Historically, upper management has always wanted individuals who are able to fail, learn and find success shortly thereafter. In order to find these people, you’ll commonly hear this question during an interview from the hiring manager, “Tell me about a time when you failed and what you learned from that experience.”
Take a second and think of the most successful people you’ve ever worked for, alongside, or mentored before. Undoubtedly, the common thread is that they learn why they failed, what to do in the future to succeed, and the willpower to get back on the horse and try again.
Psychologists have spent decades researching why one person will continue to try relentlessly and others will give up. Angela Duckworth, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, researched a personality trait called “grit.” She defines grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” She goes on to say, “The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon with their advantage being stamina.”
Success and Talent
What causes an individual to experience significant success? The obvious answer is talent. Successful people can do anything – hit a golf ball, dance, trade stocks, write a blog – better than most people. So how did that person get so good at hitting a golf ball or trading stocks? Although talent can appear to be “natural”, the evidence seems to point at “nurture” instead. The problem is there’s a big difference between how we measure talent and the causes of talent. In general, we measure talent by using tests of maximum performance. Imagine tryouts for most professional sports teams that involve short bursts under high intensity and motivating conditions. The purpose of the drills is to see what players are capable of and determine their potential. The problem with these drills is that the real world is not set up for short bursts of work ethic under conditions of high motivation. Instead, professional success requires sustained performance, spending hours upon hours perfecting your craft, deliberately and methodically staying the course during times of frustration or exhaustion. It involves true grit.
In his book, Self-Made in America, John McCormack references a trait studied by Kathy Kolbe called “Conation”. Conation is “the will to succeed, the quest for success, the attitude that ‘to stop me you’ll have to kill me,’ that elusive ‘fire in the belly that manifests itself in drive, enthusiasm, excitement, and single-mindedness in pursuit of any goal. All consistently successful people have it. Many well-educated, intelligent, enduring, and presentable people don’t.”
Interviewing for Grit
A segment of the workforce is made up of book-smart who aren’t high achievers and others who achieve a lot without having the highest test scores. In one study, Duckworth found that “smarter” students actually had less grit than their peers who scored lower on an intelligence test. This finding suggests that people who are not as bright as their peers “compensate by working harder and with more determination.” Their effort paid off with the grittiest students, having the highest GPAs.
So how can understand a person’s grit? Here are some questions to ask during an interview:
• What experiences do you feel had the most impact in shaping who you are today?
• Share with me a time when you stayed with an idea or project for longer than anyone expected you to do.
• Tell me about some of the obstacles you have had to overcome to reach your present position.
• Give me an example of a time when you had to finish a job even though everyone else had given up.
• Describe a time when you were asked to complete a difficult task or project where the odds were against you. What did you learn from that?
• What goal have you had in your life that took you the longest to achieve? What did you learn from that experience?
• Describe how you set your goals for the last year and how you measured your work. Did you achieve your goals? Why or why not?
• Give me an example of a time you made a major sacrifice to achieve an important goal.
• Give me an example of how you have taken control of your career.
• What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in life? What about in your career?
• When you’ve found yourself faced with an obstacle, what steps did you take to begin the process of overcoming this challenge?
Through these questions, you’ll be well on your way to finding employees with true grit!
Finding People Who Make a Difference
As a leader, your most important talent is having the ability to identify, attract and secure the best players for your team. That’s where we come in! Our network has been helping companies find great talent for over 50 years. Top Talent is part of the Sanford Rose Associates network, recognized as one of the Top 10 Search Firms in North America with 90+ offices worldwide. With over 90 years of combined Logistics experience, Top Talent is a recognized leader in Talent Acquisition for Logistics, Transportation, and Supply Chain. Let us put our team to work for you. To learn more about successful strategies for getting those impact players on your team, reach out to us today!
– Michael Monson
President and CEO