How to Interview for Potential

“I want to hire this person. Of all the candidates I have talked with, they seem to show the most promise,” Monica explained.

“So, you haven’t made up your mind?” I asked.

“No, I said I want to hire this person,” she clarified.

“Are you basing your decision on evidence? You sound uncertain.”

“You are right. The level of work in their previous job is short of the level of work we need in this position. But it might be that she was just underemployed,” Monica thought out loud.

“So, far, you are basing your decision on a promise and a maybe,” I clarified.

“Yeah, but how do you know? How do you know whether or not she has the potential?”

“I asked you if you were basing your decision on evidence. Is there evidence of potential? Look, you spent a great deal of time properly writing the role description. You carefully organized the tasks into Key Result Areas. In each Key Result Area, you defined the level of work. In your interview, you either establish evidence in the level of work or you don’t.”

“You mean I can’t hope?”

One thought on “How to Interview for Potential

  1. Mike Bonner

    Hi Tom,

    By now you likely know that I have become a staunch supporter of this line of thinking in hiring, but I have a problem I can’t reconcile and this post really touches on it.

    In my career, there have been several instances when I have secured a position that was crossing into the next stratum above where I had performed up to that time. In each case, it was a stretch for me, but I was able to rise to the occasion when the opportunity presented itself. It is the path that has led to my success, which brings me to my problem…

    Had the hiring decision makers followed this ine of thinking and questioning, they would have determined that I had not previously demontrated the experience in the task set and stratum for which they were interviewing and I would have been stuck at Stratum II forever. I would like to believe that this would have been just as bad for them as it was for me.

    In your seminars and blogs, you often say that we cannot predict what stratum a person has the potential to achieve, we can only test to see if that person is prepared for the next stratum and task set above their current level. This would seem to preclude hiring from the outside for a position for which none of your existing staff has demonstrated potential, without using these tools to assure we hire a person into a parallel position. While I am not discounting the parallel move to a position with greater upward mobility – I think we’ve all done it – I don’t believe that I went into those situations with the same gusto as I have the ones that were really stretch oppotunities.

    So, I don’t think you’ve addressed the title of this blog – how do we identify that individual that has the potential to soar? How do we assure that the rules don’t create an “artificial ceiling” for candidates, and limit our potential to create real synergy from someone truly ready to make that move?

    What have I missed?



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