Home > Talent Insights Blog > High Potential > Interviewing for High Potentials and High PROtentials

Interviewing for High Potentials and High PROtentials

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

In our recent article, Bifocal Recruiting, we proposed that the recruiting function, other HR Professionals, and to a smaller extent hiring managers must have two perspectives. The first is to hire people who can perform well now and in the near term. We describe it as being nearsighted when recruiting. The second is for hiring people who will be able to learn to perform in the medium and long term. This is described as being farsighted. 

We have observed that most hiring managers are focused, and compensated, on the here and now. They look for people who can hit the ground running. Although they may acknowledge that everyone in their organization needs to be on the lookout for long-term talent to eventually occupy roles at the top of the organization, they are predominately focused on today. 

Hiring managers are mostly near-sighted. 

The near and far-sighted interview processes are substantially different. For the near-term hiring managers look for background, skills, and previous exposure to elements of the position under consideration. They are looking for someone who fits the job requirements now. They have the responsibility for their team to perform now. They are rewarded for the near team, not the long term. It is more specific than an interview for the uncertain future.   

Interviewing for those with the highest potential and highest protential (the individual most likely to excel given their expertise) involves looking for evidence of taking advantage of unique and diverse opportunities in the past to both learn and perform now and prepare for the future. It is broader than interviewing for a candidate for work that starts Monday. 

The farsighted interview takes longer and is more complex. The value of that interview is less valued today as is interest in doing the farsighted interview. This is often because success will be measured over a longer period. The far-sighted search for the highest potentials and protentials therefore has fewer current customers. 

What are we looking for?

Both potential and protential capabilities are half inborn and half developed. The “born with” portion is made up of propensities—the built-in potential to grow and develop in the face of support and development. Some people are mechanical. They are good at understanding how things work and how to build and fix things. There are those with athleticism. Given the opportunity and good coaching, they can develop into successful athletes.   

In the same way, some are born with the propensity to seek out and learn complex and diverse skills. The ones with the potential, given the opportunities, will be on a lifelong career track to the top. People born with protential have propensities for deep learning, yet in a narrower domain. They live a focused life getting very good at something and have the potential to learn to manage and lead others in the same, narrow domain. They are specialists that can go deep, while potentials are generalists who tend to go broad, yet deep enough. 

Organizations need many protentials to grow into specialist leaders in their business and fewer potentials to grow into top General Managers and C-Suite members. 

Two approaches to interviewing (or observing) Potential

The first is a life interview–asking the applicant to tell their life story.  As they do, you can probe for more depth along the way. Depending upon available time, the story could cover from their earliest memories until today (the best practice interview may take two to three hours) or for specific events (first job, college selection, internships, challenges, study abroad, life crises). After the interview, while it’s still fresh, review the known 12 Drivers and Markers and the 25 behavioral Practices that define potential for evidence of development. Since potential is half innate it generally will show early, in all aspects of life, school, and early work experiences. 

The second type of interview can focus on all or some of the 12 Drivers and Markers or the 25 behavioral Practices that are essential aspects of potential. Assuming you have selected (or rank-ordered) the Drivers or Markers and the Practices which are the most relevant in your organizational context, the task is to ask targeted questions across various aspects of life, work, and education. 

The Drivers and Markers

There are 12 Drivers and Markers that people with the highest potential or protential have, in varying degrees, and each cover essential behaviors to evaluate. 

Here is an example of evidence collection for one Driver and Marker

Aspires to Greatness – Driver and Marker Questioning

Questions:  Tell me how you developed life and school plans?  Where do you get the inspiration? When you adjust or change goals, what triggers the change?  What are your current aspirations?  What actions are you taking to be able to achieve them?  What do you think are your most significant contributions to date? 

What are the “listen fors”?  What’s the evidence?  What’s the proof?  What can be observed? 

Each grid below covers aspects to pay attention to when interviewing for someone who Aspires to Greatness.

In Life Examples Little Some Definite 
Always planning ahead, although plans may frequently change    
Thinks and dreams big    
Wants to accomplish great things    
Engages in learning hobbies    
Joins organized groups (Scouts, 4H, Grange) and does well    
Has received achievement awards and rewards    
Vacations widely    
Attracts positive role models who are people of stature    
In Education Examples Little Some Definite 
Works for accomplishment awards and rewards    
Takes AP courses    
Engaged and involved in student government    
Applies to multiple colleges; tries for the best    
Likes to associate with other “winners”    
Likes to win at anything they are involved in (sports, music, theater, debate, projects); elected to leadership roles    
In academic achievement, good enough to get into the colleges they target, which are not necessarily the  highest ranked schools   
Leads change initiatives    
Leads others on adventures    
Reads widely, especially about unfamiliar topics    
At Work Examples Little Some Definite 
Volunteers for tough assignments    
Eager to learn    
Natural leader among peers    
Wants to do well    
Wants more to do and more responsibility    
Inspires and brings others along    
Thinks and dreams big    
Works for rewards and awards    
Contributes ideas for improving     
Spends time on projects in addition to current job    
Looks for the important yet overlooked tasks    
In Lifelong Mindsets or Frames or Themes Little Some Definite 
What’s next?    
I can do it    
Let me try    
First in    
No fear    
Nothing ventured, nothing gained    
Seeks adventures    

The Essence – Aspires to Greatness

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Eager beaver. Climbs mountains. Personally, gets things done. With others, gets tough things done. Selected for leadership. In leadership roles, gets great things done. No challenge is too big to try. Contagious. Brings others along on the journey.  Aspires and inspires. 

Elements should be easy to detect, interview for, observe, and evaluate. Evenly distributed in the general population from none to extreme. Starts early, lasts late–a significant ‘have to have’ in those with highest potential. 

Summary Perspective on Highest Potentials and Protentials

In summary, keep in mind that protentials must be at least average potentials. Even though protentials focus more narrowly, there is still learning to be done along the entire career path. 

Protentials perform better early and stay in jobs longer. Potentials move more frequently and add more value as they move up the ladder, are more likely to change organizations to find the challenges they are looking for and are harder to manage. Protentials train and develop potentials, who are more likely to get into political trouble along the way. Protentials know more of the history and tone of the organization.   

Both are highly valued and valuable. 

Interview protocols for all Drivers, Markers and Practices of Potential are contained in The KSAP Field Guide. The Field Guide can be accessed by completing the TalentTelligent All-Access Certification. Join us this year!

Schedule a Consultation

Schedule a Consultation Directly with our Team to learn about how our 360 Survey can be used in your organization.