Want to Hire Employees with Grit? Ask this Interview Question



As someone who’s built, managed, and now advises hundreds of global talent acquisition teams, one question that repeatedly comes up is: How can we hire for “grit” - that quality of tenacity that ensures your next hire will stick it out through the good and bad times. 

And there will be bad times. We’ve all faced them ranging from a bad company quarter (or two or three) to a company acquisition.  In an era of over-inflated resumes and LinkedIn profiles how can you make sure the next hire isn’t just a butt-in-the-seat rather someone willing to tackle adversity.  The next time you’re sitting across from a candidate try this simple interview question:

  1. Tell me about your biggest professional failure and what you learned from it

Why:  Candidates are prepped to tell you every wonderful thing they’ve done.  This question stands to catch them off-guard and elicit an honest answer.  Do they throw others under the bus or do they take ownership of the situation?  Most importantly, what did they learn from failing and did they grow professionally?

Real Example from a high-level candidate: “A year into my tenure I was put in charge of a huge project for the company that was a passion project for our VP.  I signed off approving it without vetting it as much as I should have.  Six months in, I realized we were not only bleeding resources and losing money but also that we would not be able to complete the project as planned.  After repeated attempts to share a more effective solution with the VP I went over his head to the executive team.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done professionally but the executives sided with me and we ultimately scrapped the project and went with my plan.  This turned out to be one of the most successful endeavors for the company and created a multi-million-dollar revenue stream that is still running as of today”

What did I learn from asking this question:  This candidate was not afraid to step outside of the micro-project to see the macro issue.  They also did everything possible to follow chain of command to present a better solution.  I also learned that when faced with a decision on what was best for the company and her current project, she chose the company first and put her own position at risk to do the right thing.

Recruiting is not an exact science (which is why I’m not worried about the trend of “AI” taking over HR).  It takes experience, proficiency, and judgement.  As you head into your next interview with questions prepared to tackle the candidates experience, be sure to set apart time to try this question designed to gauge their grit.  You’ll find out quite a bit from their answer.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions for future SHRM articles by tweeting at me @AndreJBoulais on Twitter or connecting with me via LinkedIn.  



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