‘Harvard’ or ‘Oxbridge’ are often mentioned in the same sentence as ambitious global business leaders and the political elite – most relevantly with current US President Donald Trump has earned an economics degree from the University of Pennsylvania and Boris Johnson, Great Britain’s 28th Prime Minister, having attended The University of Oxford. Ivy League schools and Russell Group universities are viewed as reputable educational institutes that produce bright individuals who are highly sought out by the best organizations.
However, new data carried out by TopCV, our CV-writing business, and UK job board CV-Library reveals that employers have come to hold other traits in higher regard. When asked to choose between education, experience, and potential, 63% of UK employers cited potential to be the most important factor, substantially more than experience (35%) or education (2%). This sentiment appears to be universal: a similar study carried out by TopResume, our resume-writing business in the US, found that 45% of US employers also prioritize a candidate’s potential ahead of their experience (37%), personality (16%) and education (2%).
I wasn’t surprised by these results. While earning a degree from a prestigious school can open many doors, it can only take an individual so far. When it comes to hiring great talent, it’s more important for employers to determine whether a candidate is genuinely interested in developing new skills and will take a creative approach to solving problems, rather than focusing on where a candidate received their education. In other words, a candidate’s potential – rather than education – is a better barometer for a successful hire.
Potential, which is defined as demonstrating the capacity to become or develop into something in the future, is paramount. Someone with high potential is a problem-solver who will bring value to the role. As a recruiter, you are effectively looking for the best return on investment for the organization – and it’s the determination and drive of a candidate that matters most. Candidates can always learn on the job, whether that’s hard skills such as coding, or soft skills like client relations which develop with experience. What they can’t learn is curiosity, determination and enthusiasm for the work.
It is time to rethink our approach to hiring great talent. Rather than focusing on a candidate’s education, consider how they’ve previously tackled challenges to find creative solutions, how they’ve learned new skills and how they’ve utilized their work experience to provide value. The research reflects a change in attitude at companies like EY – a Big Four accountancy firm which, a few years ago, stated they would no longer consider degrees or A-Level results when assessing employees. Since then, other popular employers like Apple, Google and Netflix have followed suit by no longer requiring employees to have a 4-year degree.
Don’t discredit a candidate just because they have never done a particular role before. Instead, ask yourself the following questions when going through their CV and interviewing them to determine their potential:
Is this person a problem-solver? Have they provided examples that demonstrate their ability to take initiative, adapt or think creatively to find a solution?
In previous roles, did the candidate take initiative to invest in their personal development, such as joining a course, because it opened up a new opportunity?
Do the individual’s questions reflect a genuine interest in the opportunity, and are they seeking clarity to determine if this is the right role for them?
Is the candidate able to draw a parallel between their previous experience and this job’s requirements?
Will this individual fit in with the company culture?
Recruiting the right candidate is crucial for a business, not just in monetary terms but for the cultivation and continuation of a company’s culture. It’s important to get it right, regardless if you’re recruiting for an in-house role or working in an agency. By considering the whole picture and understanding the fundamental workings of the organization at hand, you will be able to hire high-potential employees who will create value at the company for years to come.
About the author: Jeff Berger is the CEO and founder of Talent Inc., the global leader in technology-enabled career services. Through its suite of brands – TopCV, TopResume, and TopInterview – the company helps professionals tell the best versions of their career stories, enabling them to stand out from the crowd and land the right job, faster.