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When it Comes to Building Your Team, Bet on the ‘Scrapper’

During her recent TED Talk, Regina Hartley, human resources manager for UPS Information Services, extolled the virtues of hiring what she called the “Scrapper” versus the “Silver Spoon.” She says, “We call [the] ‘Silver Spoon,’ the one who clearly had advantages and was destined for success. And we call . . . ‘the Scrapper,’ the one who had to fight against tremendous odds to get to the same point.”

Hartley, who calls herself a Scrapper, encouraged hiring managers to give serious consideration to candidates that may not have an elite pedigree because there could be an interesting story in the person behind the resume. “A series of odd jobs may indicate inconsistency, lack of focus, or unpredictability,” she concedes. “Or, it may signal a committed struggle against obstacles. At the very least, the Scrapper deserves an interview.”

Hartley is not alone in her belief that candidates who may not seem like the perfect fit on paper often make strong employees. Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, lists diversity as one of the top qualities she looks for in making new hires. For Schwab-Pomerantz, diversity is more than age, gender and ethnicity; it is also about experience, skills and worldviews. “To achieve this, you have to be willing to consider candidates who might not have the ‘perfect’ resume for the job. For example, some of my best hires have had little experience in corporate foundation work or financial services. But they were quick learners, sharp communicators, and very strategic thinkers. Because they came from different backgrounds, they brought fresh ideas and new solutions to our work.”

Hartley and others do not advocate discounting the Silver Spoon outright. To be sure, gaining admittance to an elite university and earning a high-paying job with a lot of responsibility certainly require significant amounts of hard work and sacrifice even when he or she is set up for success., “but on the flip side, what happens when your whole life is destined for failure and you actually succeed?”

According to research, “Post Traumatic Growth” is the common denominator in what propels so many of history’s most successful businesspeople who also happened to live through significant hardships, particularly early in life. Studies on dysfunction have revealed that even the worst of circumstances can result in growth and transformation. “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? His name is Steve Jobs.”