Millennials: Why Potential is Overrated

potential

Dear Managers,

Before you hire your next college graduate based on potential, stop. The equalizer for a young worker is experience, which tends to be lacking, but ultimately what employers care about for long-term tenure. After completing a four-year program, you need someone to give you a chance because you need experience right? Well, only part of that is true. If you’re a smart worker, you would have been interning, volunteering and/or working a part-time job. Experience, not a diploma, is a far superior measurement for success on the job.

This isn’t saying natural talent doesn’t matter, but far too many times “potential” makes us blind to current deficiencies. Take for instance athletes. Young talent is referred to as “raw,” but since sports is something you take seriously since childhood if you want to go pro, your body of work as an amateur precedes you getting to the next level. If a pro basketball prospect is known for his scoring ability, but struggles on defense that’s a red flag. As a natural scorer, that’s probably where he’ll thrive in yet even with teaching, he’ll be a mediocre defender at best. People can be taught skills, but we can’t can’t escape our strengths and weaknesses. Most superstars are elite at every level of competition. Play to your strengths and be aware of your shortcomings. Each person has a ceiling whether we want to believe it or not.

That’s why good interviews consist of past behavior questions. Employers want to know what you’ve done so they can predict how you’ll do. If you’re hiring for sales job, don’t look for charismatic individuals, look at sales experience. Want to hire the best engineer? See how much your candidate toyed with computers and video games as a kid. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell referred to the 10,000 hours rule where it takes that much practice to master a skill. Sounds crazy, but that’s equivalent to about 10 years of work. Someone straight out of college will probably not have that much experience in the industry, but some experience is much better than no experience.

It goes back to how we view our college experience. Did you wait for counselors and advisors to tell you what to do or did you take initiative to learn things on your own? High school is the last time education will tell you what’s next. In college, you choose your own destination. Potential is overrated because is says “I’m confident I can do this, I’m just waiting for my opportunity.” Experience says, “I can give you a specific example of why I’m a great fit for your company, when do I start?” Hire the experienced over the potential candidate. You’ll be glad you did.

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