The decision about which candidate to hire can be a difficult one, especially as you get deeper into the hiring process. Sure, at first it’s easy to weed out the people who wouldn’t be the right match, based on their online application. Even in the first round of interviews, it’s not too hard to separate the weaker candidates from the strong ones. Some candidates clearly have more potential than others.

But what about after those first impressions? When you’ve found multiple candidates you really like? Especially if it comes down to two candidates. The first candidate is a bright recent grad. They have the perfect culture fit and are clearly excited about the role, but they lack some experience. The second checks all more off your qualifications Wishlist, but they don’t gel as easily with your workplace dynamic. Between these two candidates, many hiring managers would be inclined to choose the latter: the candidate with more experience will get into the swing of things more quickly than the first… right?

Not so fast! Consider the potential of the first candidate. High achievers can bring a lot to the table – even though they may have limited experience. They are  ready to prove themselves, branching out in their career and want to learn new things. While the second candidate may have more experience, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when deciding who to send an offer letter to.

Culture Fit

Experience isn’t everything. If others at your company felt more excited to work with one candidate over another, that’s definitely something to take into account. We spend a lot of time at the office – the average American spends 1/3 of their time at work. Coworkers who have solid camaraderie are happier, more productive, and more likely to stay around long term. Low turnover rates are a strong signal for healthy company culture and a thriving business. The flip side of this culture-fit coin is someone who doesn’t mesh with your other employees. As the saying goes, one bad apple spoils the bunch. When new employees don’t connect well their coworkers, they are far more likely to leave. That means you’ll be putting up the Help Wanted sign way sooner than you want to. Even worse, hiring a toxic employee can result in some of your best employees leaving.

Cultural fit matters. So if a less experienced candidate just clicks with other employees, that should factor into your hiring decision. The have the potential to make a positive impact on your workforce and maintain morale.

Enthusiasm

We’re not saying it’s the most important factor when deciding who to hire. But if one candidate is clearly excited about the prospect of working for you – and a more qualified candidate seems less enthused –  don’t count the newbie out. For an entry-level position, choosing the eager beaver is a low-risk situation that offers high rewards. Though inexperienced, these candidates are grateful for the chance to prove themselves in a professional setting and develop their skills. Want to know how to find out if your candidates are motivated and excited for a change? Look for other markers of ambition in their resume: were they an honors student? High GPA? Involved in community projects and volunteering?  Ask interview questions that point towards internal drive and find out what they’re passionate about.

Trainability

In theory, hiring a candidate who already has experience doing the work will require less training time. That means you can get them up to speed and actively contributing faster than an inexperienced employee. For highly technical positions, we agree that meeting the majority of the qualifications is one of the most important things to consider when hiring.

But if you’re hiring for an entry or even mid-level role, go for gusto. Eager-to-please workers are more likely to absorb training and learn quickly. How will you know if your candidates are trainable? Use pre-employment assessments like JobFlare to get a snapshot of a candidate’s cognitive abilities. We boil down cognitive aptitude to a single number, so you can make direct comparisons between candidates. You’ll get an accurate reading of their workplace potential. The stronger a candidate’s cognitive aptitude, the faster they are to pick up and apply new information.

The Bottom Line

Candidates who lack experience can compensate for it with their smarts. They will pick up information quickly and learn how do to do things exactly for your business (while more experienced employees may retain relics of how they did things in their last job). Encouraging the professional development of your employees is a great practice anyways. While there are upfront costs to training, they pay off in the long run. Companies that invest in their workforce will have more options to promote from within and employees who stay around longer. After all, if you’re not letting them grow their careers, they’ll go somewhere else that will.

Hiring someone is a costly decision. But don’t be afraid to take a chance on a greener candidate – especially when they are smart, excited, and would fit in well at your company. If the only thing another candidate has over them is the amount of experience, take the plunge. By understanding the potential of potential, you’ll be able to find those oh-so-coveted diamonds in the rough.