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Many managers look at hiring through an imperfect lens for the 21st Century. They dutifully review resumes and talk about previous experiences, and then they make decisions based on that information.

As a general rule, do not hire for talent, knowledge or skill.

The number one reason I hire people on my teams is that they demonstrate motivation and are curious to learn.

I don’t care how much technical expertise someone can have on their resume. If they walk into my office and I get a sense that they’re not intellectually curious and their energy and motivation levels are flat, the chances are high that this individual will not be joining my team––no matter how impressive their resume appears.

Why does hiring for motivation and curiosity matters in today’s world?

As the world changes, betting on experience can leave you stuck in the past. Investing in agility sets you up to shape the future. It is particularly true if you’re looking to recruit top talent.

Average people may be content with the “paycheck mentality.” Top talent is not. They’re looking to grow and develop, which means they are continually learning and updating their skills. Top talent is looking to get ahead, and they can do it with you, but you have to offer them what they’re looking for in an opportunity. You have to be able to give them a challenge that will enable them to grow and develop.

When you hire for past performance and rely almost exclusively on a resume.

Have you ever offered a job opportunity to someone and you’re excited because you think they have all of the skill sets you need to hit it out of the park concerning their performance? Then when this individual joins your team, the shine wears off, reasonably quickly because they’re stuck in what worked in the past.

All of the sudden you find solutions that are dated and the person you thought was a hot-shot champion turns out to be someone who is so set in what they know. The person is not prepared to address the demands of a quickly evolving marketplace or team environment. Inevitably, you’re in a frustrating situation both for yourself and the person you hired.

Potential is what matters in the 21st Century.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, who has spent three decades in recruitment, wrote a Harvard Business Review piece and a book about the essential characteristic for the 21stCentury––potential.

He has categorized the determining factors of the selection process into four eras through human history.

  1. Selection based on physical attributes.For millennia, Fernández-Aráoz says that humans in need of physical work abilities recruited based on physicality because it was necessary to fight wars, harvest crops or build things. He noted that even when we entered modern times, Fortune 500 CEOs in comparison to the average American were 2.5 inches taller.
  2. Recruitment based on experience, intelligence, and past performance.This is the experience of people who were born earlier in the 20th Hiring top talent was based on education, testing and a review of how someone performed in the past. Work became standardized and professionalized with white collar jobs going to the people who could demonstrate intelligence experience and a proven record of past performance.
  3. Talent spotting at the end of the 20thIn the 1980’s, the top talent was recruited based on particular skills and characteristics that would help predict performance for the future. As jobs were becoming more complex, competency became an essential criterion for the selection process, especially for managers. As this type of hiring progressed, companies sought to hire talent who had the right mix of competencies for the job.
  4. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment (VUCA). VUCA is a military term that is now regularly used in business. In a world that is uncertain, complex and changing at rapid rates, competencies are no longer sufficient for doing the job. As Fernández-Aráoz noted in his article, “What makes someone successful in a particular role today might not tomorrow if the competitive environment shifts, the company’s strategy changes, or he or she must collaborate with or manage a different group of colleagues. So the question is not whether your company’s employees and leaders have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.”


Today’s successful business leaders and entrepreneurs know that potential is not an easy thing to grasp in someone, but it’s not impossible to do. The leading companies, foster an environment of high-expectations and performance. Talent management teams develop their high performers in specialized programs. According to research, the essential ingredients for hiring top talent are motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact” (Free Digital Download)

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