Focus your hiring on candidates’ potential—not experience

Ever since Kennedy-Nixon, American elections have tended to fit neatly into the narrative of the change candidate vs. the experienced political veteran. We can think of any election as a really exhaustive, expensive hiring process—whether it’s for the nation’s top job or your local representative. But while you may not hold a company-wide vote on your next hire, you can consider what qualities beyond experience may serve a new open position.

The “change candidate” in an election is the one who will shake things up, bring alternate experience to the role, or simply demonstrate potential—and you can apply the same principle to hiring in any industry. Oftentimes resume-sifting programs are designed to locate experience and pedigree that pertain to job skills, thus seeking out the experienced candidate. But how can you expand the definition of talent to find new talent and measure a candidate’s potential? And why should you?

Find hidden potential

When you widen the parameters of a job search you may find new talent where you never thought to look before. Sometimes the “ideal hire” on paper, with the exact degree and exact experience you require, may not actually be ideal in practice. Other factors like drive, determination, listening, and other “soft skills” can often be key factors inherent within the personality of a new hire that make them successful. These sorts of factors can only be understood when you define what features of a new hire will make an excellent fit for the position—beyond their past experience. Instead of finding the ideal hire, mold a new hire into the ideal by offering them the chance to gain experience.

Detect translational skills

First and foremost, this requires creativity on the part of the HR team. After all, you have to move beyond the idea they’ve done it before, so they can do it again. The idea here is to consider a candidate’s past experiences (even beyond the workplace) and how that experience may shape their ability to perform in the role you need to fill.

Someone who organizes a neighborhood food drive has the ability to motivate members of a team, and the drive to finish and implement a project. Service projects and hobbies are often left off a candidate’s resume but can speak to a range of skills that can benefit both the individual and the organization in a new role. This may require updating your application process or interviews to include questions beyond the usual relevant experience.

Look beyond industry-specific experience

People who change careers in their lifetime will have job experience that is often vital and translatable across new industries. Even if it’s not the exact same experience a new position requires, someone seeking to find a foot in the door of a new industry or want a fresh start is likely someone eager to learn new skills and blend their old skills into a new position. Detecting translational skills is perhaps most important with this type of talent, which is a great pool to draw from for their potential and their desire to try out something new.

Put discriminatory practices in check

For several years, Amazon was testing the waters of an AI recruiting tool that concluded it should weed out resumes by women. Was this a case of technology gone awry? Or was it detecting and exposing discriminatory trends that already existed in the workplace? Even though AI is becoming a more popular tool for HR management teams in the hiring process, we might also question a screening process that automatically weeds out candidates with less experience. People who have been underemployed throughout the Great Recession, new graduates, those who have employment gaps for childcare or eldercare, those with criminal records, those with disabilities, and even veterans will all show less experience on their resumes—or the candidate may have valuable experience that does not exactly match that of your open position.

Within this vast field of potential candidates, there is a vast crop of potential talent; make sure you’re looking everywhere you might find it.

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