How to Evaluate Job Candidates' Ability to Learn

professional skills

Evaluating a job candidate's ability to learn can be accomplished through reading resumes, asking the right kinds of application and interview questions, and presenting hypothetical situations and problem-solving exercises. Check out how you can measure your job candidates and their ability to learn.

Evaluating Skills

Want to know how to evaluate a job candidate's ability to learn? The first step is to recognize that job candidates have two types of job skills: hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills consist of technical skills such as computer programming or accounting. Soft skills revolve around a candidate's intellectual and behavioral capabilities and include communication skills, flexibility, critical thinking, problem-solving, etc. These are the skills that determine a candidate's ability to learn. You can measure these skills and predict a job candidate's ability to learn through the resume, application, and interview process. Here's how.


Start with the resume, which is usually presented in functional format, meaning that job candidates have already tailored them to draw your attention to job experience, job history, and areas of expertise. This is exactly where you want to focus in on keywords that applicants use to describe themselves in relation to perseverance on the job, their desire to train for improvement and growth, and their dedication to the company. Possible keywords to look for include:

  • benchmarking
  • intellectual curiosity
  • surveyed the literature
  • I became an expert
  • I was a quick study
  • passion for learning
  • sought out experts

Also, take advantage of the references listed at the end of the resume or application. Contact the individuals listed and ask if they would recommend the candidate for future employment. There's a reason the references are listed. Don't miss out on a prime opportunity to do some background work on job candidates.

Employment application for job candidates.


Next, use the application as a tool to help determine job candidates' ability to learn. Find out if they're willing to pursue additional learning opportunities in a job or on their own. Tailor the questions to seek information regarding formal and informal education.

Consider including a requirement for job candidates to complete an online assessment tool that can help identify a candidate's strengths and weaknesses. For instance, you may want to use the StrengthsQuest quiz as an assessment tool.

Formal Education

Don't focus in on a listing of high schools and colleges. That's probably on their resume already. Go deeper and ask for job candidates to share details about their course of study and extracurricular activities relating to their studies. Find out what level of degree the candidate earned and how long it took them.

Continuing Education

Courses taken outside of the classroom count as continuing education, which make them notable in determining a job candidates' potential ability to learn. Ask job candidates to list any relevant courses, seminars or conferences that they attended in an effort to expand their knowledge in areas related to work or job skills. This will help shed light on the candidates' ability to learn and their desire to continuing learning.

Evaluating a job candidates ability to learn.

Interview Questions

The in person interview is the best time to question job candidates about additional educational experiences. Use the interview questions to dig deeper into both work and personal experiences to reveal if the individual took the initiative to problem solve, investigate, and step up to solve dilemmas.

Choose behavioral interview questions built to help suss out the job candidate's ability to learn. Here are a few sample questions:

  • Can you recount a time when you felt ill-equipped for an assignment? How did you overcome the setback and push forward to complete the task?
  • Please share something you have learned on the job and then applied to future tasks and experiences.
  • Share about your experience in this particular field of work. What do you know about the industry as a whole (i.e. history, future, emerging technological advances)?

Recruiters use hypothetical scenarios to measure job candidates ability to learn.

Hypothetical Scenarios

You can also use situational interview questions to place job candidates into hypothetical situations to determine how they will best solve a problem and prevent future problems. A sample scenario may be something like:

  • Should you come across something you don't know how to do on the job, what would your course of action be?
  • Describe your learning process. If you discover an error in your work or the work of a co-worker, how would you approach the error, fix it, and prevent it from happening again?

Be Thorough

Evaluating job candidates in their ability to learn can be difficult when you haven't seen them on the job. However, with thorough preparation of application questions, interview questions, and hypothetical situations, recruiters can gather useful information about job candidates and their ability to learn.

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By Amanda Johnson
August 2021
professional skills evaluating candidates

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