WOW Hiring Managers by Projecting a Candidate’s Performance and Promotion Trajectories

Article main image
Oct 16, 2017

Imagine a recruiting session with your hiring manager where you are selecting from among three finalists who all seem to be about equal in their required qualifications and thus their ability to do this “current job.” And you speak up and proactively recommended hiring candidate B, because they have a steep career trajectory. The hiring manager is surprised, but they accept your assessment. If you’re not familiar with the term, a “steep career trajectory” projects three factors that predict the likely career success of a candidate. The more factors that a candidate poseses, the steeper their projected trajectory. The three important trajectory factors are:

  • A candidate’s likely performance level — a new hire becomes the top performer; their impact on the team and the business increase dramatically. And if they innovate, that value increases even more. An individual is likely to be a top performer if they have certain game-changing competencies which lead directly to increased performance. Some of those competencies might include rapid self-directed learning, having a sense of urgency, having a large professional network, and being able to make decisions with data.
  • A candidate’s likely rapid upward movement — you can also project the likely number of upward levels that a new hire will obtain in five years. The higher an employee moves in the organization, the greater the impact they will have. Look for candidates who have historically sought out and accepted more responsibility. And also look for candidates who already have a significant percentage of the qualifications for the “next level.” Also, identify candidates with leadership skill and business acumen because they have a much higher probability of being promoted quickly.
  • A candidate’s likely years of retention — the longer they stay with this organization, the impact of their performance and their rapid upward movement will increase significantly. So this third factor projects which candidates are likely to stay longer than the average tenure of new hires at your firm. Identify them by using factors like their past job tenure, whether they were an employee referral, and whether they targeted your firm and did extensive background research on it (Note: predicting retention was covered in my previous article on

The remainder of this article covers the specific patterns and competencies that you can use to project a candidate’s trajectory in the areas of performance and upward movement.

Factors That Predict a High-Performance Level

You can of course just intuitively select from the following list of factors that have successfully predicted a new hire’s performance levels. However, a superior approach is to run a simple correlation analysis to determine which common factors your high-performing recent hires have but that your low-performing recent hires don’t have.

To find these competencies and patterns, use a combination of a candidate’s interview answers, references, LinkedIn profiles, and their resume to see if they fit past performance patterns. Use the same methods to identify if they have any of the “game-changing competencies” that because of their power, contribute to top performance.

First look for these four proven patterns that can predict on-the-job performance

  1. Their past level of performance — ask about their past performance appraisal scores, performance bonus percentages, performance awards, and their rank in forced rankings. You can also just ask them to rank their own average performance level on a 10-point scale or ask them what level their manager will cite when you call for a reference check.
  2. A large professional “lifeline” network — Google, for example, found that employees with a large professional network that they can use as a lifeline are measurably more productive.
  3. They were referred by a top performer — the highest-performing new hires from any source come from referrals by your own top-performing employees. So raise the performance projection if this candidate was a referral from one of your top-performing employee in this job family.
  4. No history of performance issues — avoid those candidates who in past jobs were placed on performance-management plans. If the candidate has recently been laid off, find out if it might’ve been performance related.

Then also look for these 10 performance competencies that can predict a candidate’s level of performance

  1. Self-directed continuous rapid learning — nothing contributes more to being a top performer than continually growing and learning. Google found learning ability to be the No. 1 performance predicting competency across all of their jobs.
  2. Continuous records of accomplishments — the most productive employees don’t just work hard; they produce a list of accomplishments. So look for candidates with a continuous record of higher and higher levels of measurable job-related accomplishments.
  3. Self-motivation and drive — identify the self-motivated who need less coaching. And because they have internal drive and a strong work ethic, they accomplish more and perform better.
  4. Continually seeking work — look for those who when their work is done, seek out additional work and problems that need attention. Their approach is like the Facebook slogan, “nothing is someone else’s problem.”
  5. Influencing and selling — look for those who have strong influence skills and who use them to get others to act and to support their ideas without orders.
  6. Speed and a sense of urgency — look for those who have “a sense of urgency,” who finish before deadlines, and that automatically identify ways to do high-value things faster.
  7. No performance plateaus — look for those who continually perform and meet their goals without any down periods.
  8. Data-based decision-making — look for a track record of using data to make important decisions and to improve process outputs.
  9. Aggressiveness and confidence — because top performers take reasonable risks. Look for individuals who take aggressive action, take reasonable risks, and have a justified confidence in their abilities.
  10. Projected long-term retention — high performers produce their highest value after two years at the firm, so long tenure matters.

And now let’s shift to factors that predict upward movement.

Factors That Predict Rapid Upward Movement

You can just intuitively select from the following list of factors that have successfully predicted a new-hire’s upward movement levels within five years. However, a superior approach is to run a simple correlation analysis to determine which common factors that your rapid upward movement new hires have, but that your flat movement trajectory new hires don’t have. To find these competencies and patterns, use a candidate’s interview answers, references, LinkedIn profiles, and their resume to see if they fit past performance patterns. Use the same methods to identify if they have any of the “game-changing competencies” that because of their power, serve as a catalyst for upward movement. 

First look for these five proven patterns that can predict upward movement

  1. Their past rate of movement — calculate the average number of months between promotions and upward movement in their last and recent jobs. Use that calculation to help project their upward movement at your firm.
  2. No history of plateauing — look for those who in past jobs have continually grown, moved, and produced accomplishments without any slowdowns or plateauing.
  3. Starting in this job leads to more promotions  use the historical average promotion levels achieved by new hires in this job family as an indicator of how often this candidate will move at least initially.
  4. Continually seeking more responsibility — look for those who seek out and accept increasing levels of responsibility and accountability, because this extra work prepares them for upward movement.
  5. Large professional “lifeline” network — Google found that employees with a large professional network are more promotable.

Then also use these 11 game-changer competencies to predict upward movement

In addition to using proven patterns, also look for competencies that predict upward movement.

And for every two of these 11 predictive movement competencies that a candidate has, raise their projected number of movement levels up one.

  • They already have capabilities for the “next job” — the candidate already possesses a significant percentage of the job requirements for the “next level up job.” Obviously, this makes it more likely that they will be quickly promoted out of their initial job.
  • Exceptional business acumen — knowledge of business principles and management skills together with some knowledge in other business functions enables a candidate to avoid functional bottlenecks, and to instead move easily between functions and business units.
  • Initiative — look for those who have set personal goals to grow and then to move up rapidly.
  • Adaptability — in a rapidly changing VUCA world, managers and leaders must be highly adaptable. So look for candidates who quickly pivot, adapt, scale, and go in a different direction when the market or technology demands it.
  • Acting and thinking strategically — look for those who see “the big picture,” who are future-focused, and who successfully “connect the dots” between seemingly unrelated areas of a business problem.
  • A competitive advantage — look for those who continually look externally to maintain a competitive advantage.
  • Leadership results  look for those who continually accept more leadership responsibility. And when they lead, they continually produce above-average results. Leadership skills make it much more likely that they will be promoted into consecutive higher-level roles.
  • Implementing innovation — look for those who purposely enhance collaboration and who continuously get their innovative ideas (or their team’s) quickly implemented. One indication of innovativeness might be the candidate’s number of patents.
  • Adopting technology/data  look for those who when leading are the first to seek out and adopt new technologies and to shift to a data-driven decision-making
  • A global mindset — look for those who operate with a “global mindset,” so they continuously produce scalable global solutions. Prioritize those who also know how to manage outside of the country in which they reside.
  • Diverse thinking — look for diverse candidates who reflect your diverse customer base. Also, prioritize those who think and attack problems in a diverse way.

Final Thoughts

Don’t begin the process of projecting trajectory with the expectation of 100 percent accuracy. Instead, just using the process of looking for factors that predict a candidate’s career trajectory may be enough. Over time, you’ll get better at career trajectory projections. And that will mean that you will hire individuals who perform better, move up more levels, and that stay longer. For your next step, consider assessing candidates on whether they will become innovators or leaders, and then look internally to project the career trajectory of your current employees.


This article was designed to stimulate your thinking. If you found that it met those goals, please take a minute to follow or connect with me on LinkedIn.

image from bigstock

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!