The perspective of an interview candidate as two people ask questions over a table with his CV.
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What companies are looking for that isn’t on your CV

2 May 2019

HubSpot’s Barbara McCarthy is looking for signs of grit and resilience in interview candidates. Here’s how you can show off these qualities.

Picture this: you’ve landed an interview at a company you’d love to work for. You’ve been prepping for days going over your CV and previous experience. You’re ready to go, right? Wrong.

While it’s incredibly important to be able to describe your previous job experience and lessons you’ve learned along the way, companies are looking for more than what’s just listed on your CV.

What recruiters, hiring managers and companies are looking for today is evidence that you have grit – in other words, resilience. Coined by psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth, grit is “the passion and perseverance for long-term and meaningful goals. It’s the ability to persist in something you feel passionate about and persevere when you face obstacles.”

A hot topic, Duckworth’s TED talk, ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’, has almost 17m views and she has even created a quiz to find your own level of grit.

As director of engineering in HubSpot Dublin, part of my job is to interview top talent as our team continues to grow. In addition to asking situational questions for a specific role and getting a sense if the candidate embodies the values we call HEART (humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable, transparent) through thoughtful interview questions we’ve been iterating for years, I’m typically drawn to candidates who have something more. Oftentimes, that thing is grit.

So how do you demonstrate that you are resilient? Here’s what I want candidates to show me when I interview them.

Have courage

As leaders and organisations, it’s our duty to create an environment where it’s safe for anyone on the team to appropriately speak up, respectfully challenge an idea, offer a new perspective or share their personal experience.

Studies show that the way psychologically safe teams behave – being creative, taking risks and speaking up – often leads to market breakthroughs and major innovation. Psychological safety is not only business-critical, but it’s recruiting-critical.

Companies want to hear from candidates who will break the mould, not fall in line; to add to culture, not just fit in with it; and who will bring new, different and sometimes crazy ideas to the table. With this in mind, I like to ask candidates to share examples of times they’ve challenged the status quo or spoken up.

Embrace failure

Often, the question, ‘Tell me about a time you failed’, can be seen as a trick. Companies aren’t looking for you to tell them that you never failed, because of course you have. We all have.

What employers are looking for here is for you to own your failure and show them how you overcame that situation. At HubSpot, we live by the saying ‘fail fast, fail often’. You can’t innovate and grow better without trying new things, and ultimately sometimes that means failing.

Be prepared to talk about your failures reflectively. What did you learn from the experience? How did it help you grow as a result?

Strive for excellence over perfection

Perfection is the enemy of good, as the phrase goes. Of course you want to do something perfect, but perfection isn’t always realistic. The tech world moves really fast, and you can’t let perfection stand in the way of shipping something.

When you focus on doing your best work over perfection, you remove the ominous barriers that often inhibit one’s ability to succeed. It takes resilience to make those decisions and accept that there will be trade-offs sometimes in your work. At the end of the day, you have to keep moving, and quickly.

Dream big

The average person changes jobs 12 times throughout their career and that number will likely increase in the future. In addition to switching companies, more people also want to change their career path and role, and what I love seeing in candidates is the determination and grit to make those wishes a reality.

It’s easy to talk about wanting to be in product, or work as a designer. It’s hard to actually change course. As leaders, we’re more likely to hire someone who isn’t afraid to take action and follow their dreams, even if their formal experience in that discipline is limited.

Be human

Having interviewed thousands of people, it is always disappointing when someone tries too hard in an interview to be something they are not. The truth is, most interviewers can spot this and it will raise other questions in their mind about the authenticity of the candidate.

Always be yourself in an interview – your professional, authentic, best-foot-forward self. Remember, it is an opportunity for the interviewer to not only get to know your skills but get to know you. That can be a powerful thing. Never be afraid to be human!

By Barbara McCarthy

Barbara McCarthy is director of engineering at HubSpot. If you’d like to learn about building successful teams, she will be speaking at Inspirefest 2019 to share her insights. Check the agenda to save your spot!

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.

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