Tempting as it may be to ask job candidates for their fourth-grade report cards, a better method is to look for subtle clues potential slackers give during the hiring process. Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, says people with fixed mind-sets—they believe you’re born into greatness—have a propensity for slacker behavior, whereas people with growth mind-sets—they believe you can grow into greatness—put in extra effort.
Dweck worked with a Major League Baseball team to ascertain potential recruits’ mind-sets by asking for their views on performance. Her discussion topics can be adapted for the business environment:
How much of your success comes from natural talent vs. practice and hard work? "People who say it’s all talent have a fixed mind-set and are not going to respond as well to training or coaching," Dweck says. "You want people who say talent gives you a head start but true success comes from practice and hard work."
How did you improve your performance? "Some recruits said improvement came naturally to them," Dweck recalls. "Others said they went to a batting cage every day, filmed their practices and analyzed the films, determined interventions, and then practiced more." In a business setting, "listen for whether a job candidate talks about his own brilliance without mentioning learning opportunities, mentors or collaborators," she adds.
When you get called up to play in the big leagues, what will you have to change about your preparation to compete? "Some of the baseball recruits said they would have to get used to the cheering of the larger baseball crowds," she says. For business, the question would be as follows: As you take on this new challenge or move up in the organization, what will you have to change or learn to perform at a higher level? "Some people may say they already perform at the higher level and know everything they need to know," Dweck says.
Tell me about your most memorable baseball game. "Recruits that talked about coming from behind to win through the collaborative efforts of the team are growth mind-set, whereas recruits who talked about how their batting ability led to the win are more fixed mind-set," she points out. If job candidates only talk about outcomes and dollars earned or saved rather than collaboration, teamwork or what they learned in the process, they are fixed mind-set.
Tell me about a loss. "Fixed mind-set people blame others for failure," Dweck says. "Or, they may describe solving a problem caused by someone else and how they were the knight saving all the stupid people." Growth mind-set people embrace failure, accept responsibility and learn from it.
"You want the person who knows they have a lot to learn and is willing to learn rather than thinking their natural talent will carry them to the top," Dweck says. "People who ride on their natural abilities don’t know what to do when they have setbacks."
The author is a contributing editor and former managing editor of HR Magazine.