Why we hire new people for their potential, not their past


Job-hunting can be stressful, but you can’t let fear hold you back from applying for a position you might be perfect for. That’s according to Kelly McDonald, an executive manager on the HR business partner team at Irish Life, who’s a big advocate of looking beyond a CV to find good talent.

“Sometimes that piece of paper is the least important thing,” Kelly says. “It’s about seeing the potential in people and taking the time to get to know them and their motivations. At the end of the day, if you have a good attitude and you’re going to be the right cultural fit for the company, almost everything else is trainable.”

Having worked in HR for 18 years, Kelly has spent her career working to eliminate unconscious bias in the hiring process and since joining Irish Life a year ago she’s had the opportunity to play a big role in the organisation’s diversity and inclusion agenda.


“I would welcome conversations with anybody about joining the company, whether they have a degree or not,” Kelly says. “I think everyone brings their own skills, everyone has their own capabilities. If you believe in yourself, and you’re given an opportunity then everyone has the ability to shine. We just need to help people find those opportunities.”

As the first person in her family to go to university, she’s speaking from experience.

“I come from a working-class background and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that education will get you out of every poor economic situation,” she says. “I could have been a product of my environment but my family really supported me to go as far as I possibly could for an education.”

That’s why Kelly chooses to focus on the individual when interviewing candidates, not any self-perceived blockers like their background, a career break or where they want to school.

As she puts it, “For me, it’s about trying to meet as many applicants as possible, trying to understand them as people and then working out what else they need to be really successful—and I believe you can build all of that if you get the right people.”