Recruiting and Staffing, Talent Management

The Seahawks Showed It Pays to Hire People With a Chip on Their Shoulder

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“It gives you more of a college environment, because guys are having fun. It is pretty cool. But I did sense that guys were hungry. I would say that the majority of guys are hungry.”

The gentleman that made this statement, Cliff Avril, is a veteran NFL defensive end who had just joined the Seattle Seahawks, and he could tell he was in a different place. He’d just spent five seasons with the underachieving, overhyped Detroit Lions, a team filled with first-round picks [his words].

Seattle is a team made up of retreads and rejects who are motivated to prove everyone wrong. Aside from quarterback Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, and running back Marshawn Lynch, there’s a good chance you hadn’t heard of most of the other Seahawks before last week’s Super Bowl game.

What drives you?

They all carried a “chip on their shoulder.” They were destined to show everyone who passed them over how wrong they were.

The phrase “a chip on one’s shoulder” is reported as originating with the 19th century U.S. practice of spoiling for a fight by carrying a chip of wood on one’s shoulder, daring others to knock it off. But this meaning carries such a negative connotation. I think the new version would mean being passed over and told you are not ready for the next move — whatever that move may be.

Since our time difference between New York and Saudi Arabia is eight (8) hours, the Super Bowl came on at 2:30 am here but they replayed it directly after the game ended.

What I missed most of all was seeing the back stories that go along with this type of game. These stories tend to focus on the individual: adversity, triumph, challenges, and most of all, success.

I did however catch an interview with the quarterback of the Seahawks. Standing at 5’ 11″, Russell Wilson was told throughout his career that he was too short to play quarterback. Yes, he said, I play with a chip on my shoulder. As a matter of fact, he said his entire Seattle team plays with that same weight wrapped around them.

It was said that the Seattle coach and GM scoured the league for hidden gems — diamonds in the rough if you will. They took aim at players other teams ignored or discarded, but they gave them a chance. The quarterback was picked in the 5th round of the NFL Draft because of his height, and a few were not drafted at all, a fact that these players openly admit was their driving force motivating them.

Dear John letters

I remember a buddy of mine in HR showing me a file that he kept of all the rejection letters that he received from companies over the years. They all said things like, “I want to let you know that although your background and credentials are impressive, we have decided not to move forward with your candidacy.

Although successful in his own right now and working at the C-Level, my friend still has that file and he still looks throug it from time to time. He calls it his fuel file. When the tank gets low, he reads through each rejection and before long, his needle is now hovering around “Full.” His motivation level is back on track after the fill up.

We have all interviewed people who, for whatever reason, we passed on and chose instead what we thought was a “brighter light.” Or at least, that was what we thought. Sometimes, we have regretted our choice and as time played out, we realized that we should have chosen the person behind Door No. 2 instead.

In a lot of cases, companies have high talent levels within the organization but decide to go outside for a special need. What you create when you do that is a message to the rest of your workforce that they are not ready. What the worker who wanted that opportunity does is add that to the chip that is balancing itself on their shoulder.

We interview, we scour resumes, LinkedIn profiles, references, or whatever, but in a lot of cases we are choosing, as in the game show, the candidate behind Door No. 1, 2 or 3.

Looking for the wrong things

Hiring is an inexact science, no matter what anyone tells you. Sometimes we can develop our own little idiosyncrasies for it, and they work. Someone on Twitter said she chose her Super Bowl team by the color of the outfits. You may laugh, but I have heard of so many similar ways that people narrow their hiring decision down  – and they feel that they have gotten it right.

I see job postings sometimes that will ask for a GPA, even for senior level jobs, and will basically state that credentials from “top-tier” schools are must haves. But I wonder: Has anyone ever tied GPA to a successful career?

I think not. As far as I know, there is no relation to GPA or credentials from “top tier” schools when it comes to advancing your career or becoming successful. I have always thought that any company that advertises that these things are important when it comes to talent is not a company I would want to work for.

There is an organization I know of that followed this model and only recruited from “top tier” schools, and only considered those with high grade rankings as well. What they found out was that candidates with those credentials also came in with a “chip on their shoulder,” but their “chip” was to show everyone how smart they were and to discount all others.

That’s not a great asset when you have work today that is project or team based. Not everybody can be the smartest person in the room.

Over a period of time, the hiring metrics at this organization told them that the “other” hires that may have come from state or other public universities consistently outperformed the “chosen ones.”

Are you motivated?

Well, this company decided to change their model and go after talent regardless where it came from, and forget the meaningless filters that in no way determine success.

And this tells me that the so-called “chip on the shoulder” is a competency that we should all look out for. Are candidates motivated? What drives that motivation? Have them build a narrative around what motivates them, because that is a strong starting point.

If the motivation, for whatever reason, is not there and it can’t be articulated, well, that should raise a red flag.

The chip or fuel that some of us carry can be a driving force that can’t be stopped. You need to look for it and capture that diamond in the rough.

Ron Thomas is CEO of Great Place to Work-GCC countries, based in Dubai. He formerly was Chief HR Officer of the RGTS Group in Saudi Arabia. Ron is also a senior faculty member of the Human Capital Institute. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living. Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com or on Twitter.
  • Joe Dougherty

    Love the article! Ron Thomas nailed it and gave timely examples! Have shared this piece w/my network. Excellent read!!!