In the wake of the pandemic, countless organizations have encountered formidable challenges, causing them to stumble and lose their footing. In these uncertain times, organizations have faced intense competitive pressures, striving to regain market share, differentiate themselves in saturated markets and retain customers by offering innovative solutions. Consequently, traditional measures such as skill sets, training and expertise alone have proven inadequate. The speed of employee learning is emerging as the paramount criterion for hiring the right fit. Relying solely on skills suited for an outdated world will leave individuals ill-equipped to navigate change, underscoring the significance of ongoing learning.

The Trait of Learnability

Eric Hoffer, a noted social philosopher and author, said, “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” His quote rightly lays out a crucial distinction between the “learners” and the “learned.”

The “learned” are those who take pride in their mastery of a particular skill set, while the “learners” comprehend that the shelf life of skills is inherently limited, necessitating adaptability in the face of changing times. In today’s dynamic marketspace, the lifespan of skills has shrunk to less than six months. This means that even individuals newly hired with the most up-to-date skills must quickly relearn an entirely new set of proficiencies. Consequently, investing time, energy, and resources into developing specific skills alone is insufficient for sustaining long-term success; instead, the ability to continually acquire and adapt new skills is paramount.

Consider the domain of writing as an illustration. An individual may have garnered accolades through a language degree, accumulated substantial experience as a writer and editor. However, with the advent of AI and the integration of chatbots, the landscape is rapidly evolving. As a professional in this field, one must embrace the need to work alongside this new technology, rather than resisting or disregarding it. This example exemplifies the broader reality across various professional fields that undergo constant innovation at a staggering pace.

The ever-changing nature of the professional landscape demands a proactive approach to learning and adaptability. It is no longer sufficient to rely solely on past achievements or established expertise. Instead, the ability to relearn, acquire new skills, and integrate emerging technologies becomes the key to sustained success. Embracing a mindset of perpetual learning and remaining open to new possibilities allows professionals to stay ahead of the curve, harness innovation and drive their organizations forward.

As a training and hiring manager, I have discovered that most skills and traits can be developed through proper opportunities, frameworks, and time dedicated to employee growth. However, one key factor that significantly impacts the speed of success for prospective employees is their “learnability” and “learning capacity.” Learnability refers to the ability to acquire unfamiliar skills or behaviors and determines how quickly an individual can adapt and perform. On the other hand, learning capacity denotes the extent to which an individual can acquire multiple skills in diverse contexts, ultimately determining their ability to handle complex assignments.

Why Hire for Learnability

In the era of speed, organizations must recognize the immense value of hiring for learnability. The focus should extend beyond a candidate’s current skill set or experience when seeking new talent. Prioritizing individuals who demonstrate a strong inclination and ability to continuously learn and adapt ensures that the organization is equipped to navigate the challenges of an ever-evolving landscape. Companies that hire for learnability stand a chance to foster innovation, resilience, and competitive advantage.

Whether you find yourself in a position of hiring authority or seeking employment, the recognition of learnability as a critical attribute is vital.

As a hiring manager, it is essential to prioritize candidates who demonstrate a growth mindset, a thirst for continuous learning and the ability to adapt to emerging demands.

As a job seeker, when you recognize the impact of your own learnability and the speed at which you can acquire new knowledge and skills, you stand a chance to distinguish yourself from other candidates. Cultivating this self-awareness regarding your own learnability and actively pursuing opportunities for growth can set you apart in a competitive job market.

Assessing the Learnability of Candidates

Hiring managers are responsible for discerning which candidates possess the capacity to adapt, learn new skills swiftly and even reinvent themselves amidst the evolving professional landscape. Investing in individuals with high learnability not only ensures they can quickly acquire new skills but also contributes to a culture of continuous learning within the organization.

Assessing learnability and learning capacity requires a comprehensive evaluation approach. When hiring for learnability, it is crucial to look beyond a candidate’s existing skill set and evaluate their potential for growth and adaptation. This process entails considering several factors, including:

1. Curiosity and Openness to Learning

Individuals who are genuinely curious and eager to learn new things are likely to possess high learnability. Look for candidates who actively seek out new challenges, ask thoughtful questions, and demonstrate a thirst for knowledge.

2. Adaptability and Flexibility

Assess a candidate’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and embrace new methodologies or technologies. Those who display flexibility in their approach and a willingness to explore alternative solutions showcase higher learnability.

3. Problem-solving and Critical Thinking

Evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving skills and their capacity for analytical thinking. Individuals who can identify patterns, make connections and derive innovative solutions exhibit a strong learning capacity.

4. Resilience and Growth Mindset

Candidates who demonstrate resilience in the face of setbacks and possess a growth mindset view challenges as opportunities for growth. This mindset indicates a high potential for continuous learning and development.

5. Self-Directed Learning

Consider candidates who have taken initiative in self-directed learning experiences, such as pursuing online courses, attending workshops or engaging in projects outside their immediate job responsibilities. This demonstrates their proactivity in acquiring new knowledge and skills.

This quality of learnability is not a standalone trait, rather it is something that requires a skilled hiring manager to gauge, one way of doing so is by glancing at the employee learning journey.

Evidence of Learnability

While many HR professionals and managers typically focus on employment history, I recommend examining a candidate’s learning journey. In assessing potential hires, I explore the non-linear aspects, overlaps and concurrency present in their educational, employment and project experiences. This entails investigating the depth and breadth of skills they have acquired, the time it took to master them, their motivations for learning, and the number of diverse initiatives they have been involved in simultaneously.

By considering a candidate’s learning journey, I aim to identify individuals with a higher level of learnability and learning capacity. These candidates stand out as high-potential employees capable of rapidly acquiring new skills, adapting to changing circumstances, and embracing new behaviors.

When evaluating a candidate’s learning journey and learnability, you can pay attention to the following evidence:

Skills Depth and Breadth

Look for evidence of the candidate’s ability to develop both specialized expertise and a broad range of transferable skills. A well-rounded skill set demonstrates versatility and adaptability.

Mastery Timeframe

Consider how long it took the candidate to achieve mastery in their acquired skills. This provides insights into their learning agility and ability to grasp new concepts efficiently.

Motivation for Learning

Understand why candidates choose to acquire specific skills. Assess their curiosity, ambition and drive to expand their knowledge and capabilities continuously.

Multitasking and Initiative

Evaluate candidates’ involvement in multiple initiatives simultaneously. This demonstrates their capacity to handle complex challenges and effectively manage their time and resources.

By analyzing a candidate’s learning journey, organizations can identify individuals who possess the potential to thrive in rapidly changing environments. These candidates exhibit a growth mindset, a hunger for learning and a willingness to embrace new opportunities and challenges.

Final Thoughts

Hiring for learnability brings attention to the employee learning journey, which is a crucial criterion for successful hiring. By examining a candidate’s non-linear experiences, skills depth and breadth, mastery timeframe, motivation for learning and multitasking abilities, organizations can identify candidates with high learnability and learning capacity. Prioritizing such candidates not only ensures a more agile and adaptable workforce but also cultivates a culture of continuous learning and growth within the organization.

Dr. Raman K Attri

An award-winning learning scientist, Dr. Raman K Attri specializes in the science of speed in personal and professional performance. He helps leaders and organizations to accelerate leadership to stay ahead. A prolific author of 50 multi-genre books, he writes on leadership, learning, performance, and workplace learning. Awarded as one of the Brainz Global 500 leaders, he is featured in over 200 media features. To learn more tips to speed up your learning, achievements, and leadership, visit or follow @DrRamanKAttri on any social media platform.


1 thought on “Why You Should Hire for Learnability”

  1. Dr Attri, I agree that a candidates learning aptitude should be a consideration in hiring. It seems that most hiring managers want candidates who can hit the ground running and overlook candidates who could come up to speed in a reasonable time frame and keep growing and contributing in a significant way to organization’s success…I will share your article and add some ideas as to how we could incorporate learning ability questions into our interviews…

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