GRIT: The Secret to Successful Hiring in the Age of the Skill Gap

  • Post on November 8th, 2018

In the contemporary era, the strongest hiring strategies are focusing on one vital trait: grit. Unfortunately, this crucial criteria is often displaced by the desire for a purely skills-centric hiring process. While pursuing only highly skilled individual has worked in the past, it is no longer feasible in this new landscape of disquieting labor shortages and widening skills gaps. By limiting hiring considerations to individuals with certain skill sets or types of experience, businesses overlook and underestimate a potential employee’s character, which is often their most critical asset. In fact, studies like the one by Leadership IQ show that, on the whole, new hires most often fail due to issues of teachability, emotional intelligence and lack of motivation, not lack of skill. Businesses are beginning to understand that while they can teach necessary technical skills, they likely cannot instill in someone an innately hard-working mindset or a natural indomitability. As a result, choosing employees based on their character strengths remains as the most promising solution to the industry’s costly and inhibiting lack of suitable workers.

The global talent shortage was just one of the discussions on tap at the NEDAS 2018 NYC Summit. Carrie Charles, President of the wireless industry staffing firm Broadstaff, gave a presentation on the challenges of hiring and how businesses can successfully capitalize on the tight job market by “hiring grit, training skill.”

Charles, citing causes like immigration restrictions and mass retirement by baby boomers (with 10,000 reaching retirement age per day), explained how even though there are currently seven million unemployed Americans, the issue of staffing persists. In truth, the issue is not a lack of people, it’s the lack of people with the proper expertise. The resulting dynamic of many businesses fighting over a smaller group of applicants means that the skilled candidate is now anchored firmly in the driver’s seat. Subsequently, businesses are experiencing new issues in the hiring process, such as “job ghosting,” interview backouts, and being unable to pay enough to bring new employees on board. This begs the question of how companies should go about finding the staff they need to accomplish their goals, complete projects and ultimately achieve a competitive edge in their respective markets.

The method of hiring grit and training for skills that Charles outlined in her presentation is used successfully by companies like Google, Southwest Airlines, Ritz Carlton and Zappos to circumvent these issues. When focusing on gritty personalities as top criteria for new hires, companies find they can choose from a wider pool of applicants and avoid the common bottleneck of locating an individual with a specific and tailored set of skills.

The backbone of this strategy lies in the fact that character research has been found to most accurately predict future performance, with grit taking center stage as a top indicator of employee resilience and achievement. As a result, this characteristic of unstoppable passion and purpose is becoming the new key to successful hiring as standard resume fare takes a back seat. Google recently listed grit as a leading hiring characteristic for the company, over traditional items like grades or even IQ. Charles used Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, as another example of this method of hiring for strength of character over skill level. She described how he would pick up candidates from the airport, posing as their driver in order to get to know their personality without any bias on the part of the interviewee.

Beyond personal anecdotes, studies continue to prove that character is the most accurate and successful gauge of an employee’s future. The study done by Leadership IQ followed over 5,200 hiring managers, 300 companies and 20,000 employees to determine why new hires fail. The study found that technical skills are not the primary reason why new hires fail. Instead, 26 percent fail due to a lack of coachability, 23 percent because of unsatisfactory emotional intelligence, 32 percent because of substandard motivation and attitude and only 11 percent due to lack of technical skills. Tenacity in the workplace and perseverance in reaching long-term goals are paramount for any business in the pursuit of excellence, and prioritizing these gritty qualities is the most effective strategy for reaching these goals.

Finding an individual with grit comes down to analyzing a time when that candidate wanted something and had to overcome obstacles or work tirelessly to achieve it. Questions like “how did you turn a dream into a reality” are becoming crucial points in interviews, both for the candidate and the company.

Training skill remains as the second component. Apprentice programs have been springing up to facilitate this, with companies like Pinterest, Air B&B, and even LinkedIn using this method to hire and train individuals with non-technical backgrounds. This training approach is only gaining momentum, with AT&T currently planning to invest $1 billion in retraining 100,000 workers through classes and programs.

Ultimately, the secret to hiring the right employee is determining what an individual can learn, not what they already know, how long their resume is or even what college degree they have. All anyone ever needs is an opportunity. This grit-focused approach allows more individuals to get that chance to show their abilities and enables companies to obtain the dedicated workers they need.