How to Hire for Potential, Not Just Experience
Think about the last time you interviewed for a job.
You might have mentioned your education or highlighted your skills. But you (and the interviewer) likely focused on your experience — evidence that you know how to handle yourself in a certain position or industry.
Experience can certainly be a good measure for someone’s potential success. But it’s not the only one.
Where Experience-Based Hiring Falls Apart
Many of us have been caught in the catch-22 that is job hunting at one point or another: A job requires experience, but to get experience, you need a job.
How did you get around it? Maybe you networked with the right people. Or you got your foot in the door at a lower position and worked your way up. Or you found someone who was willing to give you a chance.
But what about the people who can’t find those opportunities?
What if they’re the one in three Americans with some type of criminal record? With 87% of employers conducting background checks, a criminal record (even for non-violent crimes) can be a significant barrier to employment, regardless of experience.
It doesn’t even have to get to that point. Research from McKinsey shows that 62% of all workers have taken a gap at some point in their careers (for health reasons, family, unreliable employment, etc.) — something many hiring managers view negatively.
Technology has also added a layer to the problem, said Nick Fahnders, director of career and professional development at the University of Chicago.
“Today,” said Fahnders, “LinkedIn, organizational websites and broader social records are at the fingertips of a hiring team, and that data is often how hiring decisions are made rather than talking to a candidate’s network to assess their career potential.”
This, he explained, means applicants never get the chance to recover and improve from their mistakes — which is where some of the deepest learning and self-progress originates from.
Related Article: A Not So Secret Recruitment Strategy That Works: Returnships
How to Measure Potential in Job Applicants
Many of these overlooked candidates have the ability to succeed, but employers miss out by falling back on outdated experienced-based hiring methods, when instead they should be factoring a person’s potential into the equation.
“Employers need to be open to job seekers who gained experience in non-traditional ways, who do not have a college degree or who have gaps on their resume,” said Parisa Fatehi-Weeks, senior director of ESG programs and partnerships at Indeed. “If they are not, they are missing out on a huge pool of workers.”
Look Beyond the Criminal Record
Employers that want to be more inclusive in their hiring practices should limit background checks and education requirements to reduce barriers to jobs, said Fatehi-Weeks.
At Indeed, she explained, they only conduct background checks after a conditional offer of employment has been made. And even then, the system does not notify the company of convictions that fall outside of set parameters.
For flagged background checks, the company uses a committee for assessment, which looks at:
- The nature and gravity of the offense.
- The time passed since conviction or completion of sentence.
- The nature of the job the candidate applied for.
“We also made the decision to remove all pronouns, names and other identifying information in the review process to lessen the impact of any possible implicit bias on the adjudication decisions,” she said.
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It’s also important to help hiring managers understand how to set these workers up for success, Fatehi-Weeks said, “such as offering time off to check in with probation or parole officers, support groups for people with past convictions and leadership development opportunities.”
Adopt Other Assessment Methods
Experience is not the only marker of how well someone will perform on the job. Companies can look to other evaluation models to identify high-potential candidates who can bring unique perspectives and ideas to the table.
Some pre-employment assessment options include:
- Cognitive assessments: Identify candidates with high cognitive ability, problem-solving skills and critical thinking skills. These assessments are especially useful for roles requiring strong analytical skills.
- Skills assessments: Evaluate candidate expertise in a specific area. Skills assessments can be in test form, or hands-on and situational.
- Personality and behavioral assessments: Evaluate a candidate’s behavior in different scenarios along with personality traits. These tests allow hiring managers to identify candidates with specific characteristics, like creativity, resilience, adaptability, etc.
- Work samples: A tangible way to test a candidate’s skill set. Work samples can tell a company a lot about a person and the work they can perform, especially in digital and creative fields.
Related Article: Why Companies Are Turning to Skills-Based Hiring
Use Strategic Reciprocal Disclosure
No organization is perfect, said Fahnders. And that’s OK.
“Research affirms that when someone representing an organization, like a hiring officer, notes the company’s imperfections and efforts to improve workplace efforts, candidates respond by being more authentic and feeling more aligned with the organization,” he explained.
We shouldn’t assume the job candidate should do all the disclosing to impress the employer. Instead, Fahnders recommends humanizing the process with reciprocal disclosure.
“By understanding complexities of the disclosure process and challenging established interviewing strategies, hiring teams can make more informed decisions about how to create resources, systems and policies inclusive of more job applicant narratives and experiences.”
Fahnders added that hiring managers must examine the “complexities and nuances” of the decision to disclose sensitive information or identities to be better equipped to discern applicant comfort.
“Without context and training,” he said, “hiring teams can continue to make inaccurate assumptions about a negative relationship between the job applicant and the mutual connection. This lack of attention and action leaves us stuck in the reality that in a candidate’s market, some of the highest-potential applicants will still be excluded from processes that would benefit both parties.”
Building Inclusive, Equitable Hiring Practices
Opening up the door to candidates without traditional experience ultimately makes good business sense. It widens the talent pool, encourages new perspectives, boosts innovation and much more.
“The talent is out there, and they are eager to work,” said Fatehi-Weeks. “Employers just need to catch up.”
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