What is your best professional asset? Raw talent? Years of experience? Personal charisma?
According to Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior adviser at the global executive search firm Egon Zehnder and author of “It’s Not the How or the What but the Who” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014), your best, most marketable asset may not be how much experience you bring to the job; it may be your potential to grow and adapt in increasingly complex roles and environments.
In Harvard Business Review’s June 2014 cover story, “21st-Century Talent Spotting: Why Potential Now Trumps Brains, Experience, and Competencies,” author Claudio Fernández-Aráoz explains why the ability to adapt and change may soon trump experience and training on your resume.
“In the past, jobs have been decomposed into skills and filled by candidates who have them,” writes Fernández-Aráoz. “But 21st-century business is too complex—and the market for top talent too tight—for that model to work anymore. The question now is not whether people have the right skills; it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones.”
To thrive, Fernández-Aráoz writes, organizations must adopt a new paradigm: Look for individuals with the highest potential, hire them, then help them to grow.
He highlights five key indicators of individual potential: (1) a strong motivation to excel in the pursuit of challenging goals combined with the humility to put the group ahead of individual needs; (2) an insatiable curiosity to explore new ideas and avenues; (3) keen insight into connections that others don’t see; (4) a strong engagement with work and people; and (5) the determination to overcome obstacles.
A new frontier for higher education
How does this translate for institutions of education preparing students for careers in this volatile, complex and ambiguous 21st-century workplace?
Young 20-something adults seem to fit nicely into this category of untapped, unrealized potential. However, the ability to adapt is not solely the domain of the young; it’s also essential for adults in mid-to-late careers.
“As organizations shift from hiring based primarily on skills and experience to individual potential, colleges and universities must continue to encourage a commitment to ongoing, lifelong learning and career gap filling,” said Shenandoah University’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Adrienne Bloss. “This highlights the importance of infusing professional education with a strong foundation in the liberal arts, giving students the tools to grow and adapt throughout their careers.”
This message is important not only for higher education; individuals must also take responsibility for their potential and prepare for shifts to occur. They must embrace the concept that their work is truly never done and that the careers they prepared for 20 years ago may require additional education in the future.
“Today’s lightning-fast business environment is more complex and unpredictable than ever before,” said Miles Davis, Ph.D., dean of Shenandoah University’s Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business. “What makes someone successful in a particular role today might not be what is needed tomorrow.
“At present, there is an overemphasis on valuing experience,” said Dr. Davis. “Organizations often assume someone with 10 years of experience may be better qualified than someone with less experience. However, we don’t know how to rate the quality of that experience. In some cases, it could be an impediment. What is most valuable is an individual who is adaptable and can express a positive attitude in a changing environment.”
— Cathy Loranger, APR