Talent Acquisition

Forget Sparkly Stereotypes, Hire the Diamonds in the Rough

There’s much talk about organisations such as Microsoft reducing the UCAS points requirement and expanding the range of universities they will consider when hiring graduates.  In fact, they’ve moved significantly further forward than many, when it comes to identifying the attributes of a young person with brilliant potential.

Still, several organisations are stuck in a rut when it comes to shortlisting candidates, and continually fall back to traditional methods of deciding who to assess and meet.

When a recruiter or HR professional is forced to sift through dozens of applications on a daily basis, the hiring process can become dangerously formulaic. Deciding between the most qualified candidates can often come down to minute differences between resumes. A red-brick university grad with a carefully crafted resume seems like an obvious choice over a job-hopping, state school graduate.

But is the shining resume always the best choice? According to UPS’s human resources manager, Regina Hartley, it may not be.

Silver spoons vs. scrappers

Over more than 25 years at UPS, Hartley has evaluated more than her fair share of applications and she’s determined that the bulk of applicants fall into one of two categories: silver spoons or scrappers. The silver spoon, according to Hartley, is “the one who clearly had advantages and who is destined for success”. The scrapper, meanwhile, is “the one who had to fight against tremendous odds to get to the same point.” It is the scrapper, argues Hartley, who may prove the more deserving candidate, despite a potentially imperfect employment history.

The HR veteran points out that you can read a resume like a story, and those with a “patchwork quilt” history are well worth a close dive. Rather than interpreting a series of odd jobs as an indicator of instability or inconsistency, it could be viewed as a “signal [of] committed struggle against obstacles” and therefore of a candidate who is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Post traumatic growth

The ability to use trauma as a catalyst for positive change is called “post traumatic growth”. Coined in 1995 by Dr. Richard Tedeschi, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that those who are able to effectively harness their trauma often go on to great success, professionally and beyond. Examples abound in the business world; Steve Jobs, for example, faced hardship throughout his early life – he was given up for adoption as a child, suffered from dyslexia and dropped out of school. Anyone familiar with Apple knows the rest of that story.

Further to that point, a fascinatingly disproportionate number of the most highly successful entrepreneurs have dyslexia (35% in the United States). This may be because the challenges associated with the learning disorder forced those entrepreneurs to overcome the odds stacked against them from an early age. According to Hartley, many of the biggest business leaders “view learning disability as a desirable difficulty, which provided them an advantage because they became better listeners and paid greater attention to detail”.


Recent research has been dedicated to determining a concrete way to measure this against-all-odds, can-do attitude. While teaching Year 8 math in the New York public school system, psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth noticed that IQ was not an accurate predictor of the best and worst students, and she became inspired to understand what was. Duckworth studied a wide swath of subjects – students at West Point Military Academy, children in the National Spelling Bee, rookie teachers in the most difficult districts, and newly hired sales representatives – to discern who in all these groups not only persevered, but excelled.

She and her team found that across these diverse sample sets, the greatest predictor of success was grit. According to Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals; grit is having stamina; grit is sticking with your future, day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.”

The good news? Grit isn’t solely an innate trait, but a characteristic that we can hone simply by willfully changing our mentality. We must understand that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with effort and that failure is not a permanent condition. And HR professionals, for their part, must be willing to take a chance on a gritty candidate whose passion may have led to failures in the past – the scrapper with the imperfect resume may be your next best hire.

About the author: Kirstie Kelly is a writer at Launchpad, makers of video led HR software. She has many years of experience within recruitment and is passionate about promoting diverse and inclusive workplaces.

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