Showcasing your potential can help you land the job — and here's why.

There's no denying the value of having relevant experience and a winning personality when you're looking to land a new job. However, a recent study conducted by our team at TopResume confirms there is another quality that employers find even more attractive when making hiring decisions. 

When asked, “Which of the following is most important in a candidate?”, nearly half of the recruiters and hiring managers cited “potential” as the number-one factor, beating out experience (37%), personality (16%), and education (2%). 

But what, exactly, is potential, and how can you demonstrate this trait to prospective employers during your job hunt? While there are various definitions floating to describe a “high potential” (HiPo) employee, it ultimately boils down to two qualities: problem-solving skills and a willingness to learn.

Solve problems creatively

In today's workplace, managers are looking for people who will bring solutions, rather than problems, to their departments, as these are the types of hires who will provide the most value to the company. It doesn't matter if the position is in customer service, public relations, or engineering; employers across all fields are interested in finding employees who will face challenges head-on, rather than avoiding the situation or ignoring it entirely, and seek creative solutions.

Desire to learn and grow

Thanks to the fourth Industrial Revolution's rapid pace of change, expertise has a shorter shelf life than ever before. In fact, according to Dawn Graham, Ph.D., LP, and author of the book, “Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success,” most of us will be forced to become career switchers at some point in the future because of these constant changes. It should be no wonder then that employers are interested in finding candidates who have the willingness and ability to grow and adapt to new circumstances and challenges in the workplace. The best employees are lifelong learners, people who actively seek out new experiences, knowledge, and feedback to increase their skills and add value to their organizations. 

Three ways to demonstrate potential

Our research confirmed that most employers evaluate these qualities in a candidate based on what they find on a person's resume and during the interview process. Here's how you can show hiring managers you've got the potential they're seeking in their next top hire.

1. Prepare proof points

Anyone can declare a knack for tackling problems or a love of learning on their job application or during an interview. However, if you want to convince recruiters you possess these desirable skills, you need to offer proof.

Start by brainstorming a list of examples in your career when you demonstrated creativity in order to solve a problem, learn a skill, or meet a goal that benefited the company. For example, perhaps you gave yourself a crash course in blockchain technology to prepare a pitch for a potential client that your team successfully landed. Or, maybe you delved into YouTube videos or took the initiative to complete an online course to quickly learn a new skill that was required to successfully complete a work assignment.

Spend time fleshing out the stories that best illustrate your skills. Then, determine which of these stories can be woven into your resume or your interview responses.

2. Make sure your resume leads with your results

Review your list and flag the stories that resulted in an achievement or contribution that benefited your employer, such as lower costs, safer operations, greater profits, happier customers, etc. These will be the most appropriate examples to incorporate into your resume.

Use the bullet points under your resume's Work History section to highlight these successes. Where possible, begin each bullet point with the result of your efforts and then describe the actions you took to achieve such a result. This is known as the “result by action” format. The “action” part of this bullet point is your opportunity to specifically demonstrate how you leveraged a specific skill to provide value to your former employers.

In the cases where you completed training programs, courses, or certifications to expand or deepen your skill set, be sure to include these professional-development activities in your resume's Education and Professional Development sections.

3. Practice storytelling

Employers often ask candidates to describe how they behaved during a particular situation in the past in order to gauge how they might perform in a similar situation in the future. The sample behavioral interview questions below are designed to help interviewers assess your ability and willingness to adapt, to think creatively, to solve problems, and to take initiative — in other words, your potential.

  • Describe a time where you had to solve a difficult problem. How did you handle it? 

  • Tell me about the first job you've ever had. What did you do to learn the ropes?

  • Give me an example of a time when you had to think on your feet in order to delicately extricate yourself from an awkward situation.

  • Tell me about a situation in which you recognized a potential problem as an opportunity. What did you do? What was the outcome?

  • Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some change. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?

Use the STAR Method (Situation, Task, Actions, Results) to describe the situation or task, explain what actions you took, and share the results of your actions. Your interviewer may also ask you if there was anything you wish you had done differently during these situations, so be prepared to discuss what you learned from the experience, and how you would apply this knowledge to a similar circumstance in the future.

If you are asked to talk about a success you're particularly proud of in your career, consider it a bonus. You can use your response to this question as an opportunity to share a story that highlights your creative approach to problem-solving or your ability to quickly learn a new skill or adapt to new responsibilities on the job. 

As more professionals are making lateral career moves and multiple career changes, savvy hiring managers are placing more emphasis on a candidate's potential, rather than solely focusing on a person's work history and education. Be prepared to demonstrate your potential on your resume, as well as during the interview process, in order to set yourself apart from the competition.

Not sure how to highlight your potential on your resume? Our TopResume writers do — and they're here to help

Editor's Note: This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine and published in Fast Company. It is reprinted with permission. 

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