What a curveball interview question taught me about grit 

After all the various interview hurdles, I had made it to the magical, final round – the finish line was in sight.

I was meeting a very senior stakeholder in that particular business (let’s call them Bob). All was going well, rapport built, questions addressed, everything gravy.

Then Bob fired his last question at me: “So Guy tell me, how gritty are you?”

I’d never had this question before. Was it a trap?

This one simple question had flipped the whole interview.

I considered the question. I followed my gut and answered it along these lines:

“Well I’m certainly no pushover Bob. When you get into the ‘muck and bullets’ of change and things start flying about it can get interesting (I smiled) but this is where I drive things”.

“Hmmm” was the reply and then he paused.

Bob started slowly drumming the table with his fingers.

I waited. I could feel Bob’s mental cogs turning over while he stared at me.

“Look Guy. Let me tell you about my typical days here. I’ll go toe to toe with my peers and then get my ass chewed out by everyone and their dog. I need somebody who isn’t some snowflake rabbit in the headlights type that turns to wobbly jelly when things get tough. I need strong, resilient, gritty people. So let me ask you – Are you a snowflake jelly rabbit Guy?”

I paused for a few seconds while I reflected on this.

“No, I’m not, but let me say this Bob, I’m not some kind of Mike Tyson ear biter type either” was my reply.

I got the job.

That moment was important as it was the first time I had been really and truly tested about how mentally tough I was. And that moment has always stayed with me.

Positive mental health is vital for all of us. And stress is one of the key influencers on maintaining good mental health.

More and more we seem to be being tested in increasingly stressful situations. And resilience to stressful situations is being seen as a key skill for everyone to develop in organisations today. Recent research indicates that some stress is actually good for us.

With tougher demands on businesses today, shorter timescales to get stuff done and more demanding customers, I’ve seen it manifest itself in creating real pressure cooker type environments in the businesses that I’ve worked with over the years.

Having the skills to deal with this are vital.

You can’t teach resilience and grit, it’s deeply personal. You can only learn them through self discovery.

And the single best thing I’ve found is to experience (very occasionally) some very challenging situations which have required me to increase my resilience substantially. Each time I learn’t valuable lessons about how I cope in these kind of situations.

For me it all boils down to two things – PERSPECTIVE and ATTITUDE.

Without perspective, how can you possibly know the level of resilience you require?

And without the right attitude, you won’t be able to think clearly about resolving the situation.

Both influence my resilience dial, which I use as a subconscious technique to assess how I need to respond to a potentially stressful situation in an authentic and appropriate way.

So let’s say something triggers a need where you need to be resilient…

You can’t say, “ah this situation is going to be a 3, based on what my previous 10 is” as you may not be in possession of all the info in the situation.

You need to be ready to dial up or dial down your resilience as the situation develops and this is where the mix of perspective and attitude work hand in hand, a bit like a venn diagram.

The thing I’ve found that works for me is to remain ticking along at 5 on the dial – and then if required work my way up from there as things develop. This for me feels like a healthy level of nervous energy and being in a state of “resilience readiness”.

And then when the situation is over, I gradually dial back to five.

I see it like needing to overtake a big scary lorry on a motorway with no road lighting on a dark, winters night. Focus, commit, make the manoeuvre and then move back to normal in the inside lane.

Resilience cannot be taught, only learned. And the harder, more stressful situations we occasionally get tested in should honestly be seen as gifts – at the time they will more than likely make us feel uncomfortable and anxious but the outcomes will be that they make us mentally tougher and gritty with the outcome making our ability to deal with future situations easier to handle.

Ultimately though being resilient and gritty in order to deal with tricky situations is about channeling our experiences into positive mental health which is so important for all of us.

Angela Duckworth’s recent book on Grit is fantastic and a brilliant read. Here is Angela’s 6 minute Ted Talk, well worth a watch.


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