Imagine you've gone through a lengthy hiring process and have shortlisted two candidates for a coding job. In terms of education, skills, and achievements, they're relatively equal.

But even though they've both arrived at the same "place" in terms of qualifications, there is one difference. 

  • Sheila is a natural; it's almost like she was born to code.
  • Kaley is a grinder; she's worked long and hard to develop her skills.

Which one will you hire?

Research says you'll probably hire Sheila, the "prodigy."

Even if you said, going into the process, that what you value most is motivation, hard work, and perseverance.

In one experiment, researchers gave participants background on two (fictitious) musicians. One was said to have inborn talent (the "natural"), the other to have worked hard (the "striver") to develop skill. Participants then listened to the same recording and were asked to rate the performance.

Even though the only difference was the background story, participants preferred the natural. That was especially true when the participants were professional musicians -- oddly enough, the more they knew about music, the more influenced they were by their bias against strivers.

And even though, going into the experiment, they said talent is less important than training.

Granted, business is different than music. So the researchers conducted another experiment, this time using two fictitious entrepreneurs as the test bed. Both had the same skills and ability, but the "natural" was said to have those skills early on, while the "striver" gained those skills through experience. 

Then participants listened to the same one-minute recording of each entrepreneur's business proposal and were asked to rate the pitch: likelihood of success, perceived talent, skill demonstrated ... even their willingness to become an investor in the fictitious company.

By now you know what happened: Participants preferred the natural over the striver. In fact, people who were themselves investors or entrepreneurs preferred the natural even more.

Even though there was no difference in the actual pitch. And even though before the experiment they claimed to value motivation and hard work much more than natural talent.

So does that mean you should prefer strivers to naturals? Of course not. Sometimes naturals plateau, sometimes they don't. Sometimes strivers plateau, sometimes they don't.

But there is a case to be made for people who have worked hard to develop their skill, especially in terms of mindset. People with a growth mindset -- who believe that intelligence, ability, and skill can be developed through effort -- tend to stay the course and see roadblocks as challenges, not obstacles, compared with those with a fixed mindset.

In simple terms, if things have always come easily to me, when the going gets tough I am more likely to give up. 

If things haven't come easily, when the going gets tough my experience tells me that eventual achievement has nothing to do with who I "am" but with who I work hard to become.

But that doesn't mean you should always hire strivers, either.

So how do you avoid a bias toward naturals without skewing too heavily toward strivers? 

Before you start the hiring process, decide exactly what skills, experiences, and attributes you need: the problems the ideal candidate will solve, and the value the ideal candidate will bring to your organization.

Then measure candidates against that set of criteria.

Because how they became the best candidate isn't nearly as important as why -- in objective terms -- they are the best candidate.