Companies hire 'potential over experience' as skills shortage hits UK

02/12/2019

Almost two thirds of employers (58%) hire staff based on potential, rather than experience or qualification, as demand for skills outstrips supply in the UK.

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Added to this, 94% state that their potential-based hires have become a valuable part of their team with less than a fifth (17%) of hiring managers expressing concerns about potential-based hires having the capability to ‘learn quickly on the job.’

In fact, 55% of professionals felt that learning and growth opportunities were more important to them than higher salaries.

The findings come from a recent survey from staffing business Walters People – specialists in temporary/contract and junior permanent recruitment – which highlights how potential-based hires will be important in the new economy.

UK Skills Shortage

65% of employers anticipate a skills shortage in 2020, with the most acute skills shortage being felt at the mid-management (57%) and junior/executive (37%) level – typically where Millennials (25 – 35) and Generation Z (18 – 24) are employed.

Phill Westcott, Director of Walters People UK, who has over 17 years of experience in the recruitment industry comments:

“Hiring based on potential is highlighting an opportunity for employers and employees to learn from each other.

“From my experience high potential employees typically demonstrate more grit, loyalty and enthusiasm for having been given the opportunity. The challenge of the unknown and the excitement of acquiring new skills keeps them motivated and engaged and helps retain them for longer.”

Phill adds: “We are seeing more employers now consider junior and potential-based hires as an invest into a more long-term approach by building a pipeline of talent for the future. Whilst helping to ease the workload, within 3-6 months these candidates are more than capable of having a sound understanding the industry and job role, whilst bringing a fresh approach and eagerness to learn.”

Costly Hires

Finding the ‘ideal’ candidate in a knowledge/experience-based hire comes at a premium.

In the UK, 89% of companies take more than a month to fill a position, yet a whopping 40% of those hires are unsuccessful, and it takes a month to a year to reach a mutual decision that the employee was not the right fit.

Tellingly, only 20% of hires fail because of a lack of knowledge or expertise. The remaining 80% fail for reasons ranging from a mismatch in culture, attitude, and ethics.

Spotting High Potential

Responding to growing demand from companies, Walters People digitalised the standard CV to now include a video interview of the prospective candidate. This provides the client with the opportunity to screen a candidate - beyond a paper resume which lists qualifications and experience - and instead assess an individual’s communications skills, confidence and enthusiasm. Of those CV’s that do include a video interview, there has been a 60% increase in candidates being selected for a face-to-face interview.

On advice to employers when considering potential-based hires, Phill adds:

“The main objective of an interview should be to understand what the candidate is looking to achieve in their life and career, and whether there’s a good match between their personal goals and your company objective and values.

“Every role is going to have its own unique challenges and I believe that intrinsic motivation is key to keep employees going in the long run, which is why it is crucial to get to the bottom of what the candidate seeks in working at your company. If an employee is working towards their personal and career goals, then the person will be motivated to learn and strive for success.”

In the survey, hiring managers stated that the following factors from an interviewee determined a candidates potential: willingness to learn (74%), motivation (65%); engagement (34%); creativity (29%); insights (16%); curiosity (13%).

Phill Westcott tips on how to interview for high potential:


  • Go in open, transparent and honest


In cases where the candidate isn’t the best fit for the role based on their experience, it is best that the hiring manager should gently let the candidate know their honest thoughts, and how they are willing to give them a chance based on their high potential. If the candidate continues to show interest in the role, it is a sign of commitment and resilience – two traits required for a high potential hire to succeed.

  • Learn about how they learn


Learning will be a big part of the job for an employee who was hired based on their potential. When asking about their past experiences, find out about how they navigated past challenges, and their thoughts on how they could have done better. Hearing how they reflect on these situations will provide insight into how they communicate with other people, how self-aware they are, and their ability to grow from experiences.

  • Watch how they react under stress


The role will certainly be tough and stressful at times and it is important the candidate can thrive and grow under pressure. To see how a candidate will perform under stressful, unexpected situations, ask them scenario-based questions as these are difficult to prepare for. For a client-facing role, these could be questions such as, “If a client came back to you near the end of a project asking to change the brief, what would you do?”

  • Keep it focussed on the future


Hiring a high potential candidate is all about investing in their future so it is crucial to know how they fit into the company’s plans and vision. For example, a bank hiring developers or engineers to create more user-centric digital experiences should be open to candidates who have strong interest in doing the same – even if they don’t necessarily have the relevant financial services background. This employer-employee relationship will be built on common goals, giving both sides greater commitment to making it work.

  • Focus on team fit


For a candidate who doesn’t meet all the requirements, the ability to gel well with the team is even more important than ever as they will rely heavily on the team’s support in their early days. Take the time to talk to the candidate and thoroughly understand their working style and ability to collaborate with others. Holding group interviews with other team members could help provide insight into how the candidate interacts in a group setting and reveal whether other team members share the same belief in the candidate’s potential.

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