Potential vs. Experience

Ana Sandu
Ana Sandu ↓ 4 minute read
Feb 02, 2021
Read 121 times

As recruiters, so very often we find ourselves in the position of lobbying for a hire to be made based on potential rather than experience.

Everything aside, this choice is dictated by the requirements of the job, the timeframe available, and the desired end-result. Most of the time, the matching is simple: go for seasoned professionals if the work that needs to be done requires a high level of skills in a short amount of time and for potential when not.

However, if you’re working in IT recruiting, it’s safe to assume that the demand is almost always for experienced developers, alas finding them in one month! Given the increasing difficulty of hiring in this industry, we believe it’s good to explore alternatives to going out in the ocean and fishing for the best fish.

But let’s start with experience.


It gets the job done in a short ramp-up period

Is self-managed and does not require much of the other seniors’ time to learn the job

It can bring new perspective over things that might have fallen into beaten paths

Adds to the knowledge pool of the team and contributes to its growth

Can influence core parts of the business with a visible impact on the company

It’s easy to evaluate.


They are already working somewhere else

Your criteria for an experienced senior might not be easily found in other companies

Comes with an already-shaped mindset that might not fit your culture and can be hard to change

Might come with “an attitude” and try to impose rather than collaborate

When looking for an experienced candidate, you can start by looking in your own yard. It’s very common to bring someone from the outside who already knows how to do the job, but this can mean that the person will feel no challenge. We all strive to reach our potential, grow more, and this means a constant state of searching and setting objectives. Changing a job and taking on a new course of action is exciting, but after this excitement passes, senior professionals can realize that they are in the same place as before, just in a different context and they might be unhappy or aim for something higher.

But if you go for the people in your team, you will identify persons who have these goals and who are extremely motivated to do a job that is a bit higher than their current skills. Learning and growing are essential to the wellbeing of every employee and giving this kind of opportunity will also be seen as a genuine interest for their career, consolidating trust and commitment. Not to mention that 3 out of 5 candidates we speak with mention lack of growth possibilities and career advancement as their main reason for a job change.

And another advantage of internal hires is saving time - recruiters, hiring managers, colleagues in the same team, HR people in charge of onboarding and integration, will all benefit from this.


What about potential?

From a recruitment perspective, it implies a more elaborate selection process that can offer more information about the personality of the candidate and correctly identify characteristics such as role adaptability, learning drive, conscientiousness, interest for self-actualization, communication skills, orientation towards results, all of them being personality traits correlated with high productivity.

Besides really getting to know the candidate, past performance is another great indicator of who will be a good employee. Create occasions for candidates to tell about their successes, speak about their standards, or even criticize something work-related. Encourage transparency and honesty, so they can feel at ease with speaking their minds (they will eventually do it later), and try not to bring your personal biases into the equation.

We love seeing ourselves or the qualities that we hold dear in other persons, and we tend to resonate with them even up to the point where we can positively evaluate them in spite of contradictory information. So make sure you get another pair of eyes to look at the matter and come with objective feedback. This type of candidate has to be evaluated from a 360-degree perspective and the information gathered in the selection process should form a unitary detailed image of the person. Think 16-bit game graphics instead of 8-bit one.

And lastly, a major element in hiring for potential is understanding the motivation. Learning new skills, investing time and resources to acquire a new set of competencies or theoretical knowledge is a heavy task, costly on our brains, and time-consuming. There should be a strong reason behind the decision of doing all this, or else things will fall apart in no time. Turn the motivation they state on all sides, ask the same question on many occasions, think about potential scenarios from the soon to be job that could conflict with what they say, and let them imagine what they will do. Lead an in-depth exploration of personal interests, sources of inspiration, future dreams, aspirations and see if the job can meet them. If it can’t, it won’t be a match no matter how much potential there is.

Experience isn’t necessarily the opposite of potential, and you can do a better hire with someone who sees the challenges as their next step, rather than someone who already tackled them. Potential might come about more often, but identifying it correctly for your organization is difficult, takes a lot of time but might yield extraordinary results.

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