news details type

Rethinking hiring strategies: why focusing on potential rather than experience can pay off 

Hamish McCollester

Hamish McCollester

December 19, 2023

You can glean only so much from a résumé. Sometimes, you need to look beyond the credentials to find someone with the competence to be successful in a job. I’m certainly a testament to that. I came out of undergrad with a degree in criminal justice and a burgeoning personal training business. That unorthodox career path only got more unconventional when I landed a position as an account coordinator for a New York City ad agency. From there, I was able to leverage my innate writing skills to transition to a copywriter role, and I’m still in the industry today. 


These days, hiring feels a lot less open-minded. It’s often about skills alone — with “culture fit” thrown in for good measure. But it’s unrealistic to assume that a candidate who exactly fits the job will arrive at your doors, especially for creative roles. If you’re willing to mentor and develop talent, potential can bring more than just skills to a company. It can bring adaptability, creativity, problem-solving, and a willingness to learn. Plus, it’s a great way to create a culture that supports individuality, which can drive innovative ideas and approaches to business. 


So far, I’ve had mostly positive experiences using nontraditional recruitment strategies. I once added a lawyer to my team. Admittedly, they had a blog on the side. But their potential, grounded personality, and clear work ethic convinced me they had the makings of a great copywriter, which is what they became. Their unorthodox career path started because someone was willing to hire them despite their less traditional background. I’ve also worked with people who lacked formal education in the field but were painters or sculptors; they became notable creatives. 


Leveraging Open-Minded Hiring 


Many forward-thinking companies embrace innovative hiring practices, such as gamified assessments and virtual reality interviews, to attract top talent in a competitive job market. Those applicants can be self-taught, formally trained, or working in an adjacent field. A candidate needs the same qualities that drive more traditional creatives: a solid work ethic, a problem-solving mentality, innate curiosity, and some actual talent. With those qualities, the craft of advertising can be learned. However, there’s one caveat: It depends on the role. 


I’ve seen plenty of mistakes made with open-minded hiring. I knew someone hired as a senior-level marketing strategist almost solely based on their social media following. That didn’t translate well. To be fair, they were probably better suited for a lower-level position, just not an advanced role. It’s a matter of matching an individual’s potential to an opening. 


Using innovative hiring practices should be done with some forethought and a keen eye. You’re looking for attributes that will lead to success and help your operations keep pace with the breakneck speed of change in this business. Anyone in a hiring role will want to take the time to evaluate less traditional candidates and truly consider them on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, some extraordinary talent may slip past simply because they didn’t “fit” a specific mold. 


Perhaps you need an “artificial intelligence whisperer” with the potential for prompt writing and the ability to leverage technology to create impressive results. If the available talent pool of creatives doesn’t seem to have the chops, it might make sense to look for nontraditional talent. With advancements in technology and the rise of offshoring, there will likely be a move toward this type of candidate. On the other hand, given how quickly this sector is evolving, it’s hard to predict what will make the most sense in any given hiring scenario. 


Striking the Perfect Balance 


Of course, there will also be value in experience, and creatives who’ve been in the industry for some time and already weathered a lot of change in their careers offer that to your agency. Experience informs decisions. It can also greatly benefit establishing trust and building relationships with clients, planning and executing projects, and so on. Regardless, you will always need people on your team who understand how the business works. Even with the current AI frenzy, which will hopefully calm down, you need that uniquely human touch in what you’ll be creating. 


While I’m just as beholden to the waves of this up-and-down business as anyone else, I believe both types of talent will be essential as we advance, albeit for different reasons. Think of it as striking a balance between future potential and immediate need. The real challenge comes in determining which positions best suit potential versus experience and then being as discerning as possible with who fills those roles. What you’re ultimately trying to create is a well-rounded team — one that offers new perspectives, fosters innovation, supports individuality, and drives short- and long-term growth for business. 


In the ever-evolving landscape of recruitment, there may be times when it makes sense to prioritize potential over experience. At the same time, real experience can and will always be invaluable. Forward-thinking companies must know the difference and embrace innovative hiring practices. RAPP recognizes the value of looking beyond traditional qualifications. By considering attributes that lead to success and leveraging nontraditional talent, we demonstrate how advertising agency hiring can lead to remarkable outcomes. In an industry characterized by rapid change, the ability to adapt and innovate is paramount, and RAPP’s approach aligns with these dynamic needs.

news details separator

Similar stories