June 22, 2022

How to Hire for Grit and Growth Mindset


Episode Highlights

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Job descriptions primarily focus on skills and competencies. While great at helping narrow the applicant pool, most employees can’t be hired only based on what they can do today.

The #futureofwork is changing faster than ever. Hiring teams regularly select candidates not only based on what they can do today but also on the expectation of the person’s ability to keep up with change. In this video, Matthew Mulcahy and Michelle Mehlis explore characteristics that we believe indicate and impact a person’s ability to treat their skills and outcomes as a constantly evolving toolset.

Join us to learn more about the theories of Growth Mindset and Grit as traits necessary for navigating a rapidly changing role. Then delve into behavioral interview questions as a tool to assess these characteristics.

Episode Transcript

Welcome. We’re here with Hirewell Talent Insights. We’re here to help you figure out how to interview better, in particular on the concepts of grit and growth mindset. I’m Michelle Mehlis and I’m a senior recruiter on our Managed and OnDemand teams. Both embedding sometimes at companies doing internal recruiter work, and then also working on the agency side where when companies are scaling up, helping them be able to do that. Often with tech roles, but really across the whole business line.

I’m excited to be here and talk about this topic that is really one that I’ve been very passionate about for at least a decade. Yeah, I’m excited as well, Michelle. My name’s Matt Mulcahy. I’m also a senior recruiter in Hirewell’s Managed recruiting practice, focus mainly on technology roles. And I bring about six years of experience, both in HR as well as corporate or internal recruiting.

And then now on the external and agency side of recruiting here at Hirewell. So we’re really excited to talk to you about how to interview and hire for grit and growth mindset. And we’ll start off by just going through some high level definitions. So Angela Duckworth is a major proponent of the concept of grit, and she wrote a book called “Grit, the power of passion and perseverance” and she indicates that extraordinarily successful people

possess the ability to keep trying in the face of failure or struggle combined with a passion for their work and an eye towards their larger goals. And that’s the concept of grit. And it often gets paired with the concept of growth mindset because growth mindset, which was coined by Carol Dweck, who’s a professor out of Stanford, is basically the belief that you can change,

right? So her book, “Mindset, the new psychology of success” basically describes growth mindset as, can you change your most basic abilities and can they be developed through dedication and hard work? And if you do this, if you end up believing this, it really creates and fosters in you a love of learning and this resilience that is so helpful to you

not only in work, but in school and in life. Both of them have wonderful Ted talks, which we’ll put down in the comment section so that if you haven’t heard them speak and haven’t heard about these concepts in particular, we definitely recommend them. But how they first became something really important to me a little over a decade ago was this really small word called “yet”,

right. Which is now my favorite word. And let me demonstrate to you why it’s my favorite word? So I tutor a lot with students who are struggling in math and the most common thing would be like, “I’m not good at math. I’m not good at math Ms. Michelle, Ms. Mehlis” and it’s really powerful if you say I’m not good at math yet.

Right? Because then, all of a sudden, it’s not a state of being. It’s where you currently are on your journey. And that’s why growth mindset is so powerful and when you put it together or marry it with grit, it really makes a difference in this world that requires lots from us as workers and professionals as the world work changes.

Yeah. Yeah. So if you hadn’t heard of grit or growth mindset before this talk, I’m sure you know about it, maybe with some alternative definitions. So companies and hiring managers, whether they know it or not, they’re hiring all the time for grit and growth mindset, even if they’re not totally conscious or aware of it.

So our goal today, is to help you become more intentional for hiring for this mindset and behavior pattern. And I think that really, you’re saying “I’m hiring for it.” Well, let’s throw out some of the words or things, definitions that sometimes come up that aren’t exact synonyms, but certainly come into play with this. So hard worker, right?

Perseverance. You might even hear something like lifelong learner or continuous learning or loved to learn, right? It’s traits or things that you’d like to hear people talking about in their interviews. And when you pair that together with like ownership and initiative and agency, now all of a sudden you have people who are not only learning, say they’re learning, wanting to learn,

willing to stick with it to learn, but are initiating it on their own. And I don’t know a hiring manager out there- like I know when I was a hiring manager and had lots of people working for me, like that is just music to your ears because you constantly have to be learning in the world of work. Yeah, definitely. And we’ll clarify why those alternative definitions aren’t quite the same as grit and growth mindset.

And one of those is that grit and growth mindset require people to be creative, to change the methods in how they work, especially in their initial efforts when they aren’t successful in creating the desired results or impact. So people that show grit and growth mindset in their work are more intentional, more purposeful, especially in their efforts and their learning.

They have to be open and able to change. They want to be more willing to learn something that doesn’t come easy or something that’s hard, something that maybe they’re not even interested in.

We’re here to actually talk about hiring, right? As much as this is a topic that I can talk about all the time across your life, in general, we’re here to help you be able to hire people that are going to have more impact on your team and on your business. And really working across industries, across roles and that kind of stuff.

I’ve never met a hiring manager who didn’t love, someone to have growth mindset and grit and bring that to work. There are times where I don’t know that it was truly like necessary in terms of what we hired. I’ve been in charge of hiring for assembly line workers, right? There

the core requirement really was, hey are you hardworking? You going to do your whole shift? Are you going to show up on time? Do you have some attention to detail, right? To make sure you do it right and are you accountable to what you’re supposed to do? So you would say, well, maybe you don’t need it in all roles. But I would argue that as Talent Acquisition professionals and hiring managers and then also with talent development, like how we manage people and provide feedback to those people.

What I did notice is when we then went to start promoting those assembly line workers and would choose who’s the line leader, like who gets the next promotion, it was always these characteristics that were coming up again. So I would say, let’s go ahead and look for it at the beginning and be sure we’re fostering it

no matter the role because it is helpful across the board. Yeah. And it’s even more important today and in 2022, with how the working world has changed both with remote work as well as technology. So like I said, most of the roles that I recruit for are tech. So I’ll take that kind of spin on things today, but there’ve been studies that have been done recently that say 50% of the workforce is going to need to be re-skilled by 2025.

And from my point of view, we see new technology and new tools that software developers use change constantly. Couple of years ago, whatever was in coding, bootcamps or the OnDemand programming or coding language that was super popular, it’s not the same anymore. There’s new tools and technologies that are more in demand

and if you don’t keep up, you’ll fall behind. Yeah. So I think you’ve kind of figured out here that Matt and I are huge proponents of this, and hopefully we’ve convinced you to at least think a little more deeply about this and whether you want to evaluate it in the hiring process, especially for professional roles.

But we don’t want to just leave you with more work. We want to actually help you figure out how to do that work. So why don’t we spend a little time now and think about okay, Hey, I’m going to consider hiring for growth mindset and grit. It’s going to be one of the things that my rubric to look for.

How do I go about doing that? Right? We just do threw out these big concepts? Well what does that mean in terms of our day to day work? Yeah. Yeah. So we’ll start at the highest level or almost the first step of the recruiting mindset. And so as a hiring manager or as a recruiter, the first thing that you see for a candidate is either a resume or a LinkedIn profile.

So you may be thinking, how do I look for grit or growth mindset on a resume? So we came up with a couple examples. One of them is college sports. Someone that’s a competitor has stuck with it for a long time, someone who volunteers is passionate about helping the community that they’re passionate about or care for.

Also entrepreneurship, anyone that’s started a business, especially while they’re going to school or anyone that has a side hustle outside of their normal nine to five job or whatever it is. Or maybe working on a passion project where they’re learning new technologies. Then also another one, and I’m biased here because I am one, but an Eagle Scout.

So that’s the highest rank that you can achieve in Boy Scouts. You have to learn a bunch of life skills, earn badges for them, and then organize a hundred plus hour community service project. And you do all of that before you turn 18.

Yeah. And really, I look at all those and it’s like, none of them- on the resume you can’t tell very well, right? Because grit and growth mindsets more about motivation and how pave the accomplishments. But all of the things that Matt’s talking about there, clearly took some work and probably took some adaptation and hopefully took some belief that they could change maybe in some time, they could change the world, right?

Like depending on what they’re volunteering for. When you look at it and you put that lens on of hey, how might someone who’s coming from a background that’s not normally recognized in corporate America or maybe not recognized as easily in the current systems of hiring, some things you might want to think about that are demonstrating that grit and growth mindset that you want rather than, ” Hey, this is like a nice accomplishment that clearly took a lot of work.”

Did they put themselves through college? Where they work in that full-time job while going to college? You know what I mean? We often get hung up on the prestige of which school they went to but I wonder about like the schools that some of us went to and like, if I had to work my way full time through that, I don’t think I would have done as well.

When you really embrace the concept of growth mindset, someone who talks about the fact that they failed a class and went back to take it again, right? That whole concept of like, oh, it’s not that I don’t get or I can’t do

calculus MV it’s that I don’t get it yet. And I’m willing to put myself through it again to be able to get it because you just to kind of change and figure that out. And then really one, again, hard to have come up on a resume, but boy if you hear the story, it’s certainly sings to that growth mindset

and that stick to it-ness is, we often someone puts down their GPA, but I love it when someone puts down say their freshmen GPA versus their senior GPA. And you’re really seeing a difference, right? Because the 4.0- there can be some questions there.

It’s like great. They put in effort but did they take the hardest classes available to them? Or where they’re like, oh, like I want to have the prestige of a 4.0. ,And you can’t tell right? You can’t tell with any of these things, but it’s kind of how you start to break down the resume.

You know what I mean? And what you’d like to see and then delve in during the interview. And you might be reading into this as just like extracurricular activities and we do want to clarify that there is a formula to building a resume, and then when you’re evaluating grit, you want to make sure that that person didn’t just follow the steps that were taught to them to build their resume and hopefully

successfully land a job after school. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Yeah. Yeah, of course. Of course, of course. So you may be thinking okay, the next step, see a good resume looks like they’ve got some things that show grit and growth mindset, but how do I evaluate that in an interview process? So the typical method is behavioral interview questions.

Those are the questions that typically start with “tell me about a time when…?” And you’re looking for the candidate to provide a scenario or provide an example from their experience about how they handled past situations because that’s a very strong indicator of how they’ll perform in the future.

Yeah. Let’s give a couple of examples here. So one example might be like, “Tell me about an area of growth for you professionally. How’d you decide that was important? And what have you been doing to address or grow in that area.” Yeah. And another example that I really liked for grit and growth mindset is “Tell me about a time when you faced significant roadblocks at work and what did you do to overcome those roadblocks?”

I think those are really great, great examples. But how do you evaluate them? So we’ve got some examples of what might be a poor response. So for my question about significant roadblocks, if the roadblock didn’t seem so significant or had an easy answer or easy solution, or the person didn’t actually contribute to the solution and just identified the problem, that might not show that they have grit.

So what’d you really want to look for is scenarios that had many moving parts, they had to interact with other teams in a cross-functional way, they sought out the answers from people with more experience or expertise. And especially with grits you want them to have tried a couple of different methods or ideas to get to a solution that made a significant impact

and they stuck with it for a long time and they might’ve even had to do the same thing twice and put in the extra work to get there and we’re willing to do so until they got there. Yeah. And so when you’re thinking about the question I suggested where it’s like, “Hey, what are you working on?

What’s your areas of improvement or how are you looking to grow now?” You’ll certainly sometimes get the strength as a weakness. “Oh, I’m a perfectionist. I work too hard. I need to find that balance” the cliche answer. Yeah, that’s right. Whatever. Like I’m not saying that they don’t have grit or growth mindset if they show you that, but that’s not helpful at all in terms of figuring it out.

And sometimes you can kind of tell, like they’re giving you something that. Indicates some reflection, right? Because really once you start to embrace this, whether you name it growth mindset and grit, because most people or a lot of people don’t name it. It’s how they behave or how they think.

But usually there’s some self-awareness there. So if what they’re naming isn’t giving you some idea that they’ve thought about this, it’s kind of hard to have growth mindset and grit if you don’t think about, Hey, what do I have to adapt to? Or how do I need to grow to get better?

And you definitely want them looking at, ” Hey, what work situation triggered this?” Or what made it so that I knew this and how did they initiate it, right? It doesn’t mean that, maybe you learn from your boss telling you or a coworker telling you, but then what did you do about it?

Or did you wait for someone to tell you to do about it? Are you seeking help? Are you measuring your progress? Are you changing how you’re doing it when the first thing doesn’t work? That’s really what you’re looking for to kind of get a sense there. Now one thing we do know is that all interview processes- we all bring biases to them, you know?

So you need to think about each part of your process that you’re putting in how that’s going to impact when you’re evaluating candidates from different backgrounds. And I think that it’s interesting to think with behavioral questions and looking for this in particular, where you might get your false positives or really where it gets really risky with biases is that you get your false negatives.

You assume someone can’t do it just because it’s not the standard answer. And I think one of the main things with behavioral questions that you have to be very careful of is you get your type A candidates, if you want to call them. That like the over preparers who are like, yeah, they’ve got it all worked through and they come through very polished and with great examples because they did that much work and you’re just like, okay, that’s great.

But that doesn’t mean- everybody’s been on a team of all type A’s before. It’s exhausting, right? They’ve done their Googling and their research of how to effectively answer these behavioral questions, which of course we suggest using the star method, which will be a followup video to this. But another bias that we noticed is extroverts, which kind of goes hand in hand with these

type A candidates, right? They’re more comfortable talking to strangers or interviewers in this case. And they’ll also might be more comfortable public speaking and presenting and talking confidently about their experience. Yep. And it could be also like, so let’s say they’re trying to change careers or switch trajectories, be sure you think about your language of how you ask the question because if you’re requiring them to give an example, that’s a work example,

now you’re exclusionary in terms of that. Because one of the things that’s so powerful about grit and growth mindset is it’s helping you understand that they really will be able to use transferable skills because they’re going to take it and figure out how to use it

in the next one. So if you don’t give them the chance to talk about some example of where they really demonstrated this outside of the professional environment, then they’re probably or possibly not able to give you the best example. So think about that with how the question’s phrased. Yeah. And I mean, the intent of these structured interviews with behavioral questions is of course to be more fair and to ask the same or very similar questions to all candidates.

But one thing I’ve noticed is with new grads or entry level candidates, you might have to have a different set of questions for them or use a different language and reframe those so they can speak to different experiences, maybe from a class project or a job that might not necessarily be in the field that they’re interviewing for.

And the last thing that we noticed as a potential bias here is privileged socioeconomic status and education level. So candidates that come from those backgrounds are more likely to have peers and mentors. You’ve prepped them for these types of interviews and many college programs and grad school programs have professional development courses where they actually teach students how to position themselves successfully and interview well to get jobs.

Yep. So the main things you want to think about then is like, since we’ve identified a couple areas where it’s not perfect how we evaluate for, you just want to mitigate for that. So again, as I said, pay attention to that language of the questions you ask and encourage them and welcome them to give answers that aren’t just direct work experiences, where they’ve had the exact same experience and they’ll have to have this example from their work experience of this.

The other thing is thinking about the evaluation criteria. Figure out what you’re going to look for in your answers beforehand, and be sure you talk through the implications of the different types of things you’re hearing because it could be that people from different perspectives hear it different ways.

So listen for that. Yeah. Yeah. And even consider telling candidates there’s going to be behavioral questions and they’re going to be formatted as, tell me about a time when, and here’s an example of a question that might be asked in the interview process. I’ve even seen companies where they post an interview guide on their careers page that goes through all of this, or send it out to candidates to really set them up for success in these behavioral interviews and will definitely be helpful for them

so they know what you’re looking. Yeah. I mean, it’s not give them the exact question. It’s helping them know that, “tell me about a time when” type of question is coming so that they can start to think about some of the accomplishments that they’re most proud of or they feel really demonstrate their skills the best and they can help be sure they highlight them

because they’re really hard to come up with on the spot. So. Yeah. Well, we hope that we’ve made you think about how to be more intentional about assessing for grit and growth mindset and hopefully, see how this can benefit you in the hiring process. Yes. So share your favorite behavioral interview questions, the ones you think that would be good for evaluating grit and growth mindset down in the comments.

And we’d love to hear from you if you have any follow-up thoughts. Thanks. Thank you.

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