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The Most Important Quality When Hiring Junior Candidates

There’s a lot of discussion in the hiring world about what the most important quality is when hiring junior candidates. Is it technical ability? Intelligence? Leadership experience and ability? Would you be shocked if I told you it was none of these?

From my years of experience interviewing candidates for my own company as well as assisting numerous hiring managers, I have learned that the best indicators of a junior hire are potential and attitude. Yes, I’m telling you to hire someone based on something they haven’t done yet. Why? It’s simple.

The candidate you choose won’t just work for your company today or next week. They’ll be with you for the next year, two years, five years, hopefully. Who they are today won’t be the same person they are in the next five years, and the most important thing is to make sure that five years from now, your team is at its best.

You can teach someone about technology. If you have a good baseline in Python, the chances are that you can learn Django. You can build a junior developer into a mid-level developer in six or so months with the right training. You can’t teach someone to have the right personality or the right drive. Culture fit is imperative.

On that note, it’s important that you look ahead when making your hiring decisions. What does this person have today that will clue you into who they will be? Maybe they have a special hunger or drive. Maybe they’re a visionary. Maybe their positive attitude lifts up everyone else in the workplace. These are things that you can nurture and use that will one day make this candidate an asset to your company. These are the people you need to be hiring, even if they aren’t the most technologically savvy at this point in time. Like I said earlier, you can teach anyone technology. You can’t teach potential.

There’s no one perfect quality that indicates good potential. For example, we all say we want hungry employees. However, if you created an entire team of people whose main quality was hunger, you’d just have a perpetually starving team with nothing to show for it. Your best skill as a hiring manager is being able to craft and balance your team. Steve Jobs is a visionary, but he’s not a developer. If he hadn’t known how to craft his team of developers, you wouldn't be reading this article on your iPhone right now. Michael Jordan never won a basketball championship until he was on the right team with the right coach; you have to know how to concoct your perfect balance of people.

Your hiring decisions should never be about just one characteristic you’re seeking out, and you should never be the only person making them. While every team needs a leader to make the final call, your team should have a say on who you’re bringing into the workspace, because they’re the ones who will have to work alongside the new hire. There is a spot for everyone on your team, whether you want to refer to skill or personality. Everyone is different, especially in these aspects, and so it’s up to you as the team leader to find a place that everyone is being utilized to the best of their abilities.

As the leader, you should be able to look at your team and realize when someone is struggling and may need a new role based on their skillset. It’s not about skill, and it’s not about hunger; it’s about finding the right spot where every member of your team can thrive. You might even say that while potential is the most important quality to find in new hires, management is the most important skill to have in leading a team.

When you hire someone with the intention of building them up, the success of that person relies on you as a manager. If you aren’t the kind of leader who can nurture and teach, this isn’t going to be a good approach for you. A good leader and a good manager will be able to teach anyone. If your management skills are on par, the rest of your team will succeed, and the potential that you saw in them in that interview will come to fruition.

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