Don’t Say you Have a Growth Mindset if you Really Don’t

There are few things more nerve-wracking and mentally/emotionally draining as interviewing for a job.

As one who naturally veers toward the introverted spectrum, I absolutely hate trying to sell myself. It’s like, “You should already know how awesome I am.” 😜 Right??

Before I get into the core of what this article is about, I feel like it’s important to explain what a growth mindset really is.

What is a Growth Mindset?

Dr. Carol Dweck famously defined the term in her best-selling book, Mindset.

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” — Dr. Carol Dweck

Mindset book by Dr. Carol Dweck
Sucky cover, incredible book.

Honestly, this is one of the most important books in my personal growth journey…and I’m not alone.

You’ll hear Mindset referenced in probably 80% of personal growth, pop psychology books.

The reason a growth mindset is so critical to success is that the person embracing it realizes that anything they don’t know…yet, they can learn and grow into through intentional discipline and practice.

You know who has a growth mindset? Many top-performing athletes, visionary innovators like Elon Musk, and folks like Dr. Carol Dweck.

What is a Fixed Mindset?

It’s also important to mention that growth mindsets have an arch-nemesis known as a fixed mindset.

According to Dweck, when a student has a fixed mindset, they believe that their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits.

You know who has a fixed mindset? John McEnroe!

The problem with people like John McEnroe is they were likely told from a very early age that they are “gifted”. That they have a “God-given talent”.

While there may be some truth to that, fixed-minded people put all their stock in the fact that if they were born that way, they will always be great, and therefore don’t need to apply themselves as much as “less gifted folks”.

A fixed mindset has an expiration date, and it still surprises me that fixed-minded folks haven’t figured this out yet.

Fixed mindsets expire immediately after anyone with a growth mindset works harder and applies themselves more to increase their skill and craft beyond what the fixed craft and skill level fixed mindsets remained stagnant at.

Another KPI of a fixed mindset is immediate blame rather than ownership.

When something goes wrong in the midst of practicing their craft, instead of holding themselves accountable for not yet having learned and applied themselves in that area, they blame others.

Classic case with our fixed mindset poster boy:

Back to my job interview story:

So, here I was interviewing for what I thought at the time was a really great opportunity. The mission and alignment were outstanding and something I wanted to be a part of. I made my way to the the third interview with the manager. All was going really great (or so I thought).

Then toward the end of the hour, he asked me one question:

“Have you created an enterprise-level design system before?”

My answer?

“Not yet, but I can figure it out.”

It’s important to note that early on in that interview, I had mentioned my growth mindset and how it’s really taken me a long way, and continues to.

I remember him also saying, “That’s great, I have a growth mindset too.”

After a nearly three month application and interview process, I was told by the recruiter that they decided to pass on me.

E.T. saying “Ouch”

When I hear “No” (which keep in mind really means “Not here. Not now.”), particularly after applying and interviewing for a job, I always reply (if I wasn’t emailed from a cold, impersonal noreply@ email) with, “My growth mindset would be remiss if I didn’t ask what it was that didn’t fit well for the position at this time?”

I understand there are legal reasons why recruiters and companies can’t always tell you why, but it never hurts to ask, and you may actually be able to discover what it was that caused them to pass.

This does one of two things:

  1. It helps you embrace your growth mindset to understand what you must apply yourself to next to get even better for the next opportunity.
  2. It helps you realize you were better off not landing that job so you don’t have to work under someone who doesn’t believe in you enough to ever be able to actually do the job.

When I found out that one of the primary reasons they passed on me is that I’d not yet built an enterprise-level design system, I was of course initially hurt, but then after, actually relieved.

You see, when someone especially in leadership says they have a growth mindset, but passes on you because you don’t yet know how to do something, they just did you a favor and you and the company/leadership that invites you in to grow with them and make a different will be better off for it.

I really appreciate something Andy Vitale shared in my User Defenders: Podcast interview with him on Interviewing Like a Boss from my Land a Job in UX Series.

He said something to the effect of,

“A lot of your learning and experience will happen on the job, and places with great cultures will understand that.”

In other words, look for places that are willing to hire for attitude and train for skills.

I feel so blessed to have ultimately landed at a place that believes and practices this.

We have wonderful internship programs, and even hired a team member who happens have a great attitude, and growth mindset despite having zero experience. She is being trained up on the job by shadowing another team member who is acting as a mentor to her.

Imagine that!

So in closing, be careful about saying you have a growth mindset, if you truly don’t, and be careful about perceiving less-experienced folks as not yet being fit for the job.

Those growth-minded folks may just be preserving their energy to practice what is known as “just in time learning” vs. “just in case learning”.

Oh they can do it, they just haven’t taken the time or been given the opportunity to…yet.

The other reason is you may later wished you had hired that person.

Not unlike the impending pit that several years later lodged in my stomach after buying multiple shares of Facebook on opening day for $20/share, and selling all of them at the end of day because they went down a few dollars (don’t ask me for ETF advice), you may likely see those folks you passed on making it rain somewhere else and wished you’d used your proclaimed growth mindset to invite them in to be planted where they will bloom like a mutha!

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” — Matt 13:31–32

Do you have a similar story, perhaps a similar lesson or takeaway? I’d love to hear about it the comments!

Growth-minded folks will 👏 for this to help other growth-minded folks find it! 😜



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Jason Ogle

Jason Ogle

Host of @UserDefenders podcast. Human. Designer. Story-Catcher. Deep-Diver. Husband + Father x 7. Has a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe.