8 Reasons Recruiters and HR Professionals Should Hire For Potential

recruiting management systemThe war for talent shows no particular signs of abating, which has meant recruitment and HR professionals need to work harder to find top talent.

Ideal candidates are hard to come by. Now more so than ever, with 38% of employers struggling to fill jobs in 2015, so perhaps it’s time we stopped looking for them. I’m not advocating giving up, not at all. You know what they say – “nothing worth having comes easy”… But I am proposing Another Way.

Instead of *finding* that ideal candidate, how about *making* that ideal candidate?

What do I mean by that? I mean, hiring for potential and training for skills. It’s a phrase that’s been around for years, but it’s particularly relevant now.

Some candidates just aren’t right for a role. I know that, you know that, we all know that (apart from the candidate themselves, which can be an eternal source of frustration). And a few candidates are obviously, instantly, perfect. It’s that tingling feeling you get when they walk through the door to their first interview. I used to be a recruiter, and I never once changed my mind about someone I had a bad feeling about to start with. Maybe that’s me, but my gut tells me a recruiter knows when someone’s right. Sixth sense, or something like that.

The two ends of the spectrum aside, what about all the ‘almost’ candidates in the middle?

That’s where hiring for potential comes in. Hiring managers can be resistant, I know, but there are some really good reasons to consider it. 8 good reasons, in fact.

1 – Perfect Candidates are Rare

Looking for the Perfect Candidate puts you on a road to nowhere pretty quickly.

A job spec is generally like a Christmas list. It’s human nature, when you’re asked to define what you want, to start thinking of Every. Single. Thing.  you’ve ever wanted.

Recruiters and HR Managers are rarely going to find everything on the hiring manager’s Christmas list, so why not avoid Christmas morning disappointment – or, you know, interview disappointment – by whittling the list down to start with?

Widening the job spec should be a natural move for anyone hiring:

  • What are the 100% must-have skills vs. the nice-to-haves?
  • What does that candidate actually need to do, in the job?
  • What if they can achieve that without the qualification the manager is stating as mandatory?

It might sound a little defeatist, but a major reason to hire for potential is that you’re much more likely to be able to hire at all.

2 – Hiring for Potential Is Faster

Recruiters and HR Managers all know the drill – the client or hiring manager officially needs this person yesterday. Slow hires are costly to your business, and heap pressure on the rest of the team who’re covering the workload of the extra person-to-be.

Hiring for potential is much quicker. Not only because you can actually find someone to hire in the first place, but because those ‘almost’ candidates aren’t going to have as many other interviews on going and they’re more likely to accept an offer you make them.

Last year, 56% of employers reported they had job offers declined by their ideal candidate, with 31% of these being due to an alternate offer, according to last years MRI Sentiment Survey.

Hiring for potential – finding the hidden talent that isn’t being courted by every other competitor – can increase your offer acceptance ratio and decrease your time-to-hire.

3 – It’s a Bargain

Hiring for potential and training for skills means you’re getting someone who knows they’re not the finished product. That’s a massive plus point in terms of your bottom line costs, because they’ll be much less likely to demand an outrageous salary and much more likely to value the opportunity for development.

This reason should hold particular weight with hiring managers in companies who invest heavily in training. According to LinkedIn’s last Talent Trends Survey in 2014, greater opportunity for professional advancement is the number one motivation for active candidates in changing jobs, ahead of salary and compensation.

For hiring managers, targeting those candidates who’re motivated by training and development means keeping your acquisition costs down when hiring. Plus, if your company already invests in training, you’ve got the appropriate infrastructure in place to quickly bring hires up to scratch.

4 – You Can’t Buy Loyalty

Except you sort of can, if you hire for potential. By taking the leap and hiring someone who’s almost, but not quite, spot on, companies are demonstrating a major commitment to that candidate. Giving someone a chance to prove themselves is invaluable –because more often than not they’ll repay you with extreme loyalty.

In the candidate-driven market we’re in at the moment, loyalty is a massive boon for businesses. Job-hopping is the new normal, and it costs businesses literally millions of dollars. It would be facetious to suggest that one candidate hired for potential is worth millions of dollars…but, you get the picture.

recruiting management system5 – Agility & Imagination

The business landscape is changing, and most businesses are looking for a different type of hire.

Call them Yes-Men, call them nodding dogs, call them cannon fodder… call them what you will, but the demand for unimaginative and inflexible employees is coming to an end, at least in the majority of industries.

Instead, businesses are realizing that they need to evolve. The explosion of the start-up economy is testimony to the importance of agility and imagination in business in 2015, and even the Big Brands are paying attention.

As a result, experience is increasingly taking a back seat in favor of attitude. Skills can be trained but imaginative innovation is rare, and in-demand.

6 – Drive Determines Success (Mostly)

Most recruiters and HR professionals would list ‘drive’ or ‘motivation’ as one of our most resounding qualities, so why is it we somehow see this as a bit of a ‘fluffy’ trait when we hear it from someone else?

We know first hand how important drive is to success, and it only becomes more important in the absence of an exact skills match. Anecdotally speaking, I suspect that drive actually trumps skills altogether – someone who wants something enough will find a way to make it happen, while someone who has the ability to make something happen but doesn’t want to…Well, you see what I mean.

If you hire someone for potential they’ll be hungry to prove themselves, and insatiable in the pursuit of success. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a quality absolutely worth having.

7 – Diversify for Growth

Linked to the idea of agility and imagination, businesses are increasingly realizing the importance of diversity. I don’t mean diversity in the hollow, ‘how do we meet our diversity quota’ type way, either.

Rather, diversity in the sense of genuinely exposing the business to a wide variety of perspectives, opinions and experiences. Hiring for potential generally means hiring someone who has an atypical profile for your business – a different background, different skills or different qualifications – and that diversity can only be a good thing.

“A strong, collaborative team will help you deliver sound, creative results and has become increasingly important regardless of your industry or business […] Look for talent that brings different perspectives and skills to the table. Homogeneous teams tend to produce less creative results”

Laura Cox Kaplan, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy Leader, PwC

Businesses can’t grow, can’t evolve, without a diversity of opinions driving that. That’s not to say that a company shouldn’t have a central united vision, or a clear brand, or any of those other things, but it’s true to say that staid equals static, almost all of the time.

Look at the powerhouse brands of the decade – Google or Facebook, to give you an idea – and they all have innovation and diversity in common.

recruiting management system8 – Malleability

Every business is about finding a balance between innovation and tradition: who we are, vs. where we’re going. The freedom to innovate, as above, is a big part of that, but brand identity is an equally big part. The structure within which change and innovation can thrive, if you like.

Hiring for potential means hiring someone who often has a particularly malleable attitude and is eager to absorb as much about the business as they can. They often become your most passionate brand ambassadors, carrying the torch of brand identity and igniting that passion in others.

With employer brand becoming strategically more important, any steps businesses can take to solidify their employer brand identity are steps in the right direction.

If you hire for potential, these new hires often become the living, breathing embodiment of your brand, cementing your identity so you *can* innovate – and you really can’t put a price on that.


Recruiters and HR Managers will often encounter some resistance when talking about hiring for potential. Often though, this resistance is easily remedied. Hiring Mangers want reassurance that hiring for potential isn’t a byword for ‘hiring a hopeless case’, and it really isn’t.

Definitely, some jobs need someone who is absolutely spot on and can hit the ground running. Someone who has every single skill, competency and trait the hiring manager dreams about at night (a leave cover contract might be a good example).

Many roles, though, don’t need that person. Often, it’s more important to find someone who drives company culture, who wants success so much they can taste it and who has the adaptability to learn the skills you teach them. Those people are as valuable as gold dust… but much easier to find.

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Additional reads:

The benefits of a dedicated recruitment team [Infographic]

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