LinkedIn recently published its third annual list of 50 hottest startups to work for, which included diverse businesses such as corporate-card company Brex, and direct-to-consumer footwear brand Allbirds, a member at WeWork New St in Hong Kong. While the list-makers sensibly seek new hires with industry-specific experiences, they share similar ideas about their perfect job candidate. Plenty of hiring managers prioritize talent with clear potential over someone with the exact right experience for the role. These insights may have you thinking differently the next time you’re on the hunt for a new job.
Why companies are hiring for character traits rather than hard skills
Growth mindset, a term coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, is the conviction that a person’s abilities and intelligence can be developed over time. Dweck found that those who believed they could get smarter or improve at a skill were also the ones to put in more time and effort into their work, which ultimately led to higher achievement—meaning that the mindset can be more valuable than the skill.
“To me, ‘growth mindset’ means you are a deeply curious lifelong learner, and you exhibit the flexibility to adapt to new situations, types of people, and ways of working,” says says Courtney Brand, founder and CEO of thelighthouse, a personalized career-advice platform that operates out of WeWork 450 Lexington Ave in Manhattan.
It’s no wonder, then, that fast-growing companies are after talent that can keep up and grow quickly with them. Sarah Wagener, the chief people officer at DoorDash, the on-demand food-delivery service and member at 501 Boylston St in Boston, highlighted the qualities she considers crucial when hiring. Wagener told LinkedIn that DoorDash looks to hire people with “courage and grit” who are “quick, adaptable, and resilient.”
The popularity of growth mindset signals a cultural shift—one that emphasizes character traits over knowledge and skills learned in the classroom—one that is opening up the job market to nontraditional candidates. “We want to hire people with a forward-thinking perspective and skillset they can use to grow fast with us,” Cheryl Dalrymple, CFO of Confluent, an event-streaming platform for enterprises and member of WeWork 333 George St in Sydney told LinkedIn. “That includes people who don’t get their experience in a college classroom.”
One reason for this trend is that “hard skills” become irrelevant really quickly—in 2019, proficiency in Microsoft Office no longer sets you apart from the crowd. Because no one knows what the future of work looks like, companies are placing more value on soft skills when building and growing their teams. “Technology is fundamentally changing how businesses succeed, the way professionals grow in their careers, and the way we all work,” says Brand.
If you’re confident in your people skills, use them to lead your narrative in a job interview—they might be just what a company is looking for. “Please don’t shy away because of your lack of experience or exposure,” says Brittany Yoon, VP of operations at Ethos, a life-insurance company and member of WeWork 600 Congress Ave in Austin, Texas, told LinkedIn. “Most of us didn’t know much about life insurance before joining Ethos.”
How to show off your grit and growth mindset
“Soft skills”—like listening, dedication, and the ability to be resilient and flexible —are more difficult to translate on a résumé. So how can you demonstrate your stellar communication, adaptability, or empathy skills without seeming terribly egotistical? Brand suggests a number of ways:
- Take an online or in-person course to develop a new skill and add it to your LinkedIn page and résumé.
- Get involved in organizations or events outside work. Participate in a weekend Hackathon, volunteer at a nonprofit you believe in, or take on smaller projects through gig-economy platforms. This will show off your ability to wear multiple hats and prove that you have skills and interests beyond your day job.
- Show adaptability by working across different markets (domestically or internationally), in different languages, or even across different industries or teams.
- Ask your former managers and colleagues to write you a review on LinkedIn and speak to your work ethic.
Even if you check off every item on the list, it can still be difficult to promote your soft skills on paper. Growth mindset is “something that is more forward-looking, rather than previous experience captured on your résumé,” Brand says. So when the time comes for an interview, be sure to highlight some things you’re eager to learn at the company that go beyond the job description. “It is essential to have a clear understanding of—and an ability to communicate—where you want to grow your career and the core values and interests that drive you,” says Brand.
Finally, develop a narrative around a time you failed, what you learned from that failure, and how you implemented that lesson later. Companies that value growth mindset may ask about failure in some capacity, and you’ll want to have a positive, forward-thinking spin to share.
Kate Bratskeir is a writer for WeWork’s Ideas by We, focusing on sustainability and workplace psychology. Previously, she was a senior editor at Mic and HuffPost. Her work has appeared in New York, Health, Travel & Leisure, Women’s Health, and more.