training they need to be successful. That is how you hire a top performer and build for the future.

Obviously, this approach is slightly more difficult because there is no one indication of having potential. It requires really looking at the individual to make that determination, but thousands of companies will tell you that by doing this, the positive impact financially and from an employee engagement perspective is incredible.

So, what I am suggesting is a shift in approach. Let’s worry less about “how many years have you sold or how experience do you possess doing X” and let’s focus on who you are. And given who the applicant is, where can you make the maximum impact to enrich their life and add to your company’s success?
Those who truly enjoy their job, and know that it plays to their strengths are the lucky ones. They are engaged, loyal to their companies, and happy to wake up each morning and go to work. Just think if you could hire an entire staff of people like that: the type of productivity and profitability your company could realize.

Potential can open many doors, and those companies who understand it, live it. And those who don’t will find themselves in a never-ending revolving door of bad candidates and lost time, money, and resources.

About Caliper - For nearly half a century, Caliper has been helping companies achieve peak performance by advising them on hiring the right people, managing individuals most effectively and developing productive teams. The accuracy, objectivity and depth of our consulting approach enable us to provide solutions that work for over 25,000 companies. To find out more about how Caliper can help you identify and develop people who can lead your organization to peak performance, please visit us at  or call us at 609-524-1200. Email to contact Herb.