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How to Hire for High Potential: 9 Core Characteristics to Look For

How to mark an individual as having high potential

Hiring is hard. There are many frameworks that you can apply to find the right candidate. On the one side, it all depends on the organisation, the role you hire for, and the team culture you cultivate. Conversely, human beings have complicated psychology, the baggage of good and bad experiences, knowledge and dominating character traits. How do you find a suitable method to apply to the hiring process? What to do to find the right candidate to demonstrate strong points from experience and adapt to the new job? How to hire for high potential?

Hiring is hard πŸ™Œ

The answer is not apparent, and sometimes it is more of a gut feeling than a scientific method. However, one framework is worth adding to your leadership toolkit. It comes from the military world β€œhiring process”. This process is discussed in one of my favourite podcasts, Jocko Podcast, hosted by Jocko Willink.

High Potential Candidates πŸ’ͺ

In one of the episodes, Jocko discussed the nine core characteristics of individuals with high potential. These characteristics include

  • the need for achievement,
  • constant self-improvement,
  • resiliency,
  • adaptability,
  • humility,
  • integrity,
  • effective intelligence,
  • team ability,
  • curiosity,
  • and emotional strength.

The research was based on Dr Cotton’s discovery and interviews with people who ran the assessment selection for different military communities, such as Marsoc, the Navy Seals, and the Green Berets. Willink explained why many veterans accomplish incredible things in the business world. However, the attributes are universal and foundational to success regardless of the industry. It is why we will look at them from a hiring manager’s perspective. In my option, however, they are important in a more general view, and it’s worth listening and taking notes, even when you are not a manager. You just want to explore your character and improve to live more intentionally.

Dichotomy of leadership in hiring for high potential βš–οΈ

Hiring for high potential can be challenging, but it’s important to keep these nine characteristics in mind as you assess candidates. By focusing on these qualities, you can build a team that is not only successful but also collaborative, innovative, and resilient. However, we must remember the potential pitfalls of each characteristic and ensure we hire candidates with a healthy balance of these qualities. You can build a truly exceptional team with a little effort and attention.

How to hire for high potential: Drive πŸ“ˆ

Individuals with high potential have an unrelenting need for achievement and constant self-improvement. Look for candidates with a track record of setting and exceeding goals.

Questions to assess the Drive

  1. What is your most significant achievement, and how did you go about achieving it?
  2. Can you describe when you had to push yourself outside your comfort zone to achieve a goal?
  3. How do you stay motivated to achieve your goals despite facing obstacles or setbacks?

Dichotomy of interview: Drive

A candidate with a strong drive can be an asset to any team. They are constantly pushing themselves to achieve more and will motivate those around them to do the same. They will strive to exceed goals and targets and will be persistent in their pursuit of success. A high-drive candidate will help your team stay focused and push them to achieve great results.

However, it’s important to remember that a candidate with too much drive can sometimes become overly competitive or aggressive. They may also be prone to burning out if they don’t take the time to rest and recharge.

How to hire for high potential: Resiliency πŸƒβ€β™€οΈ

The ability to persevere in the face of challenges and bounce back from setbacks is a hallmark of high-potential individuals. Look for candidates who have overcome adversity and become stronger on the other side.

Questions to assess the Resiliency

  1. Can you describe a time when you faced a significant setback or failure? How did you handle it?
  2. What steps do you take to bounce back from difficult situations or challenges?
  3. How do you handle rejection or criticism?

Dichotomy of interview: Resiliency

Resiliency is an important characteristic for any team member to have. Candidates with resiliency can bounce back from setbacks and remain focused on their goals. They can learn from failure and are not deterred by challenges. A high-resiliency candidate will help your team to stay focused and motivated during difficult times.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much resiliency may become stubborn or inflexible. They may also be prone to taking on too much and burning out as a result.

How to hire for high potential: Adaptability πŸ—ΊοΈ

High-potential individuals have the ability to adjust according to the situation, learn new things, innovate, and try new methods. Look for candidates who are comfortable with change and can think on their feet.

Questions to assess the Adaptability

  1. Can you describe a situation in which you had to adapt to a new process or system? How did you approach it?
  2. What steps do you take to stay current with industry trends and changes?
  3. How do you prioritise your workload when facing competing demands?

Dichotomy of interview: Adaptability

A candidate with strong adaptability skills can be a valuable asset to any team. They can adjust to changing circumstances and learn new skills quickly. They are also able to think creatively and find new solutions to problems. A high adaptability candidate will help your team to stay nimble and responsive in a rapidly changing environment.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much adaptability may become easily distracted or may struggle to stay focused on long-term goals. They may also be prone to taking on too many projects at once, which can lead to burnout.

How to hire for high potential: Humility 🀲

Individuals with high potential have self-confidence in their abilities while understanding that there’s always room for improvement. Look for candidates who are willing to learn from others and value their peers’ experiences and knowledge.

Questions to assess the Humility

  1. Can you describe a time when you learned something new from a colleague or team member?
  2. How do you handle constructive criticism or feedback?
  3. How do you balance your own needs with the needs of your team?

Dichotomy of interview: Humility

A candidate with humility can balance their strengths with an appreciation for the skills and experience of others. They can learn from those around them and are not threatened by the success of others. A high-humility candidate will help your team work collaboratively and contribute to a positive team culture.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much humility may struggle to assert themselves when necessary. They may also be prone to taking on too much work, as they don’t want to appear unwilling to help.

How to hire for high potential: Integrity πŸ™‹β€β™‚οΈ

High-potential individuals have a strong sense of ethics and adhere not only to what is legal but also to what is right. Look for candidates with a solid moral compass and committed to doing the right thing, even when it’s not easy.

Questions to assess the Integrity

  1. Can you describe a time when you had to make a difficult ethical decision? How did you approach it?
  2. How do you ensure you adhere to ethical standards in your work?
  3. How do you handle situations in which there is a conflict between what is legal and what is right?

Dichotomy of interview: Integrity

A candidate with strong integrity can make ethical decisions and act according to their values. They are honest and trustworthy and will not compromise their principles for personal gain. A high-integrity candidate will help establish a trust culture within your team.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much focus on integrity may be overly rigid or inflexible. They may struggle to make decisions that involve a degree of risk, even if those decisions are ultimately for the greater good.

How to hire for high potential: Practical intelligence 🧩

Individuals with high potential can apply their knowledge to real-world scenarios. Look for candidates who can think critically, solve problems, and make sound decisions.

Questions to assess the Effective Intelligence

  1. Can you describe a time when you had to solve a complex problem? How did you approach it?
  2. How do you gather information and evaluate different solutions to a problem?
  3. How do you ensure your decisions are based on data and evidence?

Dichotomy of interview: Effective Intelligence

A candidate with effective intelligence has both the knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in a practical way. They are able to solve complex problems and find innovative solutions. They are also able to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively. A high effective intelligence candidate will bring a wealth of expertise and knowledge to your team.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much focus on effective intelligence may struggle to see the bigger picture or to understand the perspectives of others. They may also be prone to becoming overly analytical or critical.

How to hire for high potential: Team ability 🀝

High-potential individuals can function as part of a team, placing the success of the whole above the needs of the self. Look for candidates who are team players and who can collaborate effectively with others.

Questions to assess the Team Ability

  1. Can you describe a time when you had to work with a difficult team member? How did you handle the situation?
  2. How do you effectively communicate your ideas and opinions to your team members?
  3. How do you ensure everyone on your team is heard and valued?

Dichotomy of interview: Team Ability

A candidate with strong team ability can work collaboratively and contribute to the team’s success as a whole. They can communicate effectively and listen actively to the perspectives of others. A high team ability candidate will help establish a positive team culture and ensure that everyone works together towards a common goal.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much focus on team ability may struggle to assert themselves or to take ownership of their work. They may also be prone to avoiding conflict, leading to unresolved issues within the team.

How to hire for high potential: Curiosity πŸ”

Individuals with high potential have the desire to explore the unknown and question the status quo in pursuit of better, more effective solutions. Look for candidates who are curious and who ask questions.

Questions to assess the Curiosity

  1. Can you describe a time when you came up with a new and innovative solution to a problem?
  2. How do you stay current with emerging trends and technologies in your field?
  3. Can you describe a time when you questioned the status quo and proposed a new approach?

Dichotomy of interview: Curiosity

A candidate with strong curiosity can explore new ideas and question existing assumptions. They can think creatively and find new solutions to problems. A highly curious candidate will bring your team fresh perspectives and help drive innovation.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much focus on curiosity may struggle to focus on the task at hand or may become easily distracted by new ideas. They may also be prone to taking risks without fully assessing the potential consequences.

How to hire for high potential: Emotional strength πŸ§—β€β™€οΈ

High-potential individuals have a positive attitude, high empathy, and control over their own emotions, especially in chaotic and stressful situations. Look for emotionally intelligent candidates who can remain calm under pressure.

Questions to assess the Emotional Strength

  1. Can you describe a time when you had to remain calm under pressure or in a high-stress situation?
  2. How do you handle conflict or difficult conversations with colleagues or team members?
  3. Can you describe a time when you had to show empathy or support to a colleague or team member who was going through a difficult time?

Dichotomy of interview: Emotional strength

A candidate with strong emotional strength can remain positive and focused during difficult or stressful times. They can manage their own emotions and to empathise with the emotions of others. A high emotional strength candidate will help to establish a positive team culture and to maintain a sense of calm during challenging times.

However, it’s important to be aware that a candidate with too much focus on emotional strength may struggle to express vulnerability or ask for help when needed. They may also be prone to taking on too much and burning out as a result.

You can identify high-potential candidates exhibiting the nine high-potential core characteristics by asking the right questions during the interview.

Conclusions πŸŽ“

Remember that hiring is an ongoing process, and it’s important to continue to assess and develop your team members throughout their tenure with your organisation. By focusing on high-potential individuals, you can build a team capable of achieving great things.

In addition to the points mentioned above, Jocko delves into the difference between personality and character in his podcast. He explains that personality relates to how we present ourselves to others, while a character is our true nature and the principles we hold ourselves to.

Furthermore, Jocko emphasises the importance of cultural fit when building a successful team. He argues that hiring for cultural fit is just as important, if not more so, than hiring for technical skills. It is because someone who doesn’t fit into a team’s culture can disrupt its cohesion and negatively impact its performance.

Finally, Jocko highlights the relationship between character and personality and how they are intertwined. He believes that our character ultimately shapes our personality and behaviour and that having a strong character foundation is important to lead a fulfilling and successful life.

Identifying high-potential individuals is important for building a highl-performance team. We look for candidates with the nine core characteristics, ask probing questions, and seek examples of past behaviours. Remember to assess and develop team members regularly. By focusing on high-potential individuals, you can build a great team.


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