How hiring for potential will help plug your talent shortage

Words by Sarah Williams


If you’ve ever looked at the classic curriculum vitae or resume and wondered if it was the best hiring tool, or thought that it would be nice to have more accurate methods for finding the right people, this article is for you.

While CVs are a great initial ‘letter of introduction’ (which is all, once upon a time, CVs were), they’re a literally flat, 2D encapsulation of experience and, if we’re honest, sometimes of privilege and the luck of being in the right place at the right time. But experience, where one attended university and who one knows are the old-fashioned parameters for hiring.

CVs don’t tell you about someone’s personality, style of working, whether they’re a night owl or a morning lark, or, most importantly, whether they’d make a good culture fit with your team.

That’s why HR Grapevine and Arctic Shores teamed up to host a webinar to share our data and findings about how you can hire for potential and skill, rather than from a list of traditional attributes.

On October 20th, 220 participants tuned in to watch the online webinar, and to hear how potential-based hiring can help combat unconscious bias in hiring, and also, to truly pair the right people with the right organisation.


Facilitated by HR Grapevine Senior Editor Sarah Williams, the one-hour discussion was as passionate and lively as webinars can get! Panellists: Robert Newry, CEO, Arctic Shores; Tony de Graaf, Hiring Success Director for EMEA, SmartRecruiters; and Kerry Sneddon, Early Careers Manager, WSP – all shared their case studies and success stories but most importantly, their firm belief (and the data to back it up) that hiring for potential can solve the talent crisis.

We kicked off the webinar using a couple of polls for the audience, asking them:

  1. If they’re experiencing the crisis for talent
  2. If yes to the above, what they’re doing to solve it
  3. Do you assess for potential
  4. And finally, if yes to question c, do you use behaviour-based assessments, psychometric assessments, in-house skills testing, etc.

We found that in general, of the 66 or so responses received, that nearly all of our viewers were experiencing the crisis for talent, that they were being as creative as possible to try to solve it, and that about 70% of them don’t assess for potential. Some did use psychometric testing or tests for verbal, mathematical and spatial reasoning – but the latter was quickly discussed and found to give those with dyspraxia, dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyscalculia at a huge disadvantage. As Tony pointed out during one of his panel sections, “There are some really smart people out there who can’t spell or do basic maths!”

Ok, so we’ve convinced you. But…

What is potential-based hiring?

According to Robert, who is the head honcho at Arctic Shores, a Manchester-based firm which offers behaviour-based assessments such as psychometric testing and games-based testing, “We have more jobs requiring digital skills than there are people who have those skills. So, the only way we can break out of that cycle is to look at potential and transferrable skills. Potential is divided into two categories: human skills, which is your personality and your experience and workplace intelligence – so not just your IQ, but your learning agility, how you process information and how you problem-solve.”

For Kerry, who graduates, apprentices and those in the first few years of their career, implementing a skills- and potential-based hiring system has been a huge success for them. Using Arctic Shores’ solution and then tailoring it to create their own in-house methodology, WSP (one of the world’s largest engineering firms) has seen a huge increase in employee retention, performance and overall workplace happiness.


“We hire candidates according to personal attributes rather than academic results. While we still need to recruit people from STEM backgrounds, as what we do is highly skilled work, we also require people to have transferrable skills and the biggest thing is the motivation to learn. Hiring for potential has meant that instead of getting people just with technical skills, we get candidates with resilience, creativity, adaptability and learning agility. We’ve also managed to recruit more diversely, and have seen an increase in diverse hires.”

For Tony, who works for hiring platform-as-a-service company SmartRecruiters, the key elements for potential-based hiring – which his firm has seen a huge upswing in recently – are: the people, the process and the technology.

“Motivation and work styles are most important, then secondly, skills and capabilities. People will engage our company, then ask, ‘Can we hire just for skills?’ and I say every time, ‘No you can’t.’ And here’s why: say a candidate wants to move into a role we’re hiring for, and he wants to move not because he’s unhappy with his old role, but because he wants to increase his works scope, to learn and grow. And we know that this role is actually just a sidestep from his current role. So if we hired him just for his skills, he’d be unhappy pretty quickly, and it would be a bad match, and he’d move on. So not hiring for motivation and potential just doesn’t work.”

Tony’s comment along with Kerry’s case study of huge improvement got the audience fired up, and we had more than 20 audience questions, ranging from, “do you think that 'recruiting for attitude' is potentially exacerbating the issue of recruiting 'mini me's' of the hiring managers that are involved in the process?” to “how would you assess someone's motivation? In my recruitment career I found that cliche questions such as 'why do you want to join us?' no longer work.” And “how do we implement this but still be speedy and efficient when recruiting?”.

Our skilled and knowledgeable panel answered all these questions and more, but you’ll have to head over to the webinar recording to view the full webinar and find out more!

Potential-based hiring: your solution out of the skills crisis

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