5 Reasons to Hire the Underdog Instead of the Overachiever

Posted by Cortney Peters on Jan 8, 2016 5:40:40 PM



Recently I watched a TED Talk titled, “Why the best hire might not have the perfect resume” by Regina Hartley, who is the Human Resources Manager for UPS. She makes the argument that the people who have experienced significant hardship to get where they are, become the best employees. This was an eye-opening and compelling presentation and raised many powerful points that I have recapped in this article. 



During the talk, she breaks down the types of job candidates she and her colleagues have seen as type A, “the silver spoon”, or type B, “the scrapper.” The silver spoon type includes those people who were set up for imminent success from day one by their parents, and continue to lead privileged lives. The scrapper is someone who may not have the perfect resume or the best work experience, but their life story earns them more real-world experience than the latter. This is not to say that one type is better than the other, but that sometimes when hiring it’s important to understand the journey behind the person, rather than focusing solely on their academic achievement and recommendations.


Hartley makes compelling points about those “silver spoons”, who are set up for success and have everything handed to them, as opposed to the types that have struggled and endured just to get where they are today (our scrappers). When comparing the resumes of the two side-by-side, at first it may look like an easy choice, but time after time in her experience the scrapper has been deserving of careful consideration.


Experience is the key differentiator between the two types of people, and often the experience of a scrapper earns them skills that a silver spoon hasn’t needed to learn.  Extreme hardships like poverty, abandonment and abuse change a persons’ life view entirely and force them to learn tough life lessons at an early age. As they encounter difficulty after difficulty, they learn how to be unrelenting and dynamic. Rather than tearing that person down, those experiences can drive their motivation and success to leave the past behind, and to fight for the future.


Take, for example, as Hartley boldly mentions in her TED Talk, Steve Jobs. The mastermind behind Apple, one of the most impactful companies of this lifetime, was abandoned, a job-hopper, and took a year off of life to live in India. His “inconsistency” on a resume might not be appealing, but his innovation and ability to overcome obstacles made him what he was.


Overall, what I took away from this eye-opening talk, were these five reasons to hire an underdog or as Hartley puts it, a scrapper.


  1. They have an inherent ability to adapt. Underdogs have likely experienced many hardships and have therefore become tenacious in their ability to adapt and accept change. Change is inevitable in the business world, so this quality is desirable. You want your employees to be able to seamlessly adapt when unexpected occurrences happen.
  2. Overcoming challenges is in their blood. When something goes wrong, which is inevitable in life, you want your employees to be able to not only handle it but learn from it. The underdog has ample experience overcoming hardship and it comes naturally to them to accept, overcome, and move on.
  3. They’re relentlessly tenacious. A Scrapper, as Hartley describes, is someone who has had to fight for their way of life. They are persistent and diligent to their work and don’t let problems or issues in the workplace slow them down. These hardworking vanguards stand tall when you need serious problem solving or decision making, and they’re quick on their feet. Their personal difficulties forged their work ethic, which makes you question if someone who hasn’t encountered much hardship can perform at the same level of intensity. If you’re a leader who values steadfastness, an underdog may surprise you.
  4. They have strong relationship skills. People who’ve endured a lot of hardship, but have made a remarkable turnaround with their lives usually have some helpful relationships to thank for it. The underdog has learned how to form strong and reciprocal relationships because at times they have relied on someone else, whether emotionally or financially, to help them. Relationship building as a skill is important in just about any field of work because people want to form relationships with people they can relate to and trust. Hiring someone who is a good team player and knows how to carry themselves when building business relationships is an obvious benefit.
  5. They accept and provide mentorship. Along the same vein as building successful relationships, there is an open acknowledgment by this group of people that mentorship is critical to success. Just as they learned to form beneficial relationships, they have also learned the true value in learning from a more experienced person’s wisdom. The underdog not only makes a great mentee because they listen and show respect but also eventually a great mentor for their own wisdom beyond their years.

The TED Talk, no matter what your stance on this article, was definitely worth the watch. It raises some compelling ideas and gets us thinking about who the ideal hire really is. Although that high GPA from an Ivy League school is impressive, the tenacious, astute, and dynamic underdog may surprise you.


Watch the TED Talk yourself and see what you think! You may find yourself inclined to interview the underdog in your resume stack next time you're hiring. 


Topics: Corporate Learning

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