The Experience Conundrum: Potential Bear vs. the Purple Unicorn

experienceWe have all heard the line, “I can’t get experience if companies won’t hire me, and I can’t get hired without experience.” This challenge can be very frustrating for job seekers, especially those who know that they have the soft skills and motivation to learn the job in which they are applying for.

This frustration does not just affect job seekers; it also affects companies who are hiring new staff. A vast majority of companies seek candidates who possess the exact skill sets and experience levels they believe will be necessary for the job to be done well. In recruiting, we call this the “purple unicorn.” You can guess why. Not only are recruiters expected to find this mythical creature, but they are also expected to find ones who are not caged by the bars of a satisfying job. This figurative unicorn had better possess the exact requirements laid out in the job description, and also be unemployed or unhappy with their current work situation. After a long many months pass by, companies can be lucky enough to capture this person, only to find out that he or she is not so perfect for the job after all. That means a lot of time and money wasted on a short-term employee, and the cycle to find a new unicorn starts all over again. Put this on repeat, and you can see how detrimental this can be to any business. Luckily, there is a solution, and all it takes is an open-mind and the willingness to take risks.

For the sake of sheer fun, let’s call the frustrated job seeker, “potential bear.” My favorite definition of the word potential is, “the ability to adapt and grow into increasingly complex roles and environments.” Potential might live inside of the frustrated job seeker I mentioned above, and might be exactly what the companies like those previously described, truly need. The idea of hiring for potential over experience is not a brand new concept: universities and research groups have been studying the subject for years. Yet many companies are still hesitant to take a chance on someone who intrinsically has what it takes to be a successful contributor over one who looks perfect on paper. Studies have shown that it costs companies less money to invest in quality training programs than it does to face employee turnover. The “hit the ground running” mentality sounds nice to C-level folks, but is it because it sounds like the easy way out? Evidently, that is not the case.

Executive search advisor Claudio Fernandez-Araoz has been evaluating and tracking the performance of executives for 30 years and has this to say about considering potential to be the most important predictor of success at all levels:

“As business becomes more volatile and complex, and the global market for top professionals gets tighter, I am convinced that organizations and their leaders must transition to what I think of as new era talent spotting—one in which our evaluations of one another are based not on brawn, brains, experience, or competencies, but on potential. The question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.”

Although it is easier to measure performance, some ways to evaluate potential are ambition, curiosity, selflessness, humility, insight, engagement, and a drive to learn and get better at what they do. Now, that sounds like a great candidate. Why not take the risk?

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