The most important skill you’re not interviewing for (and how to look for it)

What’s the most important thing to look for when interviewing a candidate:

  • Prior roles?
  • Skills and qualifications?
  • Reputation and past experience?

What if there was another skill that was more likely to predict someone’s success, whether in the workplace, school, or any challenging environment?

There is one such skill: Grit.

grit is a key skill you need to interview for

Grit: The key to your team’s success.

Angela Duckworth has written the ultimate guide to this subject in her New York Times best-selling book, Grit.

In Grit, she looks at all the research on the subject of perseverance and grit, including much of her ground breaking work on the subject.

It turns out, like many skills, you can measure someone’s grit. And her research showed that the more grit you have, the more likely you are to succeed.

As one such study of students at Chicago public schools found:

“Students who graduated on schedule were grittier, and grit was a more powerful predictor of graduation than how much students cared about school, how conscientious they were about their studies, and even how safe they felt at school.”

The same findings were reinforced across West Point cadets, graduate school students, and spelling bee contestants. Each time, more grit was directly correlated with more success.

Grit is something Will Smith knows a lot about

Are your hires gritty?

The world is changing rapidly. Technologies, tools, and tactics that worked 5 years ago no longer work. What works today, will need to be replaced and reinvented in coming years.

You need a gritty team to navigate these changes. People who give up when facing new challenges, and avoid the hard work of change will leave you and your team behind.

Would you rather hire a candidate:

  • A) With all the required current skills, but who clings to their existing experience and approaches, unwilling to learn new skills and bravely tackle new challenges.
  • B) With many, but not all of the needed skills, and who is always learning and embraces challenges and new learning opportunities.

In a static environment you may think you want Candidate B, but how often have you chosen a candidate for their resume or credentials over their ability to adapt in the future?

That tends to happen because there is more certainty with what is on the resume than trying to judge someone’s grit or future abilities.

Today we’ll show you how to measure grit, so you can hire more gritty people to help your team thrive.

hiring for grit

How to measure grit when interviewing candidates

How do you measure something so intangible? Of course every candidate claims to be a “real go getter” and “really hard working,” but how do you tell who is real and what’s interview theatrics?

Start with the Grit Test.

As part of Duckworth’s research, she developed a test that measures your grittiness. This score was then used to predict who would succeed in various challenging situations like the West Point cadets, and spelling bee participants.

To take the test: Read the statements on the left and score yourself based on how you compare to “most people.” Then, add up your total points and divide by 10.

the grit scale

Once you have your score, you can see how you rank in the list below:

Percentile – Grit Score

10% – 2.5
20% – 3.0
30% – 3.3
40% – 3.5
50% – 3.8
60% – 3.9
70% – 4.1
80% – 4.3
90% – 4.5
99% – 4.9

Now, you could give that test directly to candidates as another data point in your interview process. However, given everyone wants to put their best foot forward in interviews, it may be hard to get the honesty you need for this to be an accurate score.

Instead, look at the questions on the scale and how you can ask them in an interview.

grit is about actions to stick with it like ben franklin knows

Actions speak louder than words scores.

While a Grit Score could give you some insight, their past actions will be even more telling of how gritty they really are.

Looking at the Grit Scale questions, you can adapt those to look for stories from candidates that show how they have been gritty (or not). Ask them:

  • “When you’ve been on extended projects, how do you maintain focus? How did the project turn out?”
  • “When was a time you faced a challenge and overcame a setback? What happened?”
  • “What goals have you recently set? How are they going?”

If a candidate struggles to come up with stories and examples, or the examples seem generic, you have indicators they may not be as gritty. Meanwhile, the most gritty candidates will have vivid, detailed stories that show how they stick with and overcome challenges.

As a bonus, if you talk about their goals and interests, it can help you make them more successful at work. A meta-analysis of over 100 studies found:

“Employees whose intrinsic personal interests fit with their occupations do their jobs better, are more helpful to their coworkers, and stay at their jobs longer.”

Pay attention to their answers and keep their goals and interests in mind once you hire them.

grit includes sticking with extracurriculars

Ask about clubs and sports.

One of the most fascinating findings in Grit was related to extracurricular activities.

It turns out that students who joined a club or sport and stuck with it for at least 2 years were found to be much grittier, and much more successful in their future endeavors from college, to later work and graduate studies.

When you’re interviewing people, ask about their hobbies in college. Find out what they did and how long they stuck with it.

What about older candidates?

Now, some people may be quite a bit removed from college. It’s unfair to judge them for things potentially a decade or two ago; you can develop grit at any time, and more recent behaviors are your best indicators of future success.

For them, look for hobbies and activities they’ve more recently started and stuck with.  Do they play a sport? Homebrew? Coach their kid’s soccer team? Have an herb garden? Volunteer? Look for activities they’ve started and stuck with. The 2 year mark is an important indicator of persistence and grit.

Not only will this help reveal their grit, you’ll get to know them a lot better.  You might just build some unexpected rapport with them when it turns out you share an interest.

Better than any other indicator, grit shows who would be successful in the long term in what they do.

When you’re evaluating potential hires, looking for signs of grit is a great way to be sure you’re bringing on the kinds of people that can help your team most when the chips are down.

What characteristics do you look for most when you interview?


Further Reading:

Want to learn more about interviewing well and avoiding pitfalls? These posts can help:

And if you want to keep those gritty hires once you find them, then you need Lighthouse. It helps managers like you focus on the key areas that motivate and engage your team. Start a free, 21-day trial now here.

Grit is something Will Smith knows a lot about

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