Talent Versus Determination: The Key to Hiring Right

By Walt Grassl

Bob and Mark are new managers who are having lunch in the company cafeteria. They are discussing their respective hiring strategies for an upcoming job fair. Their conversation turns into a debate on what type of graduate made the best employee.

Mark prefers to hire the 4.0 GPA graduates, regardless of how driven they appear or how well they seem to “play with others.” He figures he can instill the drive and the teamwork.

Bob believes in hiring smart – but not necessarily the smartest (3.0 and above GPAs) – who demonstrate determination and good collaboration skills. He thinks they are smart enough to learn and believes their drive and teamwork will carry the day.

Patricia, a seasoned manager, joins the discussion and shares her thoughts about the importance of hard work and talent in the workforce. She believes that if people don’t have a minimum amount of talent, hard work may not be enough for them to be successful. Conversely, some of the most talented people aren’t successful in their careers because they don’t work hard. The most successful people have talent and work hard.

Patricia is right. Hardworking, talented people make the best employees. Employees must consider what is in their control and what they can influence. Individuals cannot control how much talent they have, but individuals can control how hard they work and how hard they persevere when times get tough.

Here are five character traits for hiring managers to consider.

1) Reaction to Praise: Studies show that when people are praised for their intelligence, they tend to avoid risk when given a choice of their next assignments. Why? If they are less than perfect in the future, they are afraid of not looking as smart. However, when people are praised for their hard work in completing their assignment, they welcome more challenging assignments. If they work hard on a task that their leadership recognizes has a high degree of difficulty and they come up short, they have a history that indicates their hard work will be acknowledged.

2) Ability to Adapt to Change: In the workplace, success often depends upon the ability to change from one process to another. Oftentimes, highly talented people have a set way of doing things that works extremely well for them. They do not like to change what worked in the past and made them successful. Change requires hard work, and while many talented people do well adapting to change, some who feel that they have extraordinary talent are not so flexible.

3) Willingness to Learn: Many talented people feel they do not have anything new to learn in their chosen field. They believe what got them there is enough.

Those who are determined and who work hard often spend a lot of time and effort to maintain their skills and learn new skills. They typically display the most current knowledge of new technology and ideas. Having employees who will improve themselves over and above company-sponsored training is critical to an organization wanting to innovate and improve.

4) Different Expectations: People who are highly talented may believe they are entitled to a certain pay level, promotional opportunities, and respect. They can be the workplace equivalent of rock stars or elite athletes.

Those who succeed based on hard work over talent tend to have expectations that are more realistic. Those who depend on demonstrating their work ethic and their determination to succeed often will find that their hard work pays off in terms of promotions, pay increases, and the level of respect they earn in the workplace. Unlike their more talented co-workers, they tend to avoid resting on their laurels.

Not everyone who is talented depends entirely on his or her talent to find success in the workplace. Many of those with a great deal of talent work hard – often as hard as their less-talented co-workers. However, in some cases, those who are highly talented don’t feel they need to work as hard to get ahead. Nearly anyone who sets their mind to finding success can be successful; however, without hard work, few will ever find the level of success that will pay off for them over time.

5) Goal Setting: People who set goals are usually more successful than those who don’t. The best goals to set are “stretch” goals. Stretch goals are attainable and challenging but realistic. If you set goals that are too easy, you will accomplish them more often but not be as satisfied. Satisfaction comes from pursuing a goal, not from ultimately achieving it.

Successful employees generally focus on one objective at a time, and they always have the next goal in mind. They break more difficult tasks into smaller tasks, with mini goals along the way. They map out several different paths to their target; this allows flexibility if one path becomes blocked. Activity itself generates the impetus for further activity.

Conclusion: Determination and perseverance are important traits in the workplace. Employers want employees who are determined to get things done, make things happen, and constantly look for better ways of doing things. Employees are more likely to continue in the face of adversity if they think talent is only peripheral to their future success. Persistence and purposeful effort are more important than talent.

Studies have observed that when facing difficulties, those who believed their performance was transformable through effort not only persevered but actually improved, whereas those who believed that talent was everything regressed.

Don’t hire based on talent alone. To maximize the chance of hiring success, seek employees who work with determination and perseverance.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author of Stand Up and Speak Up, and host of the Internet radio show with the same name. Walt’s accomplishments include success in Toastmasters International speech contests and performing standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. For more information, visit waltgrassl.com.

[From the Aug/Sep 2014 issue of AnswerStat magazine]