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Talent versus Determination

Five character traits for hiring managers to consider.

by Walt Grassl
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Bob and Mark are new managers who are having lunch in the company cafeteria. They are discussing their respective hiring strategies for the upcoming college job fair that their company is sponsoring. The conversation turned into a debate on what type of graduate made the best employee. 

Mark prefers to hire the 4.0 GPA graduates, regardless of how driven they appear or how well they seem to “play with others.” He figures he could instill the drive and the teamwork. 

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Bob believes in hiring smart, but not necessarily the smartest (3.0 and above GPAs) who demonstrate determination and good collaboration skills. He figures they are smart enough to learn and their drive and teamwork would carry the day. 

Patricia, a seasoned manager, joined in the discussion and shared her thoughts about the importance of hard work and talent in the workforce. She believes that if people don’t have a minimum amount of talent, hard work may not be enough for them to be successful. Conversely, some of the most talented people aren’t successful in their careers because they don’t work hard. The most successful people have talent and they work hard.

Patricia is right. Hard working, talented people make the best employees. As an employee, we must consider what is in our control and what can we influence. We cannot control how much talent we have. But we can control how hard we work and how hard we persevere when times get tough. 

Here are five character traits for hiring managers to consider. 

Reaction to praise

Studies have shown that when people are praised for their intelligence, they tend to avoid risk when given a choice for their next assignments. Why? If they are less than perfect in the future, they are afraid of not looking as smart. However, when people are praised for their hard work in completing their assignment, they welcome more challenging assignments. If they work hard on a task that their leadership recognizes has a high degree of difficulty and they come up short, they have a history that indicates their hard work will be acknowledged.  

Ability to adapt to change

In the workplace, success often depends upon the ability to change from one process to another. Often times, highly talented people have a set way of doing things and it works extremely well for them. They do not like to change what worked in the past and made them the success that they are. Change requires hard work, and while many talented people do well adapting to change, some who feel that they have extraordinary talent are not so flexible.  

Willingness to learn

Many talented people feel that they do not have anything new to learn in their chosen field. They believe what got them there is enough. 

Those who are determined and who work hard, often spend a lot of time and effort to maintain their skills and learn new skills. They often display the most current knowledge of new technology and ideas. Having employees who will improve themselves over and above the company sponsored training is critical to an organization wanting to innovate and improve. 

Different expectations

People who are highly talented may believe they are entitled to a certain pay level, promotional opportunities and respect. They can be the workplace equivalent of rockstars and elite athletes. 

Those who succeed based on hard work over talent tend to have more realistic expectations. 

Those who depend on demonstrating their work ethic and their determination to succeed often will find that their hard work pays off in terms of promotions, pay increases and the level of respect they earn in the workplace. Unlike their more talented co-workers, they tend to avoid resting on their laurels. 

Not everyone who is talented depends entirely on their talent to find success in the workplace. Many of those with a great deal of talent work hard, often as hard as their less talented co-workers. However, in some cases, those who are highly talented often feel that they need not work as hard to get ahead.  Nearly anyone who sets their mind to finding success can be successful, however without hard work, few will ever find a level of success that will pay off for them over time. 

Goal Setting

People who set goals are usually more successful than those who don’t. The best goals to set are “stretch” goals. Stretch goals are attainable and challenging, but realistic. If you set goals that are too easy, you will accomplish them more often but not be as satisfied. Satisfaction comes from pursuing a goal, not from ultimately achieving it. 

Focus on one objective at a time and always have the next goal in mind. To accomplish more difficult tasks, break these down into smaller tasks. Try to have mini goals along the way and try to map out several different paths to your target: this allows flexibility if one path becomes blocked. Activity itself generates the impetus for further activity.  

Determination and perseverance are important traits in the workplace. Employers want employees who are determined to get things done, to make things happen and to constantly look for better ways of doing things. We are more likely to continue in the face of adversity if we think talent is only peripheral to our future success. Persistence and purposeful effort are more important than talent. 

Studies have observed that when facing difficulties, those who believed that their performance was transformable through effort, not only persevered but actually improved, whereas those who believed that talent was everything regressed. 

Don’t rely on your talents. Develop the practices of hard work, determination and perseverance, and you will be able to maximize your success. 

About the Author

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author of “Stand Up and Speak Up,” and host of the Internet radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up.” Walt’s accomplishments include success in Toastmasters International speech contests and performing standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit