How to Detect a Candidate’s Leadership Potential
In the war for talent, it is crucial for organizations to fill their talent pipelines with high-potential candidates who have what it takes to rise to – and succeed in — leadership roles.
Most organizations have systems in place to measure performance and leadership potential once a candidate becomes an employee, but few employers consider the importance of measuring such potential during the interview stage. And yet, doing so can reduce the risk of recruiting the wrong candidates or realizing, a few years down the line, that the company has not prepared an appropriate leadership pipeline.
Recruiters can play strategic roles in their businesses by identifying candidates with great leadership potential — but how, exactly, do they go about doing this?
Potential can be defined as “the ability and aspiration of a candidate to rise to higher levels of leadership and responsibility in the organization through the continuous acquisition of new skill sets within a reasonable time frame and the cultural framework of the organization.”
When evaluating a candidate’s potential, a recruiter should pay close attention to three key factors: the candidate’s ability to acquire new leadership competencies; the candidates career aspirations; and the cultural and behavioral framework of the organization.
What Counts as Leadership in Your Company?
To assess a candidate’s ability to acquire new leadership competencies, the recruiter must first know what constitutes leadership within the company. The recruiter must also be aware of and understand the company’s long-term leadership strategies.
In order to detect leadership potential, the recruiter must go beyond a candidate’s current competencies and take a holistic look at the previous experiences of the candidate. How many roles has the candidate occupied in previous companies? Did they change roles or companies? If yes, how many times? How often? A new role — in particular, a promotion and/or an increase in responsibilities — every 2-3 years is a sign that a candidate is curious, willing to take up new challenges, and capable of delivering results.
The recruiter must also spend some time digging into the cultures of the candidate’s previous employers. What did it take to succeed in those environments, and what made the candidate an ideal person for the promotions? Will the candidate’s strengths in previous organizations translate to this particular company’s culture? These are all important considerations to weigh.
Lastly, a recruiter needs to focus on those candidates who demonstrate an ability to develop new skills and expertise in line with the company’s future evolution. Is the company planning to expand internationally in the future? If yes, focus on candidates with the potential to take on international roles. Is the company planning to restructure itself and adopt a more centralized hierarchy? Be willing to take a risk on someone who has experience in centralized organizations.
Gauging Your Candidate’s Aspirations
To understand a candidate’s aspiration and ambition, a recruiter must get to know the person behind the resume. What distinguishes a high-potential candidate from simple high performers is the high-potential candidate’s ambition, motivation, and long-term professional goals.
Find out what drives and motivates a candidate. What makes work meaningful in their eyes? Answers to these questions will help recruiters understand what will make a candidate stick around for the long haul.
Recruiters should also probe into the candidate’s vision for their career, as this will help recruiters better understand the candidate’s expectations. A typical high-potential candidate will demonstrate a love for fast-paced, stimulating work environments, constant challenges, and rapid personal development.
And then, once a recruiter knows what a high-potential candidate wants, they have to ask themselves: can our company offer these things? If not, that high-potential candidate isn’t going to be a good fit for the organization.
Recruiters must remember to ask the most important — but often ignored — question: why do you want to join this company?
If a candidate is intrinsically motivated to join a particular company, they will demonstrate passion for its business, products, services, and culture. They will be willing to go the extra mile, even when the going gets tough.
Remember: competencies can be taught and developed, but motivation and passion cannot.
Does the Candidate ‘Fit’?
A high-potential candidate can only bloom within the right conditions and environment. A high-potential employee in one company is not necessarily a high-potential employee in another company, even within the same sector.
Recruiters must therefore ask themselves if a candidate’s personality and values would fit in with the company’s culture and behavioral framework. Do the leaders lead by consensus? Is the company culture highly competitive and performance-driven? Is it a highly politicized environment? What is the leadership model? Will the candidate thrive in this culture?
Often, time-pressed recruiters focus on the short-term objective of filling a given role. However, by taking a longer-term, holistic view of the business — of its talent needs and of a candidate’s leadership potential — recruiters can become strategic members of the organization. They can help HR face down some real challenges and stay ahead in the race for the talent.
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