The Adversity Question, or Why You Need to Have a Strong Hiring Philosophy

Recruiters and TA professionals know this for a fact: There’s no magical formula to hiring.

If there was, hiring would be easy, but instead we spend a lot of time looking for qualities and experiences that may be clues to how successful a job candidate might be if we hire them.

Yes, everyone has a different hiring philosophy and different things that they look for when they recruit and hire.

Looking at how a candidate has dealt with adversity

One of those things can be reduced to a single word, and that’s especially true 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.”

She looks for people who have been through adversity, know adversity, and have a sense on how to deal with it. Adversity is THE one quality she 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.”

Focusing questions with an emphasis on adversity

Retaining CandidatesIt is Kathy Giusti’s own personal health experience that helped to shape her outlook on hiring, because as someone who has been through a lot of adversity, she appreciates how it helps to focus your mind and adds to the qualities that a candidate brings to the table.

So, here’s how she answered when The Times posed the question to Giusti of “How do you hire?” Here’s what she said:

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.”

You gotta define your values, then hire for them

Here’s my take: I love that Kathy Giusti puts a laser-like focus on adversity when she interviews job candidates because she knows all too well how dealing with adversity can shape people in very different ways.

And, she appreciates it because she has lived through it. For her, adversity is a value she puts high up on the list of qualities she feels that her potential employees really need to have.

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

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

Is there any better way to hire than that?

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John Hollon

John Hollon is Editor of Recruiting Daily. He’s an award-winning journalist and long-time editor who previously served as Editor of Workforce Management magazine, and, was the founding Editor of the noted talent management website TLNT.com. For the past 10 years. John has also served as an adjunct professor in the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. He has also recruited, hired, and managed a hell of a lot of people. Find him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter at @johnhollon, or contact him directly at [email protected].




John Hollon is Editor of Recruiting Daily. He’s an award-winning journalist and long-time editor who previously served as Editor of Workforce Management magazine, and, was the founding Editor of the noted talent management website TLNT.com. For the past 10 years. John has also served as an adjunct professor in the College of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. He has also recruited, hired, and managed a hell of a lot of people. Find him on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter at @johnhollon, or contact him directly at [email protected].

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