Learning & Development, Recruiting, Talent

How to Identify Candidates Interested in Growth and Development

It’s rare for a company to find the “perfect” fit for an open position. Even employees with excellent education and experience might not be experts in the industry, lack alignment with the company’s core values and mission, or have underdeveloped soft skills. Now imagine these potential gaps spreading through the entire organization.identify

This is where the need for training and development comes in. Whether it’s industry-specific knowledge, management/leadership ability, or even company practices and policies, there’s almost always a need for employees to undergo some training—not just at the start of their careers but throughout.

Importance of Openness to Training

The willingness and ability to pursue and complete ongoing training to improve and develop valuable skills, traits, and knowledge are valuable traits in and of themselves. But although some employees embrace this lifetime and continual learning and want to attend as many workshops, watch as many webinars, or take as many classes as they can, believing there is always room to grow, others feel they already know it all and balk at training they feel is too basic.

Unfortunately, “openness to training” isn’t always something that jumps out when looking at an applicant’s résumé. And, if you ask interviewees, few would probably admit that they simply aren’t interested in or willing to go the extra mile for personal career development.

So how can you tell the difference between a training-eager employee and a training-averse employee during the recruitment process? What clues might you find in résumés? What signs should you look out for in the interview process?

We posed these questions to a number of training and recruitment professionals and experts; here, we share their tips and strategies.

Résumé Clues

There are a number of clues that can be gleaned just by looking at a résumé to get a sense of how open a candidate is to learning. Some candidates may list certifications, courses, or training they’ve previously attended. Others might list languages they are proficient in other than their native language. Both are strong signs they seek out and value learning opportunities.

Even nonlearning extracurriculars can be a sign that potential employees are willing to do more than the bare minimum. Whether and to what extent this drive can be applied to learning and development need to be elucidated in an interview.

Interview Questions Focused on Activities

Asking for elaboration on activities listed on résumés or simply asking an applicant about his or her hobbies can help gauge openness to learning and training.

Even if a potential employee has earned a large number of certifications or taken a lot of training in a previous position or in his or her spare time, the individual may not necessarily list these on his or her résumé.

Perhaps this person is focusing on other credentials in the interest of saving space or doesn’t think it’s relevant or of interest to a potential employer. In any event, it’s always good to ask about the types of training activities candidates have previously engaged in.

“During the interview ask about non-work related webinars or training sessions the candidate has attended,” says Arlene Peterson, Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator at City University of New York, as well as speaker and career consultant. “City agencies in each state offer free training online and in-person in various areas such as Mental Health First Aid, etc., that employees who are ‘go-getters’ have benefited from. Employees who are naturally life-long learners usually want to educate themselves on many topics.”

Asking about hobbies can also provide some insights. If someone’s hobby is traveling, that might not necessarily tell you much about his or her openness to learning. But if the candidate answers “learning new things” or “learning about different cultures” when asked why he or she enjoys traveling, that’s obviously a good sign.

Behavioral Questions

Peterson also suggests that behavioral questions can gauge openness to learning. A common example is something along the lines of “Tell me about a time when you didn’t succeed at something.”

Candidates who enjoy personal development and learning will frequently describe what they did wrong and what they did to improve themselves or what they learned to avoid it in the future. Those who aren’t as open to learning and development will often blame circumstances or team members.

Self-Awareness and Humility

Anticipation of future challenges is also a sign of a candidate’s self-awareness and humility, both of which are key character traits in those who pursue lifelong learning and development.

Candidates who lack self-awareness are less likely to realize their shortcomings in the first place. Those who lack humility are often hesitant or unwilling to seek out help to address gaps in skills or knowledge.

“A question that I ask at the end of the interview is: What challenges do you foresee in your transition should you be hired for this role?” says Leesa Schipani, SHRM-SCP, Partner at KardasLarson, LLC. “If the candidate doesn’t express something around learning about the organization or enhancing some skills—it’s a huge red flag for me.”


References are often an underutilized element of the recruitment process, but they are a great way to evaluate soft skills. References are often biased toward the applicant who listed them, but the same behavioral questions and questions around past pursuits of training and learning opportunities—when posed to the reference regarding the applicant—can help color the overall picture.

For some, learning and personal development are lifelong pursuits. These are the types of employees any employer should be bending over backward to hire.

Even if their credentials, background, or experience isn’t currently on par with other candidates who lack the continual-learning drive, they may very well surpass this latter group if given the opportunities to address any gaps in their qualifications.

The key is identifying these eager learners during the recruitment process. Using the strategies above can help you identify lifetime learners who would make a great addition to your workplace.

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