Hot-or-Not: What’s More Important, Qualifications or Potential?

Past performance doesn’t guarantee future success and yet it’s still the most common tool used for hiring. With many different combinations of qualifications and experience present in every resume , how does an employer decide who is the best person for the job?

Qualifications give evidence of an educational achievement.  Most qualifications only reflect knowledge of something and do not necessarily show an ability to do something. That’s why employers today are shifting to evaluate someone’s potential as a better hiring strategy.

There is a level of capability that comes from just demonstrating that you went to school, no matter what subject. The very fact that a job seeker can show time taken to be disciplined and organized, work well with others and can demonstrate an ability to perform under pressure are all good qualities to be considered within the hiring process.

Consider this situation.

You have been ill for some time and diagnosed with a condition requiring a potential life- threatening operation, which of the following would you choose as your surgeon?

  1. A newly qualified surgeon, less than two years out of school, with an A+ academic record but who has only performed very minor surgery under supervision to date.
  2. A surgeon who qualified 10 years ago with a good academic record and has 10 years of experience in a variety of different surgeries but has never done this operation before.
  3. A surgeon who qualified 25 years ago, with an ok academic record but 25 years of progressively more challenging surgery experience including 3 years of doing this very same surgery.

Who did you choose? I’m guessing number 3. Why? Because you want someone “Who knows what they are doing”. Would you answer the same way if your company needed a sales manager or a computer programmer? Would you be more comfortable with less experience?

How employers think about a candidate’s experience really comes down to the job they want the person to do.  So, which is more important: qualifications or Experience? They both are important, but experience has more variability and provides greater opportunity for discretion. Experience can also show you have done the job, but too much experience in the job and an employer might question why the person hasn’t progressed.

In the US, studies have found that 45% of US employers also prioritize a candidate’s potential ahead of their experience (37%), personality (16%) and education (2%). Most employers know that past performance doesn’t guarantee future success.

When it comes to hiring great talent, it’s often more important for employers to determine whether a candidate is genuinely interested in developing new skills and will take a creative approach to solving problems, rather than focusing on where a candidate received their education. In other words, potential, rather than education is often a better barometer for a successful hire.  

Potential, which is defined as demonstrating the capacity to become or develop into something in the future, is also paramount. Candidates can always learn on the job, whether that’s hard skills such as coding, or soft skills like client relations which develop with experience. What they can’t learn is curiosity, determination and enthusiasm for the work.

Rather than primarily focusing on a candidate’s education, employers often consider how they’ve previously tackled challenges to find creative solutions, how they’ve learned new skills and how they’ve utilized their work experience to provide value. The research reflects a change in attitude at companies like Apple, Google and Netflix who no longer require potential employees to have a 4-year degree.

Consider preparing yourself for an interview using the following questions to show your work potential:

  1. How are you a problem-solver? Be able to give examples that demonstrate their ability to take initiative, adapt or think creatively to find a solution?
  2. What have you done to invest in their personal development like taking a course because it opened up a new opportunity that you are excited about?
  3. Ask the interviewer questions that reflect your genuine interest in the opportunity.
  4. Be ready to draw a parallel between your previous experience and a new job’s requirements?
  5. Use stories to illustrate how you would fit in with the company culture?

You will distinguish yourself from other candidates with your questions at a job interview, rather than your answers to the interviewer’s questions. Take the time to get to know each organization you’re going to interview with, and to formulate smart questions about the industry, the firm, the role, the goals and the likely obstacles you’ll face on the job. Focus on showing your potential not just your experience.

Imagine if the founder and billionaire of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, was judged by experience not potential. It is unlikely he would have been recruited to manage a chain of record shops after dropping out of school at age 16. Branson later founded  his airline, Virgin Atlantic after becoming stranded in Puerto Rico when his flight to the British Virgin Islands was cancelled for lack of passengers. Branson chartered a private plane and wrote “Virgin Atlantic” on a chalkboard and then sold tickets aboard the flight to other stranded travelers.

The moral of the story: show how your mindset to get results makes you remarkable.

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