How to Hire for Potential

What does it take to hire diverse tech talent at scale?

Academy’s Head of Talent, Max Pavier, explains this challenge first-hand. At The Hut Group (THG), Max recruited more than 1000 diverse software engineers by using a new strategy: hiring for potential (and training for skills). Max sat down to share his key insights into why his team took a different approach and how other companies can do the same.

Hiring for skills is competitive

There has always been a digital skills gap in the UK. At THG, I saw this for myself when I led the recruiting function as we entered a period of hypergrowth. We couldn’t hire fast enough to meet demand. Our ability to attract experienced engineers was especially limited by our HQ location. We were outside of major cities in the North West of the UK. Hiring skilled talent wasn’t an option for us if we wanted to build a diverse team and grow.

THG Logo

Figure 1: The Hut Group Logo

The THG playbook

Our strategy at THG focused on hiring for potential. To expand the pool of available talent, we hired entry-level talent and grew our own engineers. We looked beyond experience and education to assess a candidate’s mindset, behaviour and aptitude. Over time, we refined this process to identify 3 key traits that were highly predictive of performance as a software engineer at THG:

  1. IQ – Strong aptitude for logic and problem-solving.
  2. EQ – Self-awareness and ability to read people.
  3. Drive – Ability to take initiative and learn continuously.

These traits are now widely recognised as the key markers of potential and we use them at Academy to select the top 1% diverse grads for our employer partners. 

A year after implementing this hiring strategy at THG, revealed surprising results: Our top performing engineers were those who did not have Computer Science degrees. Grads which were hired primarily for potential were consistently high performers, amongst a cohort joining with Computer Science from prestigeous institutions such as Oxbridge or ETH Zurich. 

Hiring for potential is a competitive advantage

At THG, hiring for potential gave us 3 key advantages:

    1. Access to a new pool of quality talent. Removing the requirements for a Computer Science degree and experience expanded the pool of available talent to the UK’s 800,000 new grads. This supply is refreshed every year, so we never had a pipeline issue.
    2. Better predictors of performance. Aptitude is 4x more predictive than education. By selecting for the key traits of high potential instead of relying on credentialing, we found extraordinary people. It took the risk out of the investment we were making in entry-level talent.
    3. Diversity as a natural outcome. Without the need to limit our pool of talent to people with Computer Science degrees or existing experience, we were able to hire unseen levels of diversity within our technology teams. For example, over half of our software engineering hires through this program were women.

At Academy, we’re using this playbook to empower the tech industry to scalably hire for potential and train for skills. Creating new pathways into tech is essential if we’re going to build a more diverse workforce.

If you found value from this article, you might find value in the following article: £100K Salaries Are Coming (There’s a Tech Talent Crisis, and It’s Getting Worse, Not Better)

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