Experience vs. Potential, what really adds the most value?

Have you ever experienced looking at a really interesting job advertisement just to find that they require skills or experience immediately ruling you out of the game? I have. Quite often it makes me wonder, is it really always necessary to have e

Up until recently, it has been common practice to consider previous experience as a safe predictor of future performance. However, it is clear today that past performance does not necessarily lead to future performance with many studies point towards potential being a better predictor of success than previous experience and performance.

There are many arguments for switching your focus from the traditional focus on experience into focusing on assessing potential.

  • More choice. It opens up a larger pool of talent to choose from. If you are looking for a rare profile, it might be worth asking yourself what skills you really need as a minimum and then look for potential that can be trained on everything else. 10 years of experience doesn’t always give you better quality candidates than 2 years of experience.
  • Time efficiency. If you need to fill a position quickly, it helps you to open up to a broader candidate pool to choose from with less risk of desperately hiring someone with the right skills but wrong attitude.
  • Financial efficiency. If you are working with tight financial constraints, you might have to offer a salary at the lower end of the scale of what these skills are worth. In that case, hiring someone who already has these skills, you might find yourself with a catch, why are they accepting a lower salary? Hiring for potential means giving someone a chance to learn those skills, meaning that the salary cut is more likely to be worth it.
  • Diversity. If you focus on potential on top of the minimum requirements, you open up to great candidates with a different background than what you would normally expect and if done right, it can help you to work against unconscious bias. It will open up to more experienced candidates with the “wrong” background, i.e. the ones who have a strong track record behind them but in another field. People are more conscious about their mental health and doing something, which they enjoy these days. It is nothing wrong with changing career path later in life.
  • Engagement. Engagement comes from a complex mix of company culture and conditions. However, is sparked by the right level of challenge and stimulation. If you have an employee with the right mindset, it is a great place to start. Long-term engagement is more likely to be found in high potential employees.
  • Cultural fit. Focusing your selection on assessing the right motivations and attitudes increases your chances of finding a candidate with the right motivations and attitudes.
  • Adaptability. People lacking in the direct experience but with high potential tend to adapt more quickly to change. They also don’t come with preset ideas or even bad habits.

On the flip side, hiring for experience also has its tried-and-tested advantages for most employers.

  • Independence. Experienced candidates are generally quicker at picking up what needs to be done.
  • Problem solving. Experienced candidates can use their previous experience and knowledge for solving the challenges faced in the new position.
  • Fewer uncertainties. Previous experience often means that the employee knows better their strengths and weaknesses in a particular function.

The skills and knowledge required to be successful today are constantly developing and changing. The ability to adapt, develop and thrive in new contexts and during times of change is becoming more important than ever before.

With hiring for potential rather than experience having many advantages, can you really afford to exclude your high potential candidates because they don’t fit your standard box?


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