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by Phil Stott | December 04, 2017


Hands holding crystal ball

If you want to know what companies are looking for in the hiring process, one of the best things you can do is learn to look at the world from the perspective of the person making the hiring decision. As the following video from the Harvard Business Review shows, the qualities that companies are seeking in new hires has shifted over the years, from brawn to brains, to capabilities and—currently—to potential.

Therefore, it stands to reason that if you know how companies define potential, and the steps they take to identify it in the recruitment process, the better you'll be able to underline that you have what they're looking for.

What is Potential?

According to the HBR video, there are five main characteristics that determine a candidate's potential:--qualities that, when taken together "trump IQ, experience and specialized skills" as predictors of someone's likelihood of success in a given role:

  • Motivation
  • Curiosity
  • Insight
  • Engagement
  • Determination

(For more explanation of each of these factors, check out the full video):


How do Companies Identify Potential in the Hiring Process?

While it's mostly aimed at executives and managers who are seeking to find candidates, the video ends up providing something of a roadmap for people who are hoping to appeal to those people in an interview setting.

"You need to delve into the candidate's history—both personal and professional," the video notes, also telling managers to "look for stories that demonstrate whether the person has (or lacks) the key qualities," and to "look for signs that the person seeks out self-improvement, truly enjoys learning and is able to recalibrate after missteps."

One example of how to do that: managers seeking candidates who are curious about how the world works shouldn't ask "are you curious?"; instead, they should ask "How do you react when someone challenges you?" or "How do you receive input from others on your team?" or "What steps do you take to seek out the unknown?"

Interpreting that from the candidate's perspective is easy: as part of your interview preparation, you should work on developing stories and anecdotes that highlight each of the five qualities listed above—if you can do that, you'll have no problem demonstrating your potential to hiring managers. Do that well enough, and the opportunity to realize that potential shouldn't be too long in following.