The Best Career Advice In The World: Be Gritty

It’s been said many times, many ways; if we could just filter for grit, we’d never make a wrong hire again. But what IS grit? And as a job-seeker, how do we develop it in ourselves, and how do we showcase it for others?

Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth is probably our present day’s most visible proponent of the grit matters way of thinking. Her 2013 Ted Talk is closing in on some 2 million views, and her impact on talent theory has been significant. She has described grit as “the quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time.” Perhaps most famously, she stated that:

“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Are these genuinely helpful insights, though? And do they really matter down in the real recruiting and hiring trenches? R.J. Morris thinks so, and his is certainly a voice worth listening to. He is the Corporate Director of Staffing at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., and a regular contributor to Fistful of Talent, one of the best publications going for all things talent-related.

In 2014 he published an article entitled “Hire for Grit, Not for Smarts. It’s Science.” In it, he wrote the following:

“Top interviewers ask questions that get data. But what data is important? For a lot of people, they value IQ or cognitive ability over anything else. Me? I will take a street smart hustler over a mid-range motivated genius. I think things like toughness, resilience, hustle and street smarts matter in the work world. A lot.”

To get back to our original question about how we develop grit in ourselves, and perhaps even more critically, how we showcase it for others, it’s first important to recognize a modern fact of job-hunting life. As stated by Kristen Hamilton in a Fortune article entitled: “Career-wise, is it better to be smart or hardworking?”:

“Grit can be measured.”

Knowing this, and being aware of the strategies companies will likely employ to try and assess your grit, allows you to launch a sort of pre-emptive strike — one that can give you the competitive advantage in an interview scenario. Put another way, you should really prepare ahead of time for those grit-seeking questions!

But how?

The bigger picture answer is of course that you have to actually be gritty. This is probably especially important for younger job-seekers entering the hiring market, because if that’s you, then you’re facing a reputation as being part of what’s now being called “the swaddled generation,” a term coined by writer Kathleen Parker in The Washington Post. Karen Amatangelo-Block, Director of Talent Management at Abt Associates, quotes Parker in a recent LinkedIn essay, and describes the challenges of assessing millennial talent by posing a question that riffs on a now-classic cliché:

How do we identify our next generation of leaders when they all receive the same trophy at the end of every soccer season?

The point being, that if you’re going to prove grit, you have to have grit. Kristen Hamilton, in that same Fortune article noted above, offers five suggestions for developing grit — a list she introduces by saying, “If you want to be gritty, here’s what I ask of you”:

  • Know how to fail
  • Forget the grade
  • Be an owner
  • Throw away your entitlement
  • Live life outside of your comfort zone

To return to the subject of preparing for those grit-seeking questions, we can look at a recent article for a snapshot of the kind of questions companies are increasingly asking. The article, entitled “An Expert Reveals: What’s the Most Important Trait to Hire For?”, is written by Nathan Tanner, an HR professional at LinkedIn, and a career strategy author. In the article, Tanner singles out questions such as the following:

  • Can you tell me about some of the obstacles you overcame to reach your present position?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you came close to failing but you pushed through?
  • How do you maintain a positive outlook when the challenges seem insurmountable?
  • What is something difficult that you mastered and how did you go about it?

For the modern job-seeker, the challenge is two-fold: how to have grit, and how to show it. We’ve gathered some suggestions and insights for you here, but in the end, the issue is a personal one, because only you can really know what you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are today. So you have to ultimately be honest with yourself first, because as Shakespeare says (through Launcelot Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice), “at the length truth will out.”

Perhaps a better quote to end on, however, is this one from Samuel Beckett:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”


(This post was written by Christopher Watkins, Senior Writer, Udacity)

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