Grit – a crucial performance trait you are still not testing when you hire
As a hiring manager, there were times when I faced the dilemma of hiring a gritty, resilient individual as opposed to one who came with a resume that checked off all the right things. Most hiring managers look for relevant experience and academic credentials, making the former an unpopular choice. But I found it less risky than hiring someone with little personality, and just academic credentials that sounded “right”. In the end, I wanted a team member I could rely on to not get dogged down by the endless chaos and drama of customer facing roles. I wanted people on my team who could adapt, fight, survive, and come out winners. I was looking for people with grit.
The dictionary meaning of grit is ‘courage and resolve’. In a fast-changing corporate environment where every industry is in a state of flux and uncertainty, courage and resolve are crucial elements to not just survive but to thrive. Grit is a sign of one’s strength of character. These are people who can manage uncertainty with high emotional quotients. They bounce back from failure and try again with even more gusto. They solve problems instead of making them roadblocks to whine over. They endure the tough times. They think out of the box. They are not afraid to take charge. But most importantly, they get the job done.
Hiring people with strong character has remained an afterthought. It is time to change that. Now more than ever, a gritty individual is an extremely valuable addition to a high performance team that solves difficult problems day in and day out.
The key is in including questions that test a candidate’s grit and character, not just case studies similar to the work you do. Technical skills can be enhanced with training and a little handholding. It is much harder to change personality traits. Over the years, I found some interview questions that helped me make the right albeit initially unpopular hiring decisions. Hopefully, they will help you find resilient, strong, intelligent individuals for your teams too.
1. Tell me about the last time you failed at something
I deliberately keep this question open-ended. I don’t want to lead candidates into a “right answer”. First off, failure is a sign of trying new things, of innovating and experimenting. You may not always succeed but you are always thinking ahead. If a candidate tells me that he or she has never failed, I would want to know more about how many risks they have taken and how they avoided failure. When they relate a story about failure, I dig deep to find out how they were affected by it. Did they drop their idea entirely? Did they persist but changed some of their mistakes to ensure success? Did they ask for help and guidance? A lot of this tells me more not just about a candidate’s ability to take calculated risks but also about how capable they are of facing tough situations in life and work. It is a trait I respect much more over varying degrees of academic credibility.
2. Tell me about your most difficult project yet
I evaluate how excited or inhibited a candidate sounds when answering this. A gritty individual usually enjoys challenges. They get their kicks out of solving difficult problems. Most of all, they don’t get bogged down by them. The question helps me understand how persistent a candidate is when it comes to seeing tough projects through to completion. Staying engaged when times get tough is more difficult than you can imagine. Organizations need teammates who have the capability to stay motivated and engaged and one’s whose enthusiasm in such times is contagious.
3. Which part of this job stresses you out the most? How do you deal with it?
No matter what your job or form of employment, hard days, stress and anxiety are a given. It is the ability to deal with stress that differentiates solid performers from weak ones. It also takes someone with a high emotional quotient to understand his or her stress triggers. This level of self-awareness is often crucial in managing tough times at work.
4. Have you ever made an unpopular decision at work? How did that go?
Individuals who have the courage to question archaic rules and processes are the ones who are capable of raising the bar for their teams. That doesn’t mean employers need to look for rebels without a cause. This question has helped me understand whether or not the candidate understands the value of and valid reasons to go against the grain. It also helps me figure out whether they are capable of holding forth an unpopular opinion and backing it up with results and data. But most importantly, if there are better ideas on the table, an ideal candidate must be receptive to them too.
Of course, hiring people with grit is a crucial process. But before you do, ensure that your team and organizational culture will not stop this courage in its tracks. Gritty individuals fit in best in teams and organizations that encourage and reward tenacity and initiative. You don’t want to hire them and then force them to ‘fall in line’. That is a loss for everyone involved.