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Let’s say you’re looking to fill a CTO-level role for your organization. Maybe your company is looking for someone with 10-15 years of experience who has managed a development team for at least four years. Depending on your company’s goals, you may have other requirements, such as hiring someone who will successfully manage your globalization efforts by localizing your site or product for 20+ languages, or maybe someone who can swiftly prime your product and development team for an imminent IPO.

Where do you even begin? As a recruiter, even if you plan on actively sourcing candidates, you probably start with a job description that defines all of these particular skills and competencies, then work on filling in the buckets. But is this really the best way to effectively scout out top talent? Not according to this recent Harvard Business Review article, which highlights the importance of assessing high-level candidates based on their potential, rather than simply by their past credentials. The reason is simple: Today’s market is just too volatile for businesses to be able to rely on tried-and-true methods of strategy and management. What works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow, so if you truly want to cultivate an environment of highly adaptive leaders for your organization, you need a different toolset when assessing candidates.

Of course, evaluating a candidate based on their potential sounds much more complicated than using an experience-based methodology. However, there are a few indicators of potential that you could apply in your recruitment strategy for mission-critical roles.

  • Are they motivated by the right things? It’s probably no surprise to you that motivation was found to be a large driver of success among high-potential employees. But the tricky part as a recruiter is to identify the root of that potential. Is the candidate motivated by their own personal career or monetary goals, or are they looking out for the best interests of their team and the company as a whole? To vet this quality in an interview setting, you can ask questions like, “Tell me about how you ended up in your most recent role from your previous position.” In the event that someone switched companies, was it for the money or were they truly passionate about the newer companies products or offerings? Pay attention to subtle clues that point you toward their unique drivers of employee engagement.
  • Are they curious? Like it or not, we’re working in a highly dynamic, changing environment, which means that agility is more important than ever among your organization’s leaders. Without continually seeking out new information and ideas, you run the risk of stagnating your growth and potential for success. Testing candidates for their level of curiosity can solve for this. Curiosity can also serve as a helpful indicator for openness and collaboration. When something changes or breaks in their strategy, how will that person respond? Will they invite feedback from others or resist change? When recruiting, be on the lookout for candidates who take deliberate steps to broaden their knowledge and stay one step ahead of the latest trends.
  • Can they offer valuable insights? Remember those students who simply memorized all of the information that they knew would be on the history test? Compare them with the ones who took the time to analyze the historical context of different situations. Who would you rather have working as the CTO at your company? While it’s never a bad thing to have an array of knowledge at your fingertips, in a business setting, it can be far more useful to hire someone who can effectively gather new information, analyze it, and apply it in a variety of contexts. When seeking out “insight” as a quality in an interview, develop a set of problem-focused, relevant technical scenarios that may come up in a business context, and see how they address each issue.
  • Can they connect with others? When hiring for a senior-level role, it’s critical that you hire someone who can effectively engage and communicate with all of the relevant stakeholders at your company. Even in the case of a CTO, don’t just consider their ability to manage the existing developer team, but also whether they can connect with other executives, sales and marketing leadership, and the biggest stakeholder of all: your customers.
  • Are they determined? This may go without saying, but high-potential employees were found to have a high level of determination. When applied in the business context of your organization, you’ll want to identify a leader who won’t crumble under pressure and instead rise to the challenge. Look for candidates who can easily bounce back from negative experience as well as those who have what it takes to put up a fight in order to achieve challenging goals. As a recruiter, there are many different interview techniques you can use to test for determination and resilience in a candidate.

Credentials will continue to influence the type of candidates that you bring into your pipeline for any role, but at the end of the day, it’s the potential of any individual that will truly impact their performance long term. Just as a college degree should not define an applicant, neither should minimal management experience. So whether you’re looking to fill a senior-level technical role now or if you’re simply looking to hire engineers who can develop their leadership skills as your company grows, using a potential-based model for hiring will ensure that you’re bringing on employees who have a strong ability to effect change.

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