The Value of Grit and Authenticity in a Competitive Job Market

Published on April 23, 2024

In today’s highly competitive job market, distinguishing yourself is more crucial than ever. With a joblessness rate among recent college graduates at 4.4%, nearly double that of the general population, and with 40% of the 68.6 million graduates in the U.S. workforce underemployed, landing the job requires a bold, new approach. 

Like many of today’s recent grads, after I finished college and entered the job market, I was significantly underprepared — at least on paper. I had no relevant work experience, no mentorship, and no connections. To top it off, I went to my first interviews in a borrowed suit that was far from flattering. 

This scenario, though less than ideal, is a predicament many recent grads find themselves in in today’s competitive job market. They might lack connections, mentorship, and even appropriate interview attire. While graduates from Ivy League schools have a 17.6% higher likelihood of securing prestigious positions, what about recent grads without such advantages?

Rather than trying to blend in with more polished candidates who might have sleek suits and prestigious degrees, it’s critical to embrace your unique background. There will always be someone with a better degree and experience than you. Highlight what makes you unique and take advantage of the assets you have.  

During interviews, make it a point to demonstrate your interest in the role and the company. Listen attentively, ask insightful questions, and engage genuinely with everyone from executives to support staff. This approach will not only make you memorable but also show that you are someone who is deeply committed to making a positive impact at the company.

If you have an unconventional background and work experience, be forthright and strategic about it. In one key interview, when I was challenged about my bad suit and background, I countered by emphasizing these details as reasons to hire me. I argued that my background had increased my perseverance and dedication — qualities essential for thriving in competitive environments.

This mindset not only helped me land the job but also shaped my approach to building teams as an entrepreneur. When hiring, I value authenticity and grit over a conventional, polished background. I look for individuals who bring passion and a distinct perspective—qualities that drive innovation and long-term success.

Remember: employers are increasingly looking for diversity of experience and authenticity. In fact, today, 63% of companies are prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives as part of their mission, vision, and values. This is driving revenue. Companies with highly diverse teams report 2.3X higher cash flows per worker and companies with diverse executive teams see a 19% increase in revenue over those without. 

The Takeaway

As the job landscape continues to evolve, companies are increasingly valuing diversity of experience and authenticity over traditional markers of job readiness. The next time you prepare for an interview, think about what sets you apart and how it can add value to your potential employer. Show them that what you bring to the table is not just skills and knowledge but a passion and resilience that will benefit their team in the long run.

Alex Merutka is a Grit Daily Group Leadership Network member, a highly accomplished entrepreneur, and a digital marketing expert with over a decade of experience. He is the founder and CEO of CRAFTSMAN+, a top creative ad technology company partnered with Meta, Google and TikTok. Alex's groundbreaking work at CRAFTSMAN+ earned him a coveted spot on Forbes' esteemed "30 Under 30" list, recognizing his innovative approach to brand engagement.

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