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Grit is the one trait all hiring managers want to see in their candidates. Here’s how to show that you’ve got it in the interview.
By Daniel Bortz

Your resume may get you a job interview, but it won’t get you hired.

When it comes to entry-level jobs, managers actually place a higher importance on attitude and work ethic than hard trade skills, according to recent research by education software developer Instructure. In fact, 79% of hiring managers surveyed said a candidate’s prestigious schooling was the least important consideration.

The question remains: How can you distinguish yourself from the competition? Easy—show you’ve got grit, according to psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania Angela Lee Duckworth, who popularized the term in aTED talk in 2013. She described grit as the “quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time.”

So right now you’re probably thinking: Yeah, that just about sums up entry-level life. While many of us can attest to this, it’s all about how you convince your hiring manager you’ve got what it takes. This is how.

Show, don’t tell

Many hiring managers take a behavioral interview approach—asking questions that start with phrases like “tell me about a time when” or “give me an example of.” It’s become a popular interview style largely because past behavior is frequently indicative of future performance, says career coach Connie Whittaker Dunlop, executive director for professional advancement at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

Although you don’t know what specific questions you’ll be asked, you’ll want to prepare three to five anecdotes that highlight your strengths, says Pamela Skillings, co-founder of New York-based Big Interview, an online job interview training platform. Even if you’re fresh out of college, you have stories that speak to your achievements; Skillings says consider extracurricular activities (e.g., “As captain of the debate club, I led our team to the state championship.”)

Demonstrate your work ethic

In the Instructure survey, 85% of managers reported work ethic as the most important attribute for employee success. Yet, the challenge—for employers and job seekers alike—is “you can’t measure work ethic on paper,” says Carole Martin, job interview coach and author of Boost Your Interview IQ.
Again, you’ll want to prepare an anecdote that illustrates your commitment to delivering great work (like that time you pulled an all-nighter to finish a group project). To show you’re willing to perform beyond your basic job responsibilities, weave into the conversation that you see the value of going outside of your comfort zone, says Skillings.

Turn shortcomings into strengths

When a hiring manager says “tell me your greatest weakness,” it might sound like a trick question. However, “employers want to see that you’re someone who is self-aware enough to know that you have areas for improvement,” says Skillings. Don’t respond with “I’m a workaholic”—it’s not only cliché but also a copout. Granted, you also don’t want to name a trait or skill that directly impacts your ability to perform the prospective job.

Choose a skill that doesn’t affect your day-to-day responsibilities, advises Skillings, and then show that you’re taking steps to improve in that area (e.g., “I’ve been taking a course to improve my presentation skills and got great feedback on the last report I wrote.”) When interviewing for jobs, “always turn a negative into a positive,” says Skillings.