When looking to fill lucrative graduate-level jobs or internships, many managers and human resource personnel at major corporations instinctively seek out “the best and brightest” coming out of the nation’s top universities.
Frequently, though, they make the mistake of defining “best and brightest” to be only those graduates with stellar grades, honing in on so-called first and second class honor students who on paper show excellent academic prowess.
While it may sound like a sensible approach, it is not always the best approach. In fact, in many cases the emphasis on academic achievement is a lazy way to find the right candidates to fill the right jobs. This argument is increasingly being made by a number of human resource experts who argue that hiring managers often do a great disservice to their organizations by ignoring a large swath of the graduate population with less-than-stellar academic results but who tend to have other demonstrable “human” skills more valuable in the real world. These human skills – sometimes described as emotional intelligence – include determination, confidence, striving for goals despite setbacks, staying cool under pressure, harmony and collaboration, persuasion and influence.
The argument here is academic results cannot fully substitute for such competencies. In fact, research shows the higher a person climbs up the leadership ladder in any organization the more emotional intelligence becomes an essential quality. This is particularly true in today’s fast-paced business climate, where success depends on how well and how quickly an organization is able to compete and adapt to disruptive market conditions.
Grit over Grades
Angela Duckworth, a U.S.-based psychologist, has spent more than a decade studying what types of people are successful in jobs of all kinds. She’s one of the foremost proponents of grit over academic performance. Through her studies, Duckworth argues that even in academic settings, self-disciplined students outperform high IQ students over an extended period. Her research also suggest that while high academic performance from a top university is important, grit, achieved from life experience, is far more valuable to become a successful leader.
According to Duckworth, individuals who struggle to pull themselves through crisis, who understand their shortcomings and are able to overcome them, are more prepared to take chances and make the difficult choices business leaders often confront.
Another person who has championed this notion of corporations hiring more “scrappers” over candidates with perfect resumes is Regina Hartley, another U.S.-based Human Resource Executive who recently gave a widely-acclaimed TED Talk on this subject. After 25 years hiring for one of the largest companies in the world, Hartley advised companies to never miss the opportunity to hire a “scrapper” or an “underestimated contender whose secret weapons are passion and purpose.” Scrappers believe the only thing standing in the way of their success are themselves and they are determined to overcome every hurdle, she said.
Hartley faults hiring managers for being too quick to discard the resumes of people who do not have a “perfect” resume – candidates who do not come with elite university education, great internships, and high GPA. She said these hiring managers ignore the fact that many high academic achievers are also ‘silver spoon’ candidates – individuals who may have fought their way into elite universities but whose drive for perfection along the way has led them to avoid taking risks to keep their spotless records unblemished.
Juxtaposed with someone who has experienced failure or growth by overcoming traumatic situations, Hartley said the “scrapper” usually is better prepared for the uncertainty of business situations.
‘Scrappers’ Abound in Ghana
Ghana’s large informal sector consists of many graduates who are unable to find work in the formal sector. Consequently, these graduates have become self-dependent entrepreneurs using raw business talent and grit to make ends meet. Their stories vary, but it’s fair to say there are many who have achieved remarkable success with very little formal training.
Whether it is buying and selling consumer goods, catering, sewing or web-based services, these self-styled entrepreneurs have managed to develop critical business skills on their own because corporations were not willing to give them an opportunity. The sense of passion and purpose which many of them bring to their small businesses would be invaluable to established companies that are seeking resourceful and hardworking employees.
We believe that, in addition to investing in infrastructure and skills development to boost productivity, companies should seriously consider hiring more nontraditional pool of candidates from both the rural and urban areas of the country. Particular attention should be paid to candidate’s life experiences, the “real stories” behind who they are and what they’ve been able to achieve.
Sure, technical abilities are important. Most jobs have threshold abilities – those are also crucial. But in many cases, those skills can be taught – like operating a machine, ensuring quality control in a manufacturing setting, or customer service skills. Tenacity and resilience, on the other hand, are rarely learned on the job – if ever.