Ability to Learn: How Good Will You Be Tomorrow?

The leading predictor of career success is not education completed but ability to learn.

There was a time when who you know was more important than what you know when you are looking for a job.  But those days are largely gone.

Now the emphasis has shifted again.  Today’s forward thinking in the recruiting world is looking beyond what you know to find out how you know it.

Your ability to learn is the keyEducation levels will continue to be a rapid and valuable guide to assess candidate capabilities but, like the caveat in a stock offering, past achievement is no guarantee of future performance.  In fact, the substance of the knowledge gained pre-work is of declining value as time goes by and as the workplace becomes more specialized.

A formal education may not be a reliable predictor of success in a given job.  As the challenges of hiring exceptional employees mount, the promise inherent in an acquired level of education is coming under much closer scrutiny.

What many recruiters look for now is a link between what a high value candidate knows now and how able he or she will be to remain of high value going forward.

The leading predictor of career success is not education completed but ability to learn.


First you face the challenge

Almost any field of business today requires new and intense learning on the job.  Technology is a favorite culprit, leading to innovation and new processes.  But technology doesn’t often hand over new solutions. Before we get there, it has usually created problems.

It falls to gifted members of the workforce who can spot opportunities, put diverse elements together and create the competitive advantage the technological advance hinted at.

In this environment, companies such as Google or Tesla have become “serial innovators”, maintaining huge leads in business through the ability to innovate.   This doesn’t mean a handful of key players.  Business innovation is a team sport running the gamut of the firm’s problem solving, development, production, sales and distribution capabilities.

The team’s speed needs to match or exceed the change taking place in the given field.  Break that down further and the speed of the team is that of its slowest member.


Capability falls off in 18 months

This doesn’t happen just to the Googles and the Teslas.  Work studies suggest that many jobs now continue to evolve so rapidly that the ability to perform well in them degrades in only 18 months.  A Korn Ferry study found a direct link between an individual’s learning ability and the promotions received by that person over 10 years.

The elephant in the recruiter’s room of course lies in assessing learning ability.  There are many accepted ways it can be measured but to do so in a time-efficient, practical manner is challenging.

Dr. John Sullivan is a prominent commentator and author of several books on talent management. He has identified 14 ways to assess continuous learning ability — eight during the interview and six outside of the interview.

You can read them here in a recent issue of ERE Media’s Recruiting Intelligence



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