Looking beyond the resume: How to hire for growth potential

When you imagine hiring the ideal candidate, you’re probably thinking of someone who has all of the needed skills to be successful and grow your business. You want someone who’s had the training, has the licenses, and has done the exact job before.

When you want a sales associate to sell insurance, you want them licensed to sell insurance. When you want a manager to run your gym, you want them to have run a gym before. 

It makes sense. But, in reality, this approach greatly limits your ability to find top talent by excluding all the candidates who can quickly grow into the role and achieve success. 

When you hire based only on who someone is today, you miss out on hiring for growth potential. 

Sometimes a talent or technical skill might truly be necessary from day one on the job. For example, at CareerPlug we need our software engineers to know how to write code when they walk in the door. On the other hand, we might not require them to be able to write code in the programming languages we use if they’ve shown they can learn quickly and have experience in similar languages. 

Yes, it’s ideal that they already know our tech stack. But what’s more important to us is hiring someone who has high potential and will be a long-term fit on our team, even if it means a little extra ramp time. 

Does this apply to any of your positions? If you’re requiring a certain skill because you don’t want to take the time to train someone, think carefully about that decision before you eliminate potentially great hires. 

Unemployment is low across most industries right now (in insurance it was 1.7% in October 2019!). That means it’s even more difficult to find qualified candidates who check all your boxes.

It’s time to look beyond the resume and identify emerging talent. Every high performer had to get their start somewhere with no experience to their name. Someone gave them a shot. Why not you? 

How to Look for Growth Potential

Evaluate Soft Skills 

When someone doesn’t have the skills, you need to look at their talents and behaviors that will help indicate that they can develop those skills. We’ve heard stories from clients who recruited a server at a restaurant they visited after seeing how excellently they provided service or how effectively they upsold dessert!

Think about the soft skills that are necessary for the role. For sales roles, this may be someone outgoing, who’s great at building relationships, and who demonstrates persistence in the face of obstacles. Most people can be taught to follow a sales process, but it’s much harder to teach someone how to be resilient or charismatic. 

Maybe someone has never sold health club memberships before but they are passionate and knowledgeable about their own fitness. This authentic interest may uniquely allow them to motivate and influence others. 

A lot of these soft skills can be evaluated just one step beyond the resume review during a short phone screen. To assess soft skills, ask someone what they like best and least about their current role. This will help you get a feel for what lights them up and what might be transferable to your opening. For example, maybe the best part of someone’s delivery job is building relationships with their vendors, and you need someone to build relationships with prospective clients. 

Evaluate Trajectory

A candidate may have not done this job before, but chances are they’ve done a job. Get curious about what their trajectory looked like in other roles or industries. Did they keep the same responsibilities for three years or did they learn and take on more? What did they do when new opportunities to grow arose? You want to know that they’ve demonstrated initiative and an ability to learn quickly. 

Interview questions like these can help: 

  • Tell me about a time when you knew less than others about a topic or task. What did you do to get up to speed? 
  • Tell me about a time when you went beyond your manager’s expectations to get the job done.
  • When did you take on new responsibilities in your role? What or who initiated this change? 

Evaluate Motivation

When you hire for growth potential, you want to hire emerging talent with a growth mindset. This comes from Carol Dweck’s research that showed some people believe that their talents are innate and cannot be changed (fixed mindset) and others who believe their talents can be developed (growth mindset). 

You want to hire people who believe that hard work, resilience, feedback from others, and good strategies pay off. You want people who believe they can be better and actively work towards that goal. This will help your business be better too. 

To uncover a candidate’s mindset, you can use a specific strategy: asking motivational interview questions. Ask candidates about what motivates them, when they’ve felt demotivated, and how they’ve dealt with failure. Ask about when they’ve received coaching and how they responded to it. Answers to questions like these will give you miles more insight than a quick resume review ever could and may uncover hidden talent with high growth potential. 

Take Action: 

  • Evaluate your job requirements. Determine which skills are must-haves vs. nice-to-haves when someone first starts the new job
  • Take candidates one step beyond the resume review and conduct phone screens to check for transferable skills
  • Review your interview guides and add questions to your hiring process that help uncover someone’s growth potential

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Brandy Lee

Business Intelligence Manager

Eric Morales

Manager of Account Executives

Kirsten Penaloza

Director of Client Experience

Zach Garcia

Senior Manager of Operations

Tulay Solak

HR Manager

Tyler Berndsen

Manager of Partnership Account Executives

Ashley Johnson

Senior Manager of Partner Services

Originally from small town in central Texas, Ashley Johnson graduated from Texas State University in 2013 with a degree in Business Administration. She was hired by CareerPlug as a Talent Specialist in 2014, and moved up to ultimately lead the Recruitment Services team. From there, she pivoted to Implementation, and is now the Implementation Manager.

As the Implementation Manager, Ashley and 3 direct reports function as a transition between Sales and Partner Success in helping our clients get set up and established in our software. She spends her free time raising her 2 dogs, playing cornhole, and perfecting the art of charcuterie.

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Andrew Robinson III

Vice President of Product and Engineering

Chris Igou

VP of Business Development

Chris accidentally started a 20-year career in franchising when he was 18 years old and took a job painting houses for College Pro Painters. That job turned into the ownership of his first franchise (a house painting franchise). While at Monmouth College in IL, he operated his business, played on the varsity football team, and studied to become a teacher.

The taste of entrepreneurship and desire to coach others led Chris deeper into franchising, working with a few franchise brands helping them grow their businesses. He lived in the Chicagoland area his entire life until recently moving his family to Austin, TX.

In his free time Chris coaches youth sports, especially youth football, and spends as much time as he can with his wife and 2 children.

Jenny Leman


Native to Texas, Jenny graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2004 and joined CareerPlug in 2017. She retired her first career path as a Registered Dietitian after 10 years, and has found her true belonging in business operations.

As CareerPlug’s President, Jenny leads all teams to an aligned effort toward achieving our vision. She works to build healthy and scalable internal systems to equip and empower the CareerPlug teams to bring their best for our clients. She loves contributing new ideas and rethinking the status quo. Jenny really connects with the company’s core values, but especially with our intent to “Keep Growing.”

In her non-work life, Jenny enjoys time with her family, playing drums and performing with the Austin Samba School, and finding excuses to be on the lake.

Clint Smith

Founder & CEO

Clint founded CareerPlug in 2007 with the simple idea that there was a better way to help employers connect with quality applicants. Today Clint works every day to fulfill CareerPlug’s mission: Make Hiring Easier. Leading by example, Clint loves spending his time developing new ideas and teaching others.

After graduating from the University of Florida, Clint worked in investment banking and strategic marketing; both experiences influenced the development of CareerPlug. He also spent a year away from the business world teaching 5th grade in Boulder.

Clint is passionate about helping others succeed and is involved in numerous mentoring programs. He and his wife, Sarah, are also foster parents. Clint enjoys family time, beach volleyball, and outdoor adventures.