Recruiter Shares How to Evaluate Potential in a Potential Employee

potential blog 12.1.2019

We all remember the classic middle school science demonstration: a ball is perched at the top of a steep hill teetering on the edge.  Mesmerized students listen to a lesson on potential energy, while eagerly squirming in their seats, eyes fixated on the ball. Potential energy. It’s fascinating.  It is defined as “stored energy that depends on the relative position of various parts of a system (” Depending on various parts of a system? Now, that relates to hiring. How should you evaluate potential in a potential employee?

Every day, hiring managers ask the recruiters at Artemis Consultants how to hire candidates with potential. And, I like to think of this science demonstration as the answer. Like the ball, high-potential candidates are teetering on the edge of greatness, waiting to be developed under the right conditions.

But how can potential be evaluated within the constraints of a typical hiring process?  We recommend that hiring managers look for three main things.

Tip #1: Candidate Shows Career Progression

A highly ambitious candidate will almost always show career progression.  Look for forward momentum within a past position or within a career path overall. Cornell Professor Samuel Bacharach states: “High-potential employees aren’t just career-minded; they’re ambitious in a focused way. The best way to get a sense of this is to evaluate their commitment to career progression. Look for signs that they long to accumulate new responsibilities, new successes, additional knowledge, and, for better or worse, additional recognition (

In other words, the resume of a candidate with potential will show progression. For example, perhaps the candidate starts out as a member of a department and then becomes a leader.  Or, maybe he/she has distinguished themselves through additional training.  It may or may not be obvious that a candidate has climbed the corporate ladder but look for forward career momentum.

Tip #2: Candidate Demonstrates Genuine Interest

A candidate with long-term potential will express genuine interest in the industry and position.  This goes beyond the basics.  In an interview, it may be seen through a discussion on current events, industry leaders, or trends.  The candidate may be well-read on relevant topics or do industry-related work in their free time.  In some way, a hiring manager should be able to see passion for the company or industry.

During an interview, a high -potential candidate with also have questions.  He or she will have done research.  Questions will go beyond salary or PTO: they will be industry or job specific.  “Most people will know that they need to prepare questions ahead of their interview, but only a genuinely interested candidate will ask the right questions, questions which reflect their enthusiasm for this particular opportunity. (Stallard,

Tip #3: Candidate is Socially Confident

An employee with long-term potential can confidently navigate interpersonal relationships.  Interviewers should look for candidates who get along well with others while being able to maintain a level of autonomy and integrity.  A candidate with long-term potential will someday be a leader, and he or she should have those qualities.  Jess Fuhl states: “Employees likely to be high potential employees must first be able to manage themselves- to handle increased pressure, deal constructively with adversity, and act with dignity and integrity—but also manage others. (”

In an interview, hiring managers can create social opportunities, often either before or after an interview.  Suggestions include taking an office tour and introducing the candidate to others, taking note of how the candidate makes his/her first impression.

It’s a Two-Way Street

Remembering that potential energy is best released within a system, employers should make sure the fit goes both ways.  High potential candidates come with a caveat: they are high achievers and are attracted to opportunity. Once hired, creating opportunity for advancement is paramount for retention.

Think long-term too. After they employees, it will be important to train to continuously improve critical thinking.  Build critical thinking questions into daily work and projects.  Post mission statements and big picture goals around the office.  Practice thinking backwards by giving employees a goal and thinking about what steps it takes to get there.

Artemis Consultants is an executive recruiting firm dedicated to recognizing and matching high-potential employees to employers who know how to foster this potential.  Please visit our website for testimonials.

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