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Identifying high potential candidates: 10 essentials

14th March 2016

HIPPOHow do businesses go about successfully identifying future leadership potential? So called ‘high potential individuals’ (HiPo’s) are integral to developing any business. Ensuring quality of hire is therefore crucial.

While some factors in identifying a HiPo may be obvious, for example punctuality, hard work and a willingness to learn, many qualities are rather more difficult to spot, and are often found by external psychometric assessors.

One recent study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman has found ten identifiable personality characteristics likely to be seen in a candidate for promotion. Data was collected from multiple organisations based upon their previous successful hires, collated, and used to assimilate a picture of the ideal candidate.


Those ripe for leadership assessment should be able to demonstrate tangible results from their work. Ideally, they will already be leaders of some kind, with demonstrable evidence as to their leadership skills. If you’re looking to promote someone more junior, look to their past jobs for evidence of this.


In Zenger and Folkman’s research, it soon became clear that one of the key attributes that sets apart a HiPo as someone who will eventually move to more senior roles is the ability to define and to keep a strategy in mind.

Role modelsĀ 

An ideal HiPo is someone with rigorous ethics and values. This person is seen as an individual who can enforce the company’s ethical codes and practices, and who treats others fairly. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone who is notably religious or spiritual; merely that they must consistently behave with justice and politeness.


One of the significant traits identified by the study identified was that successful HiPo’s are ambitious. They are considered workplace motivators; people who inspire others around them to strive for better results. They should be noticeably absent when away from work; a lynchpin of the office environment.

Team workers

That oft-applied term, rarely fully understood. A true team worker will be an expert communicator and delegator. They should be flexible, and will listen to what their colleagues can contribute.

Business Acumen

Someone ripe for promotion will invariably have a deep knowledge and understanding of the business in which they work. Through experience and hard work, they should be able to assess and identify the factors that will make the business succeed, and the way in which they can contribute to this.


Leaders are always risk-takers, willing to innovate when need be. In order to succeed, businesses need to be promoting those who are willing to think creatively; to bring new skills and knowledge to the table; and to further the interests of the business from the inside.


HiPo’s possess the ability to help develop and promote those around them. They should be barometers for the skills of others, and encouraging of their ambitions.


Leading candidates embrace change and see it as a way in which to make positive impact in the business. They don’t resist or run away when they see change coming; rather, they adapt and make the most of the opportunity.


Lastly, but perhaps the defining skill of any HiPo is that of communication. Being able to successfully communicate with a wide range of people on a daily basis and to make connections is key to business success.

If all of this seems a little daunting, the study found that possessing only three of these attributes to a high degree would set an individual apart from their peers. Very few people, if any, will be able to attain more than this.

Even the best candidates will have notable weaknesses. What sets a HiPo apart is a ready acknowledgement of any short-comings and a plan to address them.

Filed in: Leadership

About the Author:

Nikky van Bommel is the Marketing Director for Big 5 Assessments and has worked in the Psychometric Testing industry for over 10 years. Nikky is responsible for all marketing and social media for the organisation.

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