Please excuse the racket while we bang this drum one more time: When posting jobs and making hiring decisions, companies tend to overrate experience and underrate intrinsic motivation. It seems that nearly every job posting includes some variation of “Must have 7-10 years’ experience doing X.”
We have two questions:
1) What happens to people’s brains in year seven that suddenly enables them to grasp job concepts or handle situations they couldn’t have understood in year six?
2) Have you ever encountered someone who, after more than seven years at the same job, was still objectively terrible at it?
The answers are, respectively, “nothing” and “yes.” In other words, experience can be overrated when framed in such arbitrary and rote terms.
A person whose internal motivations, strengths, and behavioral tendencies align with the job is more likely to be a top performer than someone who has been scraping by for 8 to 10 years as a mediocre employee. Of course, if a hiring manager can find a motivated person who also has experience, that’s ideal. But hiring managers shouldn’t complain about not being able to find qualified applicants when they overlook or dismiss intrinsic potential simply because the applicant hasn’t been hammering away at the same tasks for years and years.
For clarity: When we say “potential,” we mean someone who has the blend of personality drivers that are scientifically proven to support strong performance in a given role, regardless of external factors like experience and education.
Let’s imagine a hiring manager experiences an epiphany (after reading this piece) and realizes she should be weighing intrinsic potential more heavily in her staffing choices. As part of her hiring process, she decides to use a pre-employment assessment because she knows the person who interviews the best isn’t always going to be the best performer. Let’s say she’s looking to fill a Project Manager position, and fortune favors her on this day: She finds an (inexperienced) applicant with the core Project Manager competencies of Process Management and Quality Focus.
The hiring manager makes the offer, the applicant accepts, and that’s it. The new hire gets thrown to the wolves and is inevitably brilliant because of his intrinsic qualities. The end.
Wait! Come back. That was a rhetorical device. It’s not the end at all. Potential remains potential until it is unlocked. And the key to unlocking potential is providing a job framework and definitions of success and then managing someone according to the same criteria that got them hired in the first place: personality drivers.
For this first-time Project Manager, it’s important to provide a definitive framework of the company’s or department’s systems, best practices, and administrative expectations. With his intrinsic potential for managing processes and upholding quality, he will “get it” and deliver results. In time, he may even find ways to improve existing processes, but he needs to know the baseline. Think of intrinsic potential like data bytes. Without a word processing application to show binary code as letters and spaces, you wouldn’t be able to read this sentence. Potential is like binary code, and the job framework is the application.
The same goes for Outside Sales Reps (with core competencies of Influence and Persuasion and Achievement Motivation), Financial Analysts (Deliberative Decision Making and Analytical Thinking), and any other role. People need to know what success looks like and how to focus their intrinsic strengths toward the achievement of objectives.
A common frustration for hiring managers is finding qualified applicants for field sales positions. As discussed above, many people equate qualified with experienced, but let’s assume the hiring manager in this scenario already buys into the value of intrinsic motivation. She begins looking in less obvious places for talent and hires an inexperienced but promising person who shows the core Outside Sales competency of Influence and Persuasion. Simply teaching the new hire product knowledge may not be enough to unlock that competency. It is important to illustrate what successful persuasion and influence looks like. Have the new hire model another successful salesperson in the organization. If the intrinsic potential is there, the new hire will click.
We can even boil it down to the trait level (beneath the complex formulas, performance competencies are really just clusters of personality traits). Pretend our fictional hiring manager from the first example hired two Project Managers, who both show the core competencies of Process Management and Quality Focus. However, on a trait level, Oliver is more of an analytical thinker and Stan is more concrete/practical. You can expect that they will approach decision making and learning from different perspectives.
According to the results of the pre-employment assessment, Oliver is task focused and socially reserved, and he prefers to work independently. He asserts himself as necessary, and he is resilient and levelheaded. Stan is more friendly and helpful, but dislikes taking risks and feels more comfortable acting only after consensus has been reached. And he tends to be a bit of a worrier.
With Oliver, the key to unlocking his potential is to deliver the message directly and afford him autonomy, while also being forthright in letting him know when he’s overstepping his bounds. Stan might respond better to a softer more constructive coaching style that nudges him toward greater independence without stifling his effectiveness at gathering feedback, showing responsiveness, and supporting teamwork.
Instead of trying to force Oliver and Stan into an identical mold, the smart hiring manager lets the job shape to them. Project phases that call for speedy results and overcoming complex process/technical challenges should suit Oliver’s strengths, whereas client-facing, brainstorm-intensive, or vendor-partnered components may align better with Stan.
Of course, fictional scenarios like these exist in ideal worlds, and people are often pushed outside of their comfort zones as needed to get the job done. But having a deep understanding of what motivates, drives, and inhibits applicants and employees—relative to core job requirements—can empower hiring managers to not only find the hidden potential in the available talent pool but also maximize that potential through targeted training, support, and development.