Interviewing for Potential

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Many proponents of Requisite Organization claim that a person needs to have work commensurate with their potential capability to be engaged and fulfilled at work. They claim that being required to work at a level of work that is below one’s potential capability can lead to high levels of stress and negatively affect a person’s health. Assuming this is true, how do you assess a person’s potential capability in an interview? If you ask questions about their past experience to assess the level of work they have done before this may not reflect their potential capability (because they may not have had the opportunity to do work commensurate with their potential capability before). Doesn’t this approach entail the risk of hiring someone who will be frustrated, stressed or bored by the level of work in the position?


You make it sound like working below one’s potential capability is devastating. Everyone works on Time Span task assignments all over the place. What is necessary is that a significant portion of one’s work be fully challenging. And understand that this is ALWAYS a moving target. People constantly grow and mature, we are constantly changing, our Time Span capability constantly increasing. Matching the Level of Work with capability is, as Elliott puts it, always a “work in progress.” So, we do the best we can. As managers, we do the best we can to make this match.

Conducting a candidate interview is likely the most difficult assessment challenge we face, as managers. In most managerial situations, we can observe behavior and output, we can have managerial conversations with our team members, we can ask very direct questions about problems that have to be solved and decisions that have to be made. It’s a walk in the park compared to the candidate interview.

Hiring Talent always carries risk. Making the wrong hire is expensive. It costs dollars, time, energy, morale. I will only make hiring decisions based on evidence of work output based on past experience. I will not speculate, I will not hope, I will not assume. I will only hire on evidence. This means I will restrict my questions to real situations that can be observed and verified.

Does that mean I might miss potential? Perhaps. But I don’t use the interview to assess potential capability. I use the interview to assess applied capability. I am not a clinical psychologist, I am not a soothsayer, I am not a fortune teller. I am a practitioner.

And, as a practitioner, here is one method to get an accurate picture of the prospective candidate.

I take the resume and work it chronologically. This means, I start at the back and work forward, because resumes are typically presented in reverse chronology. I have difficulty seeing patterns and progress in reverse, so I start young and work forward. This simple chronological method reveals natural progress of increasing capability as someone moves through their career. Gets me really close to their highest level of current applied capability.

I have some other thoughts about interviewing for potential capability, so let’s pick that up tomorrow.

One thought on “Interviewing for Potential

  1. Guest

    There is little good that can be accomplished by eliminating talent because an organization is worried that to hire that person may mean unhappiness unless that person has expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the position, or a lack of creativity in other areas. Top talent does not need a reason for opportunity; they create one. Where they created potential in other areas lays their potential to create opportunities. Does it make sense to pass on a person because they may rise to greater challenges, hopefully, within your organization, or just skip them altogether?

    I’m coming at this from the other perspective, the passed-over top talent. Of course, if an organization’s goal is not to grow, then passing on a prospect due to potential capabilities exceeding current needs makes some sense. Although, when that happened to me, I was still able to create smaller opportunities and I believe, contribute for a reasonable amount of time before I desired making a change. Even at that, one needs time to plan what changes need to be made and how they will be accomplished.

    It also doesn’t hurt to come right out and ask the prospect their level of commitment if selected. Another area you may consider is whether or not the prospect is developing or creating outside of the workplace. What other interests do they pursue that may be filling their need for growth or creativity?

    If, however, a prospect has not shown creativity previously and the job they are applying for has no growth opportunity, then I think you risk boredom, stress and frustration in the future from those combinations.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.