GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, Hidden Potential - ideas about finding the people who are often ignored or overlooked despite their talents. And finding them? Well, it can start with the way we look at job applications.
REGINA HARTLEY: Imagine you have two resumes. They both are equally qualified.
RAZ: This is Regina Hartley. She's the vice president of Human Resources at UPS.
HARTLEY: Person A - great pedigree education, maybe attended an elite school, Ivy League, excellent GPA, awesome internships with major companies. All the right credentials.
Then you have person B. They went to a state school, decent GPA but maybe didn't work in the best companies for internships. Maybe they didn't have any internships at all, so they just had a lot of odd jobs. They supported themselves through school.
So both of them might be qualified for your opening, but now you have to choose. Who would you pick?
RAZ: Now, Regina won't outright tell you who to pick, but she does offer some insights from her nearly 30 years in HR. Here's Regina Hartley on the TED stage.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
HARTLEY: My colleagues and I created very official terms to describe two distinct categories of candidates. We call A the silver spoon, the one who clearly had advantages and was destined for success. And we call B the scrapper, the one who had to fight against tremendous odds to get to the same point. You just heard a human resources director refer to people as silver spoons and scrappers, which is not exactly politically correct and sounds a bit judgmental. But before my human resources certification gets revoked, let me explain. A series of odd jobs may indicate inconsistency, lack of focus, unpredictability - or it may signal a committed struggle against obstacles. At the very least, the scrapper deserves an interview.
To be clear, I don't hold anything against the silver spoon. Getting into and graduating from an elite university take a lot of hard work and sacrifice. But if your whole life has been engineered towards success, how will you handle the tough times? But on the flip side, what happens when your home life is destined for failure and you actually succeed? Scrappers are propelled by the belief that the only person you have full control over is yourself. When things don't turn out, well, scrappers ask, what can I do differently to create a better result? Scrappers have a sense of purpose that prevent them from giving up on themselves. I want to urge you to interview the scrapper.
RAZ: Are you a scrapper or are you a silver spoon?
HARTLEY: Absolutely a scrapper. I'm the fourth of five children. And my mom raised all five of us by herself because unfortunately, my dad had a nervous breakdown. And he was a certified paranoid schizophrenic. So it was very challenging to grow up 1 of 5 with very limited finances. I grew up in New York City in Brooklyn. And we rented an apartment. Didn't have a car. Took the bus. And we didn't have a washing machine, which if you've ever had to haul laundry in shopping carts up once a week and do six people's laundry, it's not the funnest task. We didn't have a telephone. And there were times that the electricity got turned off because Mom decided feeding us was more important than paying the bill.
HARTLEY: I think we were the only kids in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, that had camping lanterns who never went camping.
RAZ: So given your perspective, having a scrappy upbringing, when you were a kid, did it affect how you wanted to live your life? Did it sort of motivate you in a way where you were like, I am going to do everything in my power to have a different life?
HARTLEY: Yes. When you grow up in any kind of adverse condition and you have the optimism, perseverance, determination, that really drives you. It propels you forward. And I absolutely had that. I just knew that if I just worked hard, if I just seized opportunities that were in front of me, that I could change my circumstance. And what's really interesting is when you fast forward to your working life, when you start your first job and you look at everybody who's a leader, you think they have it all figured out and that they had all these advantages that propelled them into their roles. And over time, you find out that a lot of people had circumstances that were adverse. And so somewhere along the line, you lose that shame. And you realize that the shame becomes a badge of honor and that it doesn't define you in the negative. It actually is something that you can embrace and leverage to your advantage.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
HARTLEY: The conventional thinking has been that trauma leads to distress, and there's been a lot of focus on the resulting dysfunction. But during studies of dysfunction, data revealed an unexpected insight - that even the worst circumstances can result in growth and transformation. A remarkable and counterintuitive phenomenon has been discovered which scientists call post-traumatic growth.
In one study designed to measure the effects of adversity on children at risk, among a subset of 698 children who experienced the most severe and extreme conditions, fully one-third grew up to lead healthy, successful and productive lives. In spite of everything and against tremendous odds, they succeeded - one-third. Take this resume. This guy's parents give him up for adoption. He never finishes college. He job hops quite a bit, goes on a sojourn to India for a year. And to top it off, he has dyslexia. Would you hire this guy? His name is Steve Jobs.
RAZ: I love this example of Steve Jobs because, you know, a lot of sort of HR people say, I'm not sure he's the right guy. But then you reveal that it's Steve Jobs, right?
HARTLEY: Yeah. I see that a lot. You know, hats off to the people who are honest on their resume. And then shame on anybody that's not trolling all of the resumes to look at people differently. Like, I've seen people whose resumes have a lot of gaps. And then when you talk to people, you find out that maybe their mom was dying of cancer, and so they moved home, and they just took a break. And - but you have to ask the question. You can't just look at it and say, oh, there's a gap in employment. They must be inconsistent. They must be unreliable.
RAZ: I mean, your own life experience has clearly influenced you. Clearly, you bring this to what you do every day.
HARTLEY: Yes. I look at this as, honestly, my life's mission. To me, there's nothing better because the great equalizer is providing the opportunity. So it's not enough to have determination. It's not enough to transcend adversity. Someone along the way has to believe in you and then give you an opportunity to succeed. And I'm so grateful to the people that did that for me, and there were many.
RAZ: So how do you think we - how do we begin to find those people with that hidden talent, with that - the sort of people who aren't raising their hands? How do we even find them?
HARTLEY: You have to go to nontraditional places. We've taken an approach to actually go into the high schools and go into diverse high schools, go into middle schools where we just tell our stories of where we came from. And the students are so interested because they can't believe that somebody who lives just like them can actually get out of their circumstance. Which is comical because we don't consider ourselves any more special than anyone else, but just going in earlier and telling your story and looking for those nontraditional sources is really important.
RAZ: Regina Hartley. She's the vice president of Human Resources UPS. You can check out her entire talk at ted.com.
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