Fast Learners vs Slow Learners: Which One Makes Star Employees?

Fast Learners vs Slow Learners: Which One Makes Star Employees?

When it comes to recruiting, it isn’t easy to make a split decision on a candidate based on their ability to pick up new skills quickly or not.

In fact, the whole fast learners vs slow learners debate can cause a few headaches.

If a professional is great at learning new things quickly, does this necessarily make them the best employees?

Let’s explore.

What’s the formula to success?

You should be able to gauge which candidates are quick learners by setting a few simple tasks during the interview stage and asking the right personality questions.

But do these results give you a conclusive answer on who to hire?

In short, no.

The best way to tackle this is to go in with an open mind.

Every individual works at a different pace and will excel in certain areas.

It’s the whole “horses for courses” ideology.

Unless you were a swot at school, there’s a good chance you grasped certain subjects quickly and laboured in others.

It’s a natural way of life.

For instance, creative minds might need longer to come up with the answers to logical questions as their mind responds better to visual cues.

According to Open Colleges, there are roughly six different learning styles.

These include:

Visual – this is where the professional learns best through visual images like pictures, graphs and diagrams.

Aural – this is where the professional learns best through listening to information and conversations.

Verbal – this is where the professional learns best through the written word via reading and writing.

Physical – this is where the professional learns best through physically doing a task.

Logical – this is where the professional learns best through logic, reasoning and systems – otherwise, known as someone with a mathematical mind.

Social – this is where the professional learns through talking and working in groups.

With this in mind, you need to get to know the candidate quickly or aim some interview questions that specifically help you identify which learning style they work with the best.

The other thing to remember is that fast learners can adopt a “know-it-all” state of mind and can soon become lazy.

On the other hand, slow learners might be hard workers and will do whatever it takes to find the answer.

Fast learners can find things too easy and cut corners with processes as well.

For example, a fast learner working in sales could become so effective at recognising warm customers on a call sheet that they start to skip certain numbers in a bid to keep their conversion rate high.

The point is, speed doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a star employee.

It just means they’ll probably be more adaptable when moved around the business and will pick up the daily job tasks more quickly than a slow learner.

However, it’s worth noting that a slow learner could just mean they don’t understand the role you’re advertising for and no learning style can help them remedy the issue.

So, if you’re going to set your candidates a task, keep it simple and try to give them different ways to present their work.

This should give them the freedom to work in a way that suits them, and enable you to identify the slow learners from those who don’t have a clue!

The real signs of a “star employee”

There are more effective ways of finding a star employee when recruiting.

Going back to the six learning styles, some candidates might be slow to pick things up and grasp a trial project, but may have a stellar IQ score.

In this case, it’s not a matter of considering how quickly they pick things up, it’s about being open-minded enough to create an environment that helps them flourish.

A star performer will:

– actively welcome feedback and find ways to learn;

– be open-minded enough to be coached and mentored;

– view adversity as a way of learning;

– share ideas and successes with others.

According to The Corporate Executive Board, high-performing/star professionals will have 10 characteristics:

– The ability to prioritise

– Working well in teams

– Organisational awareness

– Effective problem-solving skills

– Self-awareness

– Proactivity

– The ability to influence

– Effective decision making

– Learning agility

– Technical savvy

Before an interview, it’s worth writing these points down and ticking off the ones you believe a candidate possesses.

Listen closely to their answers and ask supplementary questions to get the relevant information out of them.

This will give you a clearer idea of who has the makings of a star employee and who doesn’t.


At the end of the day, there’s no denying that a fast learner is a valuable asset to any business – especially when you need someone to hit the ground running.

However, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found a star employee.

Humans are a complicated species, so it’s your job to identify their key characteristics and discover what learning style makes them tick.

If you can do this, you’re bound to find someone who not only achieves amazing things at your business, but also seamlessly fits into your work culture.

Good luck!

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