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Hard work beats talent: How to find and hire top candidates


It’s a question that has been asked time and again: Does talent trump hard work? 

The answer, according to many successful people, is a resounding “no.” 

According to Angela Duckworth, a US psychologist and ex-management consultant at McKinsey & Company, the factor that distinguishes most athletes, entrepreneurs, and artists who have achieved tremendous success in their careers is grit, or someone’s passion and perseverance when working toward long-term goals. 

In other words, the ability to work hard consistently and continuously is what helps people achieve success in their careers and not merely their talent. 

Talent can, of course, be incredibly helpful. It can give you a head start, and it’s certainly easier to achieve success when you’re naturally good at something.

However, as anyone who has achieved any level of success can attest, talent is neither the only ingredient necessary for lasting achievement nor even the most important factor.

There’s a popular saying that goes, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” This quote is attributed to Tim Notke, a high school basketball coach, and was popularized by Kevin Durant, a basketball player in the American NBA.

This is especially true in the business world. It’s far more important to hire someone who is a self-starter and willing to put in the hard work than someone who is naturally gifted but lazy and careless.

Of course, the best option is to hire someone talented and hardworking.

As an HR professional, this is where you should be concentrating your efforts. You need to recruit talented people who have the discipline to put in the hard work necessary to achieve excellence. 

In this article, we will discuss why hard work beats talent (especially when talent doesn’t work hard) and how you can find and hire top candidates who are willing to put in the effort.

Why hard work beats talent every time

Talent can only take you so far. The dedication and determination you show in your work make the real difference. 

Why is that, though? Why does hard work beat talent?

The reason is simple.

To succeed, you need to consistently put in the hard work, even if you’re talented. 

Without structure – i.e., clearly defined objectives, a specific plan for how to achieve them, and the discipline necessary to put in the hard work – failure is almost inevitable, even for the smartest and most talented individuals.

Paradoxically, talent can sometimes even stand in the way of success because it might lead to overconfidence and carelessness.

A person who is naturally gifted may still be able to achieve a lot without working as hard as someone who is not, leading them to assume that they’ll always be able to use their talents to get ahead of others. This can lead to complacency and a lack of discipline.

Meanwhile, a person who is willing to put in the hard work will always be looking for ways to improve. They’ll never stop learning and growing, which is essential for success in any field.

The Dunning–Kruger effect, formulated by Dunning and Kruger in a study from 1999, is often referred to when discussing skill and confidence. It describes a cognitive bias whereby low performers tend to overestimate their ability, although high performers have a more accurate perception of their skills. 

However, according to more recent research by Feld, Sauermann, and De Grip, the inverse relationship between confidence and skill is much weaker than previously suggested.

Of course, this doesn’t make talent – or smarts – irrelevant.

The best possible combination is talent and hard work, not just one or the other.

Nevertheless, talent without hard work does become irrelevant with time since natural skills need to be developed to make a difference. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of the reasons hard work always trumps talent.

image showing why hard work beats talent

Everyone has different talents and abilities

Everyone has different talents and abilities, but there’s no substitute for hard work. 

Just because someone is talented in one area doesn’t mean they will be successful.

In fact, it’s often the people who are not naturally gifted but have worked hard to develop their skills who achieve the most success. 

Although perseverance and determination are not talents in and of themselves, they’re the catalysts that enable talent to grow and two of the key abilities that often determine success. 

No matter how talented someone is, if they’re not willing to put in the hard work, the odds are against them. 

What matters most is how hard they are willing to work to achieve their goals. This might include working long hours, sacrificing time with family and friends, and doing whatever it takes to succeed – although success shouldn’t be equated with burnout.

Most importantly, it requires discipline, consistency, and goal orientation.  

This is something that can’t be taught in school or learned from a book. You can only learn it through experience and achieve it through hard work.

Talent can only take you so far

Talent by itself is not a good predictor of success, but intense practice is. Or, as Harvard Business Review puts it, “Experts are always made, not born.” 

Dedication, focus, and perseverance make the real difference.

If a talented person has these qualities, they’re much more likely to succeed than someone who is incredibly talented but doesn’t have the necessary discipline to put in hours upon hours of work.

Deliberate practice, or practice that goes beyond your current level of comfort and control, is what pushes the needle. 

The importance of grit: Why hardworking, goal-oriented people are the ones who succeed

Goal-oriented people who are willing to work hard are often more successful than those who are simply talented, especially in challenging and personally meaningful pursuits, such as achieving their career goals. 

To achieve mastery and become an expert, a person needs grit, or a commitment to working hard and achieving the goals that matter the most to them.

This means they need to consistently aim to challenge themselves and expand beyond the level of expertise and mastery they have already achieved. 

And it’s not just about working hard; it’s also about being able to bounce back from failure. A person with grit isn’t afraid of failing because they know that it’s the only way to learn and grow.

Failure is a part of success

Failure is inevitable when you work outside of your comfort zone. 

To achieve the state of flow (as defined by the psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi), you need to pursue a challenging goal and accept the possibility of failure. 

Neuroticism and self-consciousness, on the other hand, can disturb the state of flow and actually prevent someone from working hard to achieve a goal because they might see the possibility of failure as unacceptable or threatening to their self-image. 

In fact, failure is instrumental in business success. Companies that embrace experimentation and use failure as a learning opportunity are better able to overcome challenges and succeed

For this reason, you need to look for candidates who aren’t afraid to try new things and risk being unsuccessful and who see failure as a learning experience.

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard

Of course, talent is an important factor in achieving success. Combining hard work and talent gives you the best chance for a positive outcome. 

Talent cannot simply be developed by working hard, and smart, gifted individuals have a clear advantage.

The combination of both traits, however, is what creates a successful individual or business, which is why we can say that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. 

To find and hire top candidates – those who have both the talent and the grit to succeed – it’s important to look for certain key indicators and be able to distinguish between natural talent and hard work. 

Natural talent vs. hard work

Talent is defined as a natural aptitude or skill. Hard work, on the other hand, is simply putting in the effort to achieve a goal.

Talent often gets people started and enables them to get past the beginner’s frustration. But ultimately, it’s discipline that keeps them going. 

To compare the two, we can say that talent:

  • Is the inborn potential or aptitude to do certain activities

  • Enables individuals to achieve a certain level of success even without much practice

  • Can make it easier to get started but does not lead to sustained effort if discipline is lacking

Hard work, on the other hand: 

  • Is related to discipline, diligence, and determination

  • Enables individuals to achieve success and mastery even if they struggle initially

  • Makes use of talent 

There is no substitute for hard work

Hard work can help individuals develop their talents and achieve tremendous success. Talents become useless and naturally fade with time if they aren’t put to good use.

By working toward achieving a goal, one can not only make the most of their talent but also grow their skills beyond the scope of their natural gifts. 

Their hard work also acts as a motivational factor: When they receive positive feedback thanks to their hard work, they’re even more motivated to continue to put in the effort to further develop their abilities. 

The best candidates are those who are willing to put in the extra effort

So, how do you identify candidates who are willing to work hard and don’t just rely on their natural talents, regardless of how impressive these might be? 

Look for the key indicators that they have worked hard in the past. Some of these include:

  • A proven track record of hard work and dedication in college and at work

  • Evidence of resilience in the face of setbacks

  • A passion for their chosen field

  • A willingness to put in the necessary time

  • Evidence of discipline and conscientiousness 

Conscientiousness, or the ability to be self-disciplined, organized, and diligent, is one of the strongest predictors of success in the workplace, according to a meta-analysis of existing research by Wilmot and Ones.

This isn’t surprising. A conscientious person is more likely to work hard and put in the effort necessary to achieve success, even when dealing with temporary setbacks.

One of the ways you can measure conscientiousness in prospective employees is by using the Big Five (OCEAN) test or the DISC test

The Big Five (OCEAN) test measures candidates’:

  • Openness

  • Conscientiousness

  • Extroversion

  • Agreeableness

  • Emotional stability

The DISC test measures applicants’: 

  • Dominance (D)

  • Influence (I)

  • Steadiness (S)

  • Conscientiousness (C)

You can use both tests to determine whether your applicants have the necessary diligence and discipline to succeed in their job.

Nevertheless, personality tests should never be used on their own to make hiring decisions but instead be a part of a deeper assessment of applicants’ skills, abilities, and behaviors.

Talent is overrated: Focus on finding candidates who are willing to learn and grow

Looking for the smartest or most talented candidates will not guarantee success.

Instead, you need to find those who are willing to put in the effort to learn and improve and have the necessary work ethic to pursue individual and team goals each day. 

Hardworking employees can develop new skills with time and will be eager to do so if they feel aligned with the job itself.

There are several things you can do to find the most motivated candidates who will put in the hard work necessary to grow: 

  • Use skills tests to identify candidates who have enough knowledge on a given topic, i.e., those who have already worked hard to gain it

  • Use personality tests to find candidates who have the necessary personality traits and behavior to achieve success

  • Use TestGorilla’s Motivation test to see whether applicants’ expectations align with what the job has to offer

  • Use behavioral interview questions to uncover what motivates applicants to work hard

image showing how to find the most motivated candidates

A combination of these assessment methods will give you the big picture and enable you to make an informed decision about who your best candidates are. 

Invest in your team to help employees develop their talents 

To help your employees develop their talents and grow, you need to invest in them.

This includes providing them with the necessary resources and opportunities as well as creating a culture that supports learning and development.

Offering employees the opportunity to learn new things is one of the best ways to show them that you value their growth and helps you foster loyalty and trust. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Providing relevant training and certification courses to staff

  • Giving employees the opportunity to take on new challenges

  • Allowing staff members to work on projects outside of their normal job duties

  • Encouraging employees to share their ideas and expertise with others

Creating a culture that supports growth is also important. This includes: 

  • Making learning and development an integral part of your company culture

  • Encouraging employees to experiment with new approaches and ideas

  • Creating a positive work environment where mistakes are tolerated and seen as learning opportunities rather than failures

  • Creating mentorship programs that enable employees to help each other grow

Investing in employee development has many advantages. It will help you attract hardworking, motivated employees, improve employee performance, and increase employee engagement.

How to test for natural talents, perseverance, and motivation

Now that you know why hard work beats talent, how can you find and hire top candidates who are willing to put in the effort and also have the necessary skills and talent?

The key is to assess candidates’ skills and abilities as well as their dedication and determination.

One of the best ways to evaluate skills is with pre-employment skills tests. You can use these to test for: 

With the help of structured interviews, you can also see whether someone has the qualities of a hardworking person, such as:

  • A history of hard work and overcoming obstacles

  • A passion for learning and self-improvement

  • The ability to take criticism and learn from it

  • The desire to contribute to a team and help others succeed

If you can find candidates who have these qualities, you can be sure that they’ll be willing to work hard to help your business excel. 

Skill vs. will: How to assess candidates’ motivation

Employee motivation, or the engagement, enthusiasm, perseverance, and commitment of your employees, is critical for the success of your business. 

Employees who are motivated to do their job – and aren’t just good at it – are the ones who’ll be willing to put in the hard work and drive the team forward. They’ll also be more likely to stay with your company for longer and be absent less often

It’s incredibly important to accurately assess candidates’ motivation, but it’s also a challenging task for HR professionals. 

For this reason, we’ve created a Motivation test based on Oldham and Hackman’s Job Characteristics Model to enable you to evaluate applicants’ motivation and see whether their expectations align with the job you’re hiring for. 

The Motivation test is a two-way survey that both you and your applicants need to complete. It then enables you to see whether there’s a match between their expectations and yours. It also enhances your hiring process by giving you objective information about candidates’ motivation, which is normally difficult to measure. 

How to assess candidates’ personalities 

Personality and culture tests are another valuable resource you can use in hiring. 

They can help you predict applicants’ performance by providing you with information on their personality traits, preferences, and behavior, which, in turn, are related to their diligence and discipline. For example, conscientiousness is one of the strongest predictors of job performance, according to decades of research

Personality tests should be used in combination with other talent assessment tools and methods, such as skills tests, structured interviews, and asynchronous video interviews.

This way, you’ll be able to get a detailed, in-depth understanding of both applicants’ personalities and their abilities and skills. 

Personality tests you can use in your hiring process include:

The Culture Add test enables you to assess candidates’ culture-add potential so that you can more objectively hire for culture.

Sharing similar values is critical. If employees feel aligned with your organization’s culture, they’ll be more likely to be motivated and work hard to help you achieve your business goals. 

You can combine this test with culture-add interview questions to further evaluate alignment.  

How to test for talent and skills

The last piece of the puzzle is testing for talent and skills.

By using pre-employment skills tests, you can screen for skills quickly and easily. 

Let’s take a look at the steps you should take to do this:

  1. Define the most important skills required for the job

  2. Select the relevant skills tests from our vast test library – you can combine up to five tests in a single assessment

  3. Publish a job ad and collect applications 

  4. Administer skills tests to all applicants

  5. Shortlist your best candidates based on the results

  6. Interview shortlisted candidates to select the best one

Most skills tests take around 10 minutes to complete, and you can choose between many different categories: 

You can customize skills tests by adding your own questions, including essay or video questions, to get a deeper understanding of your applicants’ abilities. 

Tests give you an accurate assessment of your candidates’ knowledge and skills in specific areas. You can use role-specific skills or programming skills tests, for example. 

If you want to test for high-level cognitive abilities (which can indicate intellectual ability and learning potential), you can use cognitive tests to test for skills such as critical thinking, reading comprehension, numerical reasoning, and problem solving.   

Talented candidates need to work hard to succeed

To be energized and remain vibrant, talented employees need to put in the effort needed to succeed. The energy they gain from their hard work will fuel their skills, ambitions, and desire to excel. 

To stimulate employees’ hard work, you need to create a framework in which you: 

  • Define what success and hard work look like 

  • Outline the steps employees need to take to achieve the desired results

  • Provide clear goals and expectations

  • Set realistic deadlines 

Additionally, you need to recognize employees’ hard work and dedication and show them how much you value their efforts.

Summary: Hard work can make all the difference

Business success depends not only on the talents of each employee but also on their dedication, commitment, and willingness to work hard. 

This is why you need to look for applicants who are self-starters and show they’re capable of working hard and staying motivated. Assessing for these traits is essential, and you can do it by looking at:

  • Candidates’ past accomplishments and track records

  • The effort they put into their job applications and interviews

  • How they respond to difficult questions or challenges

You can also use personality and skills tests to better understand your candidates’ talents and abilities. By using pre-employment skills tests, you can quickly and easily screen for the most important skills required for the job.

With the right assessment tools and a focus on hard work, you can find and hire talented employees who are willing to put in the extra effort to help your company succeed.

With TestGorilla, you’ll find the recruitment process to be simpler, faster, and much more effective. Get started for free today and start making better hiring decisions, faster and bias-free.


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