Hiring Wisely: It's Good to Find People Who Have Had a Little Adversity


There's no magical formula to hiring, and the fact that there isn't probably accounts for number 1 thing that drives everyone on both sides of the process a little bit crazy.

If there was, well, hiring would be easy, but instead we spend a lot of time looking for qualities and experiences that we hope give clues to how successful a job candidate might eventually be.

In other words, everyone has a little different sense of what they're looking for when they hire.

Dealing with life's challenges

One of those things comes down to one word, especially for Kathy Giusti, founder of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. And as she told The New York Times' Corner Office column, that one word is "adversity."

Yes, she looks for people who have been through it, know it, and have a sense on how to deal with it. Adversity is the one quality she really looks for in job candidates, and that's probably because she has been through so much of it herself. As she told The Times:

I had always been disciplined and had this level of urgency. But then I was told I had a fatal disease and I was going to die. It was black and white — write your will. It wasn’t like there was any gray area. And I had a 1-year-old daughter. I thought that if I can stay alive until she turns 5, maybe she’ll remember me. That was my dream.

So I started taking on this foundation, and thinking, I’ve got to make some decisions, and I’ve got to make them quickly...I found that because I was told I only had three years at the most, and I wanted to get as much done as I could, I was incredibly bold. If anybody was going to be mad at me for what I was doing, I didn’t really care. And if I had to make a decision, I wasn’t going to sit there and say, well, let me do more research on that. I had to make decisions incredibly quickly.

I also learned to be much more grateful. When you’re working in multiple myeloma, nobody’s ever heard of it, and it takes you half an hour to explain it. By that time, people’s eyes are glazing over. So now I had to raise money around it. When people actually responded to me and my personal story, I was so grateful. It’s 20 years later, and I’m now in remission, as are many others."

Adversity as a quality in potential hires

Clearly, it was Kathy Giusti's own personal health experience that shaped her outlook on hiring, because as someone who has been through a lot of adversity, she seems to appreciate how it helps to focus your mind and add to the qualities you bring to the table.

So, here's how she answered when The Times posed the question "How do you hire?"

I study the résumé. In the early years, where did you go? Did you get the strong training base I’m looking for where you honed your industry knowledge and developed your leadership skills? Did you start in sales, or did you get promoted early? What did you learn from some of those early mentors? I do think those years are incredibly formative. Then I want to see how you grew and what new experiences were you trying to take on.

Then I start asking questions like, what do you want me to know about you that’s not on this résumé? Help me understand your role on a team. How did you lead?

And tell me when you have faced any level of adversity, and how did you deal with it? I love people who have been through certain types of adversity. It doesn’t have to be that they got a death sentence. I just want to hear what happened and how they resolved it. If you’ve been through that, it will help you, and it will make you more compassionate with the patients we’re dealing with every day."

Define you own values -- then hire for them

My take: I found it interesting that Kathy Giusti focuses on adversity in her hiring interviews because she knows all too well how adversity can shape people in very different ways.

She appreciates it because she has lived it, and it's a value she places high on her list of qualities she feels job applicants need to have.

You may not agree that adversity is something to look for in candidates, but that's not the issue. What Kathy Giusti's hiring philosophy tells you is that you need to have a strong hiring philosophy -- whatever it happens to be.

What works for her may not work for you, so figure out what DOES work for you and make sure that you use that to test and talk to any serious job candidates for your organization. When you know what to look for, as Kathy clearly does, it makes the hiring easier and helps to build your organization with people who reflect your values.

Is there any better way to hire than that?

Editor’s Note: The Talent Insider blog is fueled by Checkster, and Checkster has great tools — like the Reference Checkup, the Interview Checkup, and the 360 Checkup — that can help you make better talent decisions as you grow and build your team.