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Should You Be Hiring People With Grit?

Written by Michelle Silverstein

Grit is one of the latest buzzwords in personality research, due in large part to the work of psychologist Angela Duckworth. In her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth argues that much of the success obtained by high achievers in life can be explained by a personality trait she calls grit, defined as a person’s perseverance and motivation to complete long-term goals.

This concept clearly resonates with a lot of people: Duckworth’s TED talk on grit has been viewed more than 8 million times. Some proponents of grit go so far as to suggest that it may predict success even more reliably than cognitive aptitude, a factor that is consistently one of the best predictors of job success. At this point, however, there isn’t much evidence to support this theory.

It’s not surprising, then, that the concept of grit, or perseverance, has found its way into the field of pre-employment testing. In fact, we measure grit/perseverance in our Workplace Productivity Profile (WPP), a test that helps to predict how productive and reliable a job candidate may be.

But while grit may seem like the new kid on the block in personality research, a lot of evidence suggests that grit may simply be a repackaging of another powerful, more established personality trait: conscientiousness. We’ve written about the power of Conscientiousness as one of the best predictors of job performance (after cognitive aptitude) for nearly every type of position, making it a particularly valuable factor to measure through pre-employment tests.  And our own data indicates that grit and conscientiousness are highly correlated (r = 0.69), so much so as to imply that they may be one trait rather than two.

Whether or not it’s true that grit is, at its core, just another facet of Conscientiousness, employers can absolutely benefit from seeking out grit in their job applicants. Conscientiousness is a key predictor of job performance because conscientious people are hardworking, reliable, organized, motivated, and eager to achieve. Grit takes a narrower slice out of the conscientiousness trait, zeroing in on perseverance in achieving long-term objectives.  

The debate over whether grit is something distinct from conscientiousness, or just an element of it, will likely continue for some time. But grit is an exciting new frontier in personality research and one that could have significant implications for predicting performance within organizations.



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