Hartley is of the belief that those who may not look good on paper are perhaps exactly the people you want to hire.
“Your company launches a search for an open position,” she said. “The applications start rolling in, and the qualified candidates are identified. Now the choosing begins. Person A: Ivy League, 4.0, flawless resume, great recommendations. All the right stuff. Person B: state school, fair amount of job hopping, and odd jobs like cashier and singing waitress. But remember – both are qualified. So I ask you: who are you going to pick?
“My colleagues and I created very official terms to describe two distinct categories of candidates. We call A ‘the silver spoon,’ the one who clearly had advantages and was destined for success. And we call B ‘the scrapper,’ the one who had to fight against tremendous odds to get to the same point. You just heard a human resources director refer to people as silver spoons and scrappers – which is not exactly politically correct and sounds a bit judgmental. But before my human resources certification gets revoked let me explain.”
According to Hartley, a resume tells a story. She explained that experiences read like a patchwork quilt, which should make bosses stop and fully consider them before tossing resumes away. A series of odd jobs may, of course, indicate inconsistency, lack of focus and an unpredictable nature to boot. However, she also said it may signal a committed struggle against obstacles.
“To be clear, I don’t hold anything against the silver spoon; getting into and graduating from an elite university takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” she said. “But if your whole life has been engineered toward success, how will you handle the tough times? One person I hired felt that because he attended an elite university, there were certain assignments that were beneath him, like temporarily doing manual labor to better understand an operation. Eventually, he quit. But on the flip side, what happens when your whole life is destined for failure and you actually succeed?
“I want to urge you to interview the scrapper. I know a lot about this because I am a scrapper. Before I was born, my father was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and he couldn’t hold a job in spite of his brilliance. Our lives were one part ‘Cuckoo’s Nest,’ one part ‘Awakenings’ and one part ‘A Beautiful Mind’.”
Hartley is the fourth of five children raised by a single mother in a rough neighbourhood. Her family never owned a home, a car, a washing machine, and for most of her childhood, Hartley said they didn’t have a telephone. This motivated her to understand the relationship between business success and scrappers.
“As I met successful business people and read profiles of high-powered leaders, I noticed some commonality,” she explained. “Many of them had experienced early hardships, anywhere from poverty, abandonment, death of a parent while young, to learning disabilities, alcoholism and violence. The conventional thinking has been that trauma leads to distress, and there’s been a lot of focus on the resulting dysfunction. But during studies of dysfunction, data revealed an unexpected insight: that even the worst circumstances can result in growth and transformation. A remarkable and counterintuitive phenomenon has been discovered, which scientists call posttraumatic growth.”
This was highlighted by a study designed to measure the effects of adversity on 698 children who experienced severe and extreme conditions. It found that one-third grew up to be highly successful and productive.
“Take this resume,” Hartley said. “This guy’s parents give him up for adoption. He never finishes college. He job-hops quite a bit, goes on a sojourn to India for a year, and to top it off, he has dyslexia. Would you hire this guy?”
Of course many would say no, until you take a closer look at who’s she’s talking about: Steve Jobs. He created an entire tech empire with a CV that would have probably made the “no” pile.
“Scrappers are propelled by the belief that the only person you have full control over is yourself,” she claimed. “When things don’t turn out well, scrappers ask, ‘What can I do differently to create a better result?’ Scrappers have a sense of purpose that prevents them from giving up on themselves. And finally, there are relationships. People who overcome adversity don’t do it alone. Somewhere along the way, they find people who bring out the best in them and who are invested in their success. Having someone you can count on no matter what is essential to overcoming adversity.”
She further suggested that companies that are committed to diversity and inclusive practices tend to support scrappers and outperform their peers. According to DiversityInc, a study of the top 50 companies for diversity outperformed the S&P 500 by 25 per cent, Hartley said.
So here’s the question. Who are you going to bet on: silver spoon or scrapper? Even if you still don’t think the candidate’s hire-worthy, at least give the scrapper a fighting chance.
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