lucy dunnBy Lucy Dunn (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) | 22 October 2015

Over the last decades of my recruitment experience, I have placed a lot of candidates and here is an interesting thing I was reflecting on after a conversation with a hiring manager. He was looking for a candidate with a specific experience, even to the point of asking that they previously worked at a specific company, in a specific role. This is one of the reasons that it is so important that I speak with the hiring manager before doing all the grinding work of finding and recruiting qualified candidates for an interview. And that almost always lead to a whole conversation about the importance of a candidate having the right potential as well as fitting in as well and being able to do the all the things they were hired to do.

My post-call reflections went something like: 

  • Some candidates fit in a new environment more or less straight away, some might struggle for a little while and eventually found the way in, and some, for whatever reasons, just wouldn’t make it work. And all these candidates I am referring to were carefully screened interviewed, and peer referenced by multiple parties involved in the recruitment process 
  • Some candidates, when hired immediately can do the job, others struggle a bit but as soon up to speed, and a few just never quite meet expectations 
  • And finally, some candidates are a great fit in a specific job but never are able to grow within the organization because they can’t move beyond what they have done in the past. All three of these present challenges but this last one is the one I think is most interesting and most potentially valuable for an organization to pay attention to

In some cases, those who fit into the new companies the easiest were from very different company cultures, some of those who were most effective after a year on the job has little relevant industry experience, and those who were able to raise the fastest in the organization did not always have anything close to the “perfect match” for the job description on their CV. In fact some of my most successful candidates, if only experience was considered, may have looked unqualified on paper but there must have been something else that mattered even more. On the other hand, sometimes those who failed to really stand out in the job or were sometimes even asked to leave had looked like the perfect square peg just made for the square hole being filled. Clearly there is something we, as interviewers and hiring managers are not considering that is critical for successful hires. So what was missing?

The missing piece is POTENTIAL, it is the ability to adapt and grow. Success in an increasing complex environment, both internally and externally, require more than rote knowledge a certain number of years in a job. Historically, we have been focused on industry experience and relevant functional competences in hiring decisions. It might have worked in the past, but in today’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environments, it makes more sense to think beyond this traditional criteria. The reality is, your customers’ businesses are being reinvented daily, weekly, monthly, or at least annually in reaction to changes in their marketplace, or if they are not, you will need to find new customers because they will be gone before long. You, your company, and your customers need to constantly be innovating to stay relevant. And I am going to submit that relevant is the new term for business “potential.” A very famous Canadian hockey player responded to an interviewer’s question that he stayed ahead of the other skaters and scored more goals by “skating to where the puck was going not to where it had been.” To bring this to the day to day work environment, applying the same skills, using the same tools is fine if next year’s work were the same but it is not, and this approach is simply not sustainable long term! Only having the right experience and having the right skills might not be, at least today, as desirable as it has been, whereas, having the ability to learn, embrace change and apply new skills as the job requirement changes are more important. In one of my previous articles, I talked about what these trends mean as individual, and today I will focus on what this means to the hiring manager.

So how can you find out the potential of a candidate more accurately? Scenario questions are one answer, yet the effectiveness totally depends on what and how your ask them. Are your questions job- specific or do they require the candidate to consider new alternatives or move from a specific answer to a more general truth? The latter is more likely to give you a glimpse of someone’s potential. Companies like Microsoft or Google were criticized when they first began to focus on unexpected questions like, how much does the moon weigh during interviews. The object is not to find out how much cheese can be harvested but to gauge the candidate’s ability to be creative as well as use logic and to react when the expected situation changes, maybe much like real life situations. Today most companies use some form of these challenging questions as a standard part of the interview process because they are not hiring to fill a job, but to find an employee that can contribute to the company throughout a career.

It is also worthwhile for the interviewers to prepare for interviews with a new prospective. I know many are so experienced that they can walk into the interview with their eyes closed, however, by asking the same set of questions to today’s candidate something can be missed and someone else may be building the A team that will be your new competitor.

Some useful questions are - 

  • If business priorities change radically, describe how you would help your team understand and carry out the mission implied by these new goals? The answer can demonstrate; flexibility, business acumen, organization skills, and he ability to function in an uncertain environment. 
  • What skill or expertise do you feel like you’re still missing? The answer may not be as interesting as the way they react and address the question which can show confidence, self-awareness, and curiosity. 
  • Can you teach me something, as if I’ve never heard of it before? It can be anything. This question can reveal a great deal about how the candidate thinks. Do they take time to think before answering? It also shows if he/she is capable in clearly explaining technical details which could be understood. 
  • What do you do for fun? Again, the specific answer may not be important but you may well see a pattern in why they like the things they do that give you an additional insight!

As always, I love feedback and you my audience are clearly the experts in your own markets and functions, so, what other questions are helping you to find your next candidates potential?


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