….particularly if you are a small to medium sized employer looking for  candidates with hard to find skills and work experience!

This blog offers up some ideas for small to medium sized employers who often find themselves unable to do what they want to do when it comes to recruiting and hiring.  It also provides some reasons why an  employer’s decision to do what they can do instead of what they want to do might be the best thing to do after all.   

Yep, that’s a whole lot of DOING…but check out what we have to say on this topic that we hope you will find to be very relevant to today’s candidate short marketplace.  It just might have some ideas worth pursuing.     

From our perch hiring for potential is very much like hiring for “fit”.

Your target candidate is not someone with all the skills and experience you might like, but someone with the innate ability (some call it talent) interest and motivation to learn on the job.  When your hiring process focuses on candidates with “potential” that generally means you have decided you have the resources to help a “high potential” candidate acquire the specific skills they need after they’re hired.  You’re banking on the fact that a “high potential” candidate will not only learn how to do the job quickly but will be able to apply what they’ve  learned smartly.  IOW, they have natural talent to do the work well, perhaps even better than a candidate with the here and now skills and work experience to do the job right out of the gate.  In other words, a high potential candidate is one who is the “right fit” for the job!

Which hiring focus is easier to execute? 

No question, a hiring strategy based on finding and selecting a “high potential” candidate requires  a lot more pre recruit homework than does a strategy involving a focus on here and now performance.  You have to make decisions about what attributes are key to success that don’t always come revealed in neat little packages.  You have to analyze the job, make decisions about the skills and experiences that you believe you must have, and what skills and experiences you might like to have.  The difficult truth is that a hiring process focused on a small group of candidates who have the skills and work experience to hit the ground running is almost impossible to execute when those candidates don’t exist.

What you really need to decide is whether or not you have the internal resources needed to support the training and development of a high potential employee….or better stated, how can I create the internal resources I need to support a shift in my hiring strategy.   

The phrase “hire for potential, train for skills” has been around for a long time, but it represents a specific set of challenges that are very relevant for small to medium sized companies who often find themselves without either mindset or the resources to follow thru on a hire for potential staffing strategy.

So, what are the payoffs for shifting gears – hiring and developing “high potential” employees?   

We think there are many advantages to making this shift that you should be thinking about…..

You change the competitive landscape.   

When a hiring manager starts their  search for the “right candidate” there’s always that wish list of all the skills and work experience you’d like to see in your  “ideal candidate”.   When these ideal candidates are not available your candidate search often gets stuck.  First of all no one is applying for the job, and secondly the few candidates that are available are often wooed by every employer in town who has to fight for their attention using big pay and benefit packages.

By focusing on a candidate’s potential rather than their here and now skills, you’ve changed the competitive landscape – where you’ll be looking for candidates and who you will be competing with to get them hired.  You’re now looking at a very different pool of candidates that a lot of your competitors will overlook.

In today’s marketplace, the race to hire the candidate with the exact experience and skills can be exhausting.  The race to hire candidates with potential not so much.     

You can hire faster.  

Looking for the “ideal” but hard to find candidate can churn a lot of internal time and resources.   There are likely to be lots of starts and stops; interviews cancelled;  offers not accepted.  And make no mistake taking too long to hire for an open role can be costly to your business.  It puts pressure on the rest of your team, it creates gaps in how your team executes.   And when those gaps impact your company’s customers,  it can impact revenues.

A decision to hire a candidate long on potential but short on here and now skills, almost always speeds up the hiring process.  Not only are there more candidates to choose from,  but the candidates themselves are more open to your reach outs.  Many of these candidates are actually in the same situation you are – they’re often overlooked for the jobs they want by employers who want a different set of skills and work experiencees than they have to offer.  These are candidates who will appreciate an employer willing to “give them a chance”.  That employer can be you.

A high potential, less experienced candidate, costs less.    

High potential candidates know they’re not a finished product and are willing to be paid less  just to get their foot in the door of a job that they believe long term can pay them well.  Unlike a highly experienced candidate, they are joining your team for a learning opportunity, not a pay increase.

We find that most small to medium sized companies have already made the comittment to developing employees from within – i.e. training employees to do it “their way.”  For small to medium sized employers, targeting candidates who are willing to work for a lower paycheck in  exchange for the  training and mentorship that is available to them in a smaller company environment simply makes good sense.

You avoid the risks of hiring an employee with the “right skills” but who isn’t the “right fit”  

One of the downsides of hiring an candidate who has already been trained and developed by other employers, is the downside of hiring someone with certain work habits or beliefs about how the work should be done that doesn’t necessarily match your own.  If an employee’s way of doing the job, being part of a team, communicating with others, doesn’t fit with your approach or culture their previous experience may end up creating more problems than it solves.  High talent, low experience employees, on the other hand are typically moldable…easily trained to do things your way.

New “high potential” hires tend to add new energy even to a high performance team!     

Hiring one or more “high potential” employees can shift the dynamics of even a highly seasoned team.  These are new hires that are hungry to prove themselves, eager to learn, eager to prove  to you and the team that they can do the job.  And their eyes are fresh, able to offer up new ways of looking at and solving problems that often a more experienced employee can’t (or won’t).

One of the first things you’ll find when hiring high potential employees is that your team becomes energized to help their  new team member succeed.  They offer no threat.  They get a chance to showcase themselves as knowledgeable caring mentors.  And when a seasoned employee is given the opportunity to “train” a new “high potential” employee, you’ve created an opportunity for that employee to expand their own skill sets, expand how they can apply their expertise.  Like the employee they are mentoring they are being given the opportunity to learn something new and a set of skills that helps the team grow.

You have the opportunity to create a new layer of diversity – always a good thing!  

High potential candidates typically come in a wide range of profiles, without a typical age, gender or experience profile that can often dominate a team who has a pattern of hiring the same type of (experienced) candidates over and over.  Diversity will make your team stronger – more creative, more innovative, more agile.

You’ve got a new and built in retention strategy. 

What we find is that high potential employees not only tend to be better performers long term, but are also less likely to leave the team for a better opportunity elsewhere.  An employee hired under the promise of being trained to do a job that is in high demand, is an employee likely to reciprocate that commitment with their personal loyalty.

In today’s job market the tendency to change jobs every 1-2 years is commonplace, creating enormous costs to US businesses.  An employee who has personally benefited from 1-2 years of mentorship is going to think twice before leaving you for another opportunity where there is a chance that mentorship won’t continue.  The value of the loyalty factor is immeasurable.

If you think you’re ready to at least consider a “high potential” hiring strategy, we’ve got a few ideas about how to make that shift.  

Do a thorough job analysis before you start your search.      

Even though you’ve decided to move away from your strategy of hiring only those candidates with specific skills and experience, you need to do the home work necessary to pin point the kind of work experience you might actually need or the set of talents most likely to help a high potential candidate achieve success on the job.   You will need to decide what skills the right candidate actually has to have in order to walk in the door, and what skills you are both able and willing to help the candidate develop.

We recommend you skip (or minimize) the “number of years experience” requirement whenever possible. 

One of the first things I learned as a recruiter is the difference between work experience and transferable expertise.   We’ve all seen those employees who can work five years in a particular role,  but only learn enough to reflect one year of experience, repeated five times.   Other employees can get the equivalent of five years of work experience by working in a job only one or two years. High potential candidates often come with very few years of work experience, but they’ve made every year count.   

When screening candidates, don’t get hung up on their resume.

Some hiring managers are resume snobs – overly impressed with candidates who have the right things on their resumes – the “right” schools, the right employers, the right job titles – forgetting that is the person not the resume who eventually has to do the work.

Don’t get me wrong – using a resume as a screening tool is definitely helpful, but always keep in mind that high potential candidates don’t always come with the perfect credentials or a pretty resume.

Don’t let job titles fool you. 

When hiring for potential, take the time to dig into a candidate’s actual skills, work responsibilities and  accomplishments to get a better picture of what they might actually bring to the table.  High potential candidates don’t always come with fancy job titles.    

Make sure you have the training resources in place to fill the gaps in knowledge, skills and experience necessary to do the job!  

Before you implement a hiring program focused on potential, make sure you have a training or mentoring program in place that aligns with your hiring promise.  Managers who hire for potential but don’t have the training or mentoring resources to develop that potential have wasted their time.  We often hear candidates describe situations where they’ve been hired for their potential and then thrown in to a job which requires them to “sink or swim” – a very costly way of developing high potential employees. 

Need help making the shift to a “hire for potential” staffing strategy, we’d love to help.  Give us a call at 425-637-3312 or e mail us at partnerservices@pacestaffing.com and we’d be glad to help you put together the right recruiting profile.  


PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest  employers find and hire the right employees for over 45 years.

A  multi year winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction and has been selected by Forbes to be one of America’s top staffing agencies for several years running.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (pay agent) services, and a large menu of candidate evaluation and reference check services our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference in how you find and hire employees,  contact us at 425-637-3312 or e mail our Partner Solutions  team  at partnerservices@pacestaffing.comWe’re always here to help!

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