Hands down, I choose potential.

It is not enough to hire individuals who possess the skills and experience needed for the work. When I offer someone a job, it’s mostly because I think they have potential. And, when I have to choose between skills and potential, I choose potential every time.

Years ago, I worked for an executive who insisted on interviewing the number one candidate for all vacancies in his very large division. He was a hands-off kind of leader who would never be accused of micromanaging and, in all other aspects, gave his direct reports free reign to run their units. But he didn’t budge on a practice that allowed him to have veto power on all hiring decisions.

Even crazier, this executive sometimes spent less than 10 minutes on these meet and greets with those about to be hired. It didn’t take long to see it if they had it – he used to say he was looking for one thing, sparkle. I guess I had sparkle because he recruited me for his IT organization at a time when using email and Microsoft Word (I mean Word, not MS Office) were the sum total of my technical skills.

All these years later, I too look for sparkle. For me sparkle = potential. How does this sparkly potential present? Beyond the obvious gleam and glitter, here are some of the signs I look for:

  • a liberal arts education
  • someone who asks a lot of questions and does so in a conversational way
  • someone who gives an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses; they openly admit that they’ve never done a particular type of work but they tell me why they could
  • work experience in a wide variety of jobs because it means they have worked with all kinds of people and been in many types of work environments (sometimes this variety comes from high school jobs and that’s okay with me)
  • someone who hopes for a mix of duties and responsibilities in their day
  • someone who can confidently talk about their contributions in previous jobs without seeming embarrassed

I’m a little more patient than the executive I mention above – I don’t need to see sparkle within the first ten minutes. And, unless your intent is a team full of extroverts, I suggest that you also allow your evaluation of a candidate’s sparkle to extend into the second interview. Second interviews are necessary? Absolutely. I never hire someone based on one interview. Never. In fact, final check on the potential of candidates is the second set of questions, concerns, and issues they bring to the second interview.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

10 thoughts on “Hands down, I choose potential.”

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

    Potential is always #1; the only times I have strayed and required a higher percentage of skills compared to potential is where I have an immediate need for someone to step in and hit the ground rolling.

    This brings up a corollary with planning. If you can plan things well, you can get that head start that lets you even more easily hire the person with amazing potential but fewer direct skills and be assured they will use that potential to bring up their skills before you need them critically.

    Go sparkle!

  2. I just wanted to let you know your recent posts have been very timely for me. It is like you are channeling my current location. I / my team is doing lots of the growth at the moment and these posts seem to keep hitting on just the right days. Keep it up!

  3. What to do when you grow big:) Not fat but my team is gaining approx 6-8 members so kind of changes my role.

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