The One Hidden Quality to Look for When Hiring

Business owners and entrepreneurs know how big a decision hiring is. If you are a young company, you need new hires that can come in with a multitude of tools. One characteristic that I see coming up more and more often when it comes to success is “Grit”. No longer is Grit synonymous with John Wayne. Well, maybe it still is but it also paints a picture of the kind of person you want on your team as you’re building a business.

Angela Duckworth is an American psychologist and the recipient of the 2013 MacArthur Fellowship. She is the thought leader on Grit as a psychological trait tied to success. Her Ted Talk on the subject has received over 6 million views.


For those without six mins to spare, this sums it up pretty well.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future day in an day out. Not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. It is working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like a marathon not a sprint.”

Here we are with a cool definition of Grit but that leaves us with questions

  1. Do I have this characteristic?
  2. If I do have it, how do I let people know particularly on a job interview?
  3. How do I tell if a potential hire has it?

Do I have the characteristics of Grit?

This Forbes piece by Margaret Perlis does a good job of defining characteristics of Grit as:

  • Courage
  • Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable
  • Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through
  • Resilience: Optimism, Confidence and Creativity
  • Excellence vs. Perfection

I Have Grit – Now Hire Me!

Authors Note: I don’t recommend saying that. The qualities listed above are valuable to businesses hiring. Like leadership qualities, characteristics of Grit are best shown through example. Here are how to approach each of these characteristics while on an interview.

  • Courage – Incorporate your experience with failure. Described what you have learned and how you grew from the experience.
  • Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable – This may correlate to the job you are interviewing for. Does the position allow you freedom to build and grow? If so, this would fit with your achievement-oriented approach. More defined roles may hold you back.
  • Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through – Long term goals play an important piece in success. Describe your idea for success long time for you but also for you within the role you are applying for. In smaller businesses the long-term goals are important. Working with others who understand these goals and the power of the journey is paramount.
  • Resilience: Optimism, Confidence and Creativity – This doesn’t mean come off over-confident. Point to books you have read. Habits you maintain. Even your posture and eye contact all point to your confidence and optimism. This should be a soft sell that they should feel without you saying it.
  • Excellence vs. Perfection – Excellence is a destination rather than a result. The steps you take to get to that destination are what you are trying to convey. Are you reading, working with mentors, and attending industry relevant events? These are all signs that you are striving toward excellence.

My Business Needs Employees with Grit – How Do I Spot It?

Look for some of the signs outlined above. Structure your interview questions in a manner that helps you make this determination. For instance “List three long term goals you have for yourself”, or “Name the last time you failed and if/what you learned from it”.

Grit is a quality individuals have. This doesn’t mean those individuals will save your company. In fact, they may not even be a fit for your company. Angela Duckworth’s research examines an even playing field. Those who exhibit Grit will separate themselves from the pack. If you are a small business looking to grow fast, this may be a fit for you. Entrepreneur looking for a synergistic partner? These are qualities worth exploring. If you think you want to start your own business some day, pay attention. These qualities are necessary to chase your dream.