Opinion: Using adversity to your advantage

Contact CU Independent Opinion Staff Writer Alexis Kantor at Alexis.Kantor@colorado.edu.

Opinions do not necessarily represent CUIndependent.com or any of its sponsors.

All of us will graduate college with an interesting story to tell. Throughout our college careers, we are told many times by many people the importance of a strong resume in finding a good job. Some people are up to the task. They are able to make strong grades and have no problem getting involved with extracurricular activities that demonstrate passion and leadership. They might even manage to sleep eight hours a night. But for others, completing the checklist is not so easy. Whether by choice or by fate, some people face difficult obstacles or get their priorities thrown off course. Rather than motivate you to take challenging courses or to go to office hours until a professor has no choice but to put you in his research lab, I want to tell you how coming up short on your resume may not be detrimental after all.

Inspired by an inspiring TED Talk by Regina Hartley, the Human Resources Manager at UPS, I am optimistic that there are employers out there who realize that a person’s life story is more complex than how it looks on paper. How can a state school graduate with a 2.8 GPA compete with a student from Yale who has already published original research in scientific magazines? Hartley defines her potential job candidates as “silver spoons” and “scrappers.”. Both are qualified for the job, but what separates them is how they got there.

A silver spoon undoubtedly did well in college. He or she achieved high grades, was involved in a respectable amount of activities and volunteering, and has all of the right recommendations. This person, according to Hartley, “clearly had advantages and was destined for success.”

A scrapper is more likely to have hopped around. His or her summer may have been spent working a series of odd jobs and retaking classes. While to some employers this looks like a lack of focus or unpredictability, this looks like “a committed struggle against obstacles” to Hartley. Rather than being destined to succeed, the scrapper lived her young life destined to fail. Hartley considers these disadvantages, whether they be financial, familial, or personal, and believes the scrapper at least deserves an interview.

I believe that when the person who was destined to fail finally succeeds, she will blow past her peers in terms of motivation, work ethic, interpersonal skills, and eventually, achievement. Opportunities are not taken for granted by those who have longed for it.

Hartley is not taking credit away from individuals who went through the hard work of graduating with great grades from an elite university, but she questions how they will handle the tough times if their entire life was engineered toward success. Hartley gives a second look at a scrapper because even though he may be missing checklist items, the scrapper could have experienced greater personal adversity that will translate into dedication to the work environment.

Let’s look at Steve Jobs’ resume. In a nutshell, Jobs never graduated college, his parents gave him up for adoption, and after quite a long period of job-hopping, he disappeared to India. On top of all of that, Jobs also had dyslexia. But Jobs is no exception. Such a high number of successful people got off to rocky starts, such that scientists and researchers coined the term “Post-Traumatic Growth.” Many employers understand post-traumatic growth. Kids who have overcome odds, from poverty and abandonment, alcoholism and violence, to bullying and learning disabilities, have something special to offer to the world. These children grow up with such a strong resiliency to being disadvantaged that a “hectic business week” will be no problem.

I am not saying to induce hardship on yourself to appear more well-rounded, nor to be judgmental of those who came from auspicious circumstances. But for the people out there who find textbook learning difficult, or have to tend to their own families rather than volunteering abroad, the possibility for you to find success is equally alive. So I urge you, college graduates, if you are feeling insecure about your GPA, test scores, or community involvement, ask yourself if there is something else you can draw that is telling of your character. You may just get a phone call back.

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