5 Sure-Fire Signs of High-Potential Employees

Let’s start with a question: Will your business be the same today as it will be in one year? Two years?
For high-growth startups, the answer is no. Your business is ever-changing and to scale, you constantly need to be adapting and iterating on your strategy, positioning, and priorities. Naturally, that means your employees need to be adaptable and flexible, as well.
That’s all well and good, but it can often put hiring managers in a bit of a bind — how do you successfully hire for a position when you know that position may change into an entirely different role in the not-so-distant future?
One way is to hire for potential. Though difficult, identifying “high-potential” candidates — employees with a proven ability to adapt and learn on the fly — can go a long way toward pushing your company forward. How can you single them out? As the saying goes, “past performance does not guarantee future performance,” but it certainly can be an indicator of future behavior. So dig deep into past behaviors and keep an eye out for these five things.

5 Sure-Fire Signs of High-Potential Employees

  1. Progressive Experience: Look for signs that a candidate is continuously moving forward in their career. Have their positions progressively expanded in terms of scope and challenge?
  2. Achievement: What have they achieved across companies and across managers? You are looking for a pattern of achievement, rather than success in just one role.
  3. Career Goals: What are the candidate’s career goals? Do they align with your company and where you see the candidate’s potential? If these do not align, bring that up and address it.
  4. Curiosity: Are they eager to learn? Has the candidate portrayed curiosity in past positions? Do they do anything about it, or do they tend to sit back and wait to be taught?
  5. Evidence: Candidates with high potential leave evidence of that behind — whether it’s a track of high-billing clients from a sales rep, a DevOps team using a new technology that this person advocated to implement, a streamlined internal process, or another type of shift in team or company trajectory, high-achievers leave behind accomplishments that move the needle forward.

Not only are employees with these things more likely to succeed in a fast-paced growth environment, they’re also more likely to stick around and find new opportunities within the company during times of transition.

A word of advice: You can’t hire for potential over experience in every situation.

All that said, as a hiring leader, you need to recognize when experience is necessary. This will be the case when hiring for a specialty role, a role in which subject-matter expertise is key, or a position in which there is no mentorship/training in place to teach these missing skills. These positions are vital to the growth of your company, as well, so you need to hire for both expertise and potential.

Because You Don’t Have Time for Bad Hires: More Advice on How to Interview

Image by Ms. Glaze

Carlie Smith
Carlie Smith
Director of Talent

Carlie Smith was the Senior Talent Manager, Sales & Marketing at OpenView. She worked directly with hiring managers and key stakeholders within OpenView and its portfolio to lead vital searches and provided process guidance on recruitment strategy, including talent identification, strategic sourcing, relationship building, and competitive intelligence. Currently, Carlie is the Director of Circle.
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