2-Step-Hiring Guide: How to hire for potential instead of experience.

Charlotte Melkert, Co-Founder @ Equalture

After reading this article you will know:

  1. The difference between potential and experience;
  2. How to measure a candidate’s potential;
  3. The influence of this practice on your company’s candidate experience.

Hiring fact: did you know that every bad hire costs you 130% of this person’s annual salary?!

Education, work experience, accomplishments and other qualifications: for many recruiters this is still the golden formula when searching for new colleagues. People think this formula works as follows: education + work experience + accomplishments = future performance. In other words: people love hiring for past experience. My advice if you want to prevent a bad hire: try hiring for future potential.

Hiring for potential

I have asked 27 HR professionals the following question: ‘’ How do you decide whether a hire is successful? ‘’. 25 of them stated that they measure success by comparing the candidate’s expected abilities with the abilities he/she has shown in the job so far. In other words: if we’re able to accurately measure a candidate’s ability (to learn) we have a better chance of hiring the best candidate for the job, which reduces the amount of bad hires. And less bad hires means large money savings!

This seems simple, but there’s a reason why many companies still hire for experience instead of potential. Why? Well, simply because it’s harder to measure. Someones LinkedIn profile or resume isn’t telling you that much about potential. It might give you an indication, but that’s not reliable enough to base your hiring decisions on. In this article I will provide you with a clear hiring guide: how to hire for potential by integrating (neuro-assessment) games into your hiring process.

Step 1: Know what you want to measure and how you want to measure it.

Hiring for potential means focusing on a person’s personality and ability to learn (i.e. cognitive skills). Thus the first step is searching for methods to assess personality and cognitive skills. Many companies use questionnaires to analyze personality and traditional assessment to assess cognitive skills. This is the traditional way of doing it.

I’m more a fan of the innovative way of assessing personality and cognitive skills (gamification) for two reasons:

  1. Reliability. Questionnaires leave space for socially desirable behaviour and traditional assessments only focus on the endscores. Games however don’t leave space for social desirability since it’s interactive instead of answering questions manually. Besides, games gather data throughout the whole game instead of purely focusing on the endscore. So to conclude: answers can’t be manipulated and there’s more data to analyze.
  2. Candidate experience. Reliability is of course the most important reason for me to go for the innovative way of assessing candidates. However, we shouldn’t forget that if your candidate experience isn’t good enough, there simply won’t be any profiles to analyze. Games have two pros: (i) it’s fun and (ii) they stimulate your unconscious behavior. Fun means happiness; unconscious behaviour is a more reliable indicator of personality and cognitivity.

So my advice would be to go for neuro-assessment games or other interactive methods to assess personality and cognitive skills.

Equalture is a bias-free, AI pre-employment matching technology. By making use of neuro-assessment games this technology is capable of determining a candidate’s personality and cognitive skills.

Step 2: How to determine the ideal profile.

So now you know what’s a suitable method to assess candidates more on potential, step two is to determine the ‘ideal candidate profile’. Traits/skills such as risk taking, flexibility, accuracy or multitasking aren’t required for every job (or at least not on the same level for every job). A development job for example requires skills like accuracy, working memory, ability to focus, etc., while an auditor should score much higher on for instance risk assessment. To determine the ideal profile, we have to answer two questions:

  1. Which aspects do we need to measure for this job?
  2. Which level per trait/skill do candidates need to be successful on the job?

The first question is the easiest one. Many studies have investigated which personality traits and cognitive skills are required for different jobs, departments or organizational cultures. Therefore this question can be answered fairly quickly based on research and studies.

The second question is a harder one to answer, because this one depends on the job seniority level and your organizational culture. To determine the require skill/trait level for your job opening, I would advice you to follow the steps below:

  1. Gather a group of people within your organization from the same department/job function group. For example, if you have a job opening for a digital marketeer, gather as much colleagues as possible who have a comparable job with comparable responsibilities and job tasks. I call this the test group.
  2. Once you’ve gathered this group, decide which traits/skills you want to measure (this is the answer to question 1 above).
  3. So now you have a group and you know which traits/skills you want to analyze. The next step is to let this test group play the games that represent the desired traits/skills.
  4. Once this group has finished this task, analyze the scores. Do you see that there’s a correlation between the job and certain traits/skills? I bet there are much more correlations than you would have expected.
  5. Finally, determine the average score of all colleagues in your test group. Now you know which level of those traits/skills your candidates should have in order to be able to deal with the same level of responsibility and task difficulty as your ‘test group’. Now candidates can score between 0 and 100% when comparing their score with the average score of your test group.

So, actually it’s not that hard to hire for potential. It might cost you a small investment for the right tooling and a few hours to determine your ideal profile, but I bet this is way cheaper than risking a bad hire.

Happy hiring! Cheers.