Looking for Learners

There are very few companies out there who don’t need learners.

Let’s face it – as much as things change in your industry or within your organization, people need to be open to learning new things regularly. Whether it’s a new technology that affects your products, or simply a new internal process designed to improve efficiency, doing something “the way we’ve always done it” is often not an option. Your employees need to be ready to learn regularly.

So, why not hire people who want to learn, rather than just tolerating it?

With a workforce of active learners, you have people who realize they don’t know everything but want to know as much as they can. Simply the fact that they realize they don’t know everything is a big help to a company that needs to adapt as it grows (which pretty much describes every company). While they learn more about different aspects of their job they will be able to more easily spot opportunities as they arise and see obstacles ahead before they create big problems. Active learners help your company move forward more quickly, and with better ideas.

When you’re recruiting for a role, you have the opportunity to hire active learners, but only if you make it clear that’s what you want, and only if you interview and assess for that quality.

 

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

In order to attract learners, you need to let people know that’s what the role requires. Job descriptions should highlight the importance of continuous learning. That helps active learners see that you’re serious about it and that you are specifically looking for something they offer. Conversely, people who are not interested in learning anything new may be turned off by a job that seems to require it; that’s good, as you can avoid wasting time on them.

The first step is to review your employees’ job descriptions to see if learning is addressed in there. If it’s part of their job, it should be part of the JD. Consider making it fairly specific if you know you have specific needs, like “The person in this role is expected to stay abreast of changes among the competition and be able to share that throughout the company.” When you post announcements of new jobs, that requirement for consistent learning needs to be part of the job description.

Once you have people in for an interview, you have a chance to describe the role to them in more detail. This is your opportunity to describe the kind of regular learning you need from them and have them share how they would go about it.

 

INTERVIEWING AND ASSESSING

In addition to sharing your requirements during the interview, you also want to see how eager they are to learn. Of course, if someone really wants a job with you they are likely to tell you whatever they think you want to hear (“I’m always learning, 24/7!!!”). Consider taking a look at their background to understand how eager they actually are.

Consider their educational path. Some people get nervous, for example, about a candidate who went right from their bachelor’s degree to their master’s without gaining work experience in between (especially when they come to you about to graduate from that master’s program). The positive aspect of that may be that they were so eager to learn more about their subject that they kept their momentum going as a student rather than taking a detour into work and then never coming back to school.

Look for certifications and coursework beyond their degree (especially if they pursued them while also doing their degree). Candidates with CFA certifications or some MOOCs under their belt, especially if taken while they were full-time students, are people who fill their time with learning. Ask them about those programs and why they did them.

Consider their informal learning experiences as well. If someone’s a certified scuba diver, ask why. You may find someone who was never a good swimmer but who overcame that fear to learn a new skill because they were excited about exploring a new environment. That may be exactly the kind of person you want for your team.

 

MAKING THE HIRING DECISION

Of course, you won’t hire someone only because they like to learn; if you need an engineer to help you build bridges, they need an engineering degree before they need a love of learning. But if you need people who can keep growing as your company grows, then look for people with that quality. Someone’s past job experience may indeed be good for the past, but to be good for the future they need to be willing to learn, so if you think that’s a requirement for a job, you should explicitly look for it in your hiring.