What is Grit, and Why Does It Matter When Hiring for Your Startup?

Look for the people whose will to succeed is one of their defining characteristics.

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By John Boitnott

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Many things go into making a startup successful, including finding the right people. When hiring it's important to make sure your employees not only have the knowledge and skills to get the job done, but also that they have the grit to help take the company to the next level.

One of the best qualities a potential employee can have is grit. What does grit mean exactly? Someone with grit has the mental toughness to keep trying in the face of challenges and failures while keeping passion for the work they do. That's the type of employee fast-moving startups need.

Related: How to Poach Talent Politely

Having a small business involves people doing multiple things and comes with varying trials and obstacles. Each person will likely have more than one role in the early stages, and it's necessary to hire people who can handle that. For example, a marketing professional may be tasked with not only email outreach, but social media management and even sales or business development, depending on the person's background and skill set.

Although technical skills for the job are important, they don't have to be the only things you hire a person for. Qualities like patience, organization, perseverance, self-discipline and passion can directly translate into the success of a person and the success of your company. Here's how to spot the qualities that make up "grit" almost as soon as the candidate shakes your hand.

Related: What to Consider When Hiring Employees

Gritty people go above and beyond to actually get the interview

A huge sign that you're dealing with someone who has grit is that they put a lot of effort into getting an interview. Completing the application is important, but so is the follow-up. If an interviewee displays the conscientiousness to make calls or emails pressing their bid for an actual interview, it could be a good sign they'll bring vigor, passion and a can-do attitude to the company.

Someone with grit will make sure the right people see their application and resume as well. That means they won't shy away from looking up the email of the CEO or the head of the department they want to work in.

Additionally, these people go above and beyond when reaching out. For example they might create specific ideas for the company or one of its initiatives based on research they've done. That's the very definition of grit.

Successful people will often showcase grit when they get you in a room

Here's how to see grit once you're one-on-one with a job candidate. Ask questions about challenges they've faced professionally as well as questions about professional victories and failures. Asking about personal challenges — without getting too personal — is important in determining grit as well.

Related: 6 Ways to Adapt Hiring Practices to the Improving Job Market

Ask about their hobbies. If they like to spend their free time on challenging activities like intense biking trips or marathon running, that can show whether they have the hard work, self-control and dedication you want on your team.

You probably don't want to hire anyone with a long history of professional failures, but watch for signs of grit from the interviewee. A candidate who has failed and come right back determined to succeed is an employee worth having because they've demonstrated commitment to long-term goals. A promising employee may discuss past failures, noting they could have given up, but instead learned lessons from the experience and used that to succeed the next time.

Giving a project or a task for potential employees after or even during an interview is a popular method for evaluating a candidate's technical competency. It's also a good way to determine grit. Here you can truly see if they deliver outstanding care and effort to get the job done.

You can't teach grittiness — it's something the candidate learns themselves

Grit, perseverance and passion for work are important qualities you can't teach a potential employee, so it's important to ensure you're interviewing for these personality traits.

However, keep in mind that grittiness is obviously not the only thing needed for success in a position. A potential employee should have the right technical skills and job-specific experience to excel at their role. Although some hard skills can be taught on the job, a startup may not have the resources required to let an employee start completely from scratch. Grit can be attractive, but without experience and talent, it usually won't be enough to land the candidate a job.

Related: This Is How You Prepare to Nail the Interview for Your Dream Job

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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