The Thirsty Dog Blog by Jason Price | Seattle

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8 Reasons Why You Should Hire the Underdog


Hope Springs Eternal

Let’s face it – it’s much more fun to root for the ragtag underdog who comes out of nowhere with a shot in hell of winning and drops the champ.  It feels good and appeals to our sense of hope that anyone can accomplish anything if they try hard enough, work hard enough, and believe in themselves.  It’s human nature, plain and simple.  I remember growing up I was always a fan of Bay Area sports teams – specifically:

  • the 49ers – who were terrible in the mid/late 70’s and again from the late 90’s until a few years ago,
  • the Giants – who were terrible for 40 years , then had some success in the late 80’s and have now won a couple of World Series,
  • the Warriors – who haven’t won anything since I was 4 years old.

They were all lovable losers for many years and yet I stuck with them.  Why?  Because there was such a greater reward when they actually did win.  It was so unexpected and nobody believed in them.  But I did.  And when they finally came through everyone was surprised and hopeful along with them.  Everyone was on the proverbial bandwagon.  I was always excited as I’d endured years of failure in fandom after watching my father go through just as many or more.  They finally won – and I stuck by them until they came through.  Ah, the joys of victory and perseverance!

Art imitates life as we see this scenario played out time and time again in the movies.  Films like Hoosiers, Rocky, The Natural, The Fighter, Slap Shot and the granddaddy of them all, Rudy, pull at our heartstrings and make us stand up and cheer for the Underdog to pull out victory in the end.

Faith in the Underdog = Big Rewards

Over the years I have had many opportunities to interview, hire and promote people.  I’ve met with such a broad range of folks from those who have come from little to those with beautiful Big 4 pedigrees (Fat Cats) and resumes longer than your arm.  I found through repeating this process that I always have had an affinity for the proverbial ‘Underdog’.  The infamous Author Malcolm Gladwell has recently shared his thoughts on Underdogs in his latest book David and Goliath.


The Underdog


The Underdog has the will to overachieve, to make mistakes, learn from them and to fear nothing for they have nothing to lose.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is the ‘Fat Cat’ – the one you expect to win.  These are the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees of the world.  It’s easy to root for them because everyone likes a winner.  The fact that they win more often makes people want to be on their side and around them all the time.  This is nice, but they are ‘fair weather’ fans to be sure.  The scrappy Underdog is always nipping at their heels, hungry for more and working harder to get there.  When they finally do arrive, it’s so much more fulfilling to have been on their side from the start.


5 Key Areas of Focus for Interviews

I’ve always focused on 5 key things when interviewing someone either for a job or promotion:

  • Personality – can I work with this person and do I like them?
  • Skills – what have they done and what do I believe they have the potential to do?
  • Background – do they come from a privileged place or have they gotten their hands dirty and done ‘real jobs’?
  • Character– what will they do to succeed and are they afraid to fail?  And how have they handled failure in the past?
  • Ambition – have they put themselves in positions to learn and grow without taking the easy path?

I’m sure you have your own list of focus areas but for me, these are the ones I find most important to suss out when I’ve got an hour to learn about you.    Yes, I’m as impressed by your long profile and accomplishments as much as the next guy.  But how you achieved these things is more important to me as what you achieved.  Have you always worked for big ‘machines’ where you were so insulated from risk that there was little to no chance you’d fail?  Were you protected or out there on your own?  Did you come from a long line of executives and you were merely the next one churned out by the virtues of ample capital, connections and good old fashioned nepotism?  Or did you find your way through trial and error?  Taking a risk here, choosing an opportunity there and knowing when to seize the chance to pull your self up the ladder?  If you are the latter, you are the one for me.


Why Take the Chance?

I know, I know – the safe money says bet on the Yankees.  Pick the ex-Big 4 consultant who has been there, done that and you will probably be OK.  But who wants just ‘OK’?  I want motivation to innovate and change.  With that comes some risk.  You won’t always win with the Underdog.  And it’s true that ‘Fat Cats’ know how to act like they’ve ‘been there before’.  But in many cases it’s because they’ve never taken a real chance or experienced failure of any material kind.  Someone I respect once told me that not everybody wants to work with the smartest guy in the room.  For me, there’s better upside in supporting that Underdog even with the added risk as the rewards can be greater in the long run.

Here are 8 key reasons why I’ve hired or promoted ‘Underdogs’ in the past:

  1. They work hard
  2. They are motivated to learn
  3. They will ask tough questions because they are truly interested in the answers – not just in sounding smart
  4. They aren’t afraid to experiment, fail and pick themselves back up
  5. They aren’t whiners
  6. They aren’t too proud to build the strategy, order the team lunch and take meeting minutes all in the same day
  7. They will be loyal to their supporters
  8. They are genuine

When I hire an Underdog, I do it because I know they will work harder, ask more questions, and put themselves in a position to try, experiment and learn.  I want Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Crede.  I want street smart vs. book smart.  The reason Underdogs won’t run away from challenges is because they thrive on them.  Underdogs aren’t afraid to fail because they’ve seen failure, have learned from it, and have turned it into future successes.  The Underdog deserves to be supported simply because they earn their keep.  And that support you give is often repaid in results and loyalty.

I’m not advocating going out and hiring a bunch of people that have failed over and over again.  I’m talking about sometimes picking the unorthodox choice and giving people a chance to succeed.  And I’m not trying to dispel the science of ‘The Underdog Theory’ either.  People with proven track records of success can be good hires too.  You just need a good blend of both to round out a team.


Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Entrepreneurs and self-made men and women are those that inspire us to do more with our lives.  Think about how many people we admire who have come from nothing and nowhere only to succeed and overcome the longest of odds.  It’s the true ‘American Dream’ that we have been telling each other for hundreds of years.  Rags to riches stories inspire.  If you have the ability to give others an opportunity to prove themselves where others may not, and you believe in that person – then think about making that choice.  Think about being an enabler and having a positive impact on someone who can change your life, your company and your community.  You have that power.

Next time you are interviewing ask yourself; Is this an Underdog I’m willing to take a chance on?  If so, reward yourself by putting your faith in someone who is truly motivated, has the skills you are looking for, is fun to be around and who will be loyal to you now and in the future.  Go against the grain.  Take that chance, sit back, and reap the rewards.