What I learned about the growth mindset from 400 interviews and how it’s helping me raise my kids
400 interviews in 5.5 years. I would have never thought it was possible, especially after where I started. The previous 6 years, my only interviewing experience was attempting to interview someone over coffee in a programming language I didn’t know with no idea of what I was supposed to be evaluating. Thanks to a considerably better interview process, the 400 I’ve done in my current job have been much better. One thing I’ve noticed in these is that those who are successful tend to exhibit a growth mindset rather than a fixed one. Popularized in parenting books, especially around educating young children recently, a growth mindset is one in which individuals feel they can, given sufficient effort, improve themselves in any area and focus on getting better. Those who demonstrate this mindset tend to be successful in interviews as they can go beyond the bounds of their comfort and not get tripped up when something unexpected comes up. These skills are just as desirable in children as they lead to success later in life.
The growth mindset is one in which an individual believes that no skill, talent, or characteristic is fixed in place, but can instead be stretched and grown given effort. Athleticism, intelligence, even creativity, to the person with a growth mindset, all can be improved with practice. Contrasted with a fixed mindset where basic characteristics like intelligence are fixed, a growth mindset teaches that we can always change and get better at something. A fixed mindset shows that these attributes are set in place and can not be changed. These people believe that talent alone contributes to success and that there is no point in developing skills or talents as they cannot be changed. Those with a growth mindset love learning and are more resilient to change as they see it as a fundamental fact of life. Put in new situations, these people don’t panic, instead they find ways to apply what they know and have developed to these situations and use uncomfortable positions as an opportunity for learning and growth. It’s no surprise that these people are more often CEOs, successful founders, and other executives.
These are my own personal views and are not meant to be indicative of my employer or others within my company.
Across a wide range of interviews, I’ve begun to notice telltale signs of a growth mentality in individuals and look for it. These signs are strong indicators of not only success in the interview, but the likeliness of long term success in a career that is constantly shifting and adapting. In software development, this often manifests itself in use of technology and the ability to problem solve with it. Those with a fixed mindset tend to be very strong in a single programming language, the one they use most often, but when challenged to do something novel, struggle to find solutions. Those with growth mindsets relish the challenge of being put through an example of designing a system or a new datastructure to optimize their solution. These folks also tend to be less beholden to a single programming language and utilize what they know from multiple sources. An ability to stop, ask good clarifying questions, state assumptions, and then walk through an idea or solution before jumping into it are also strong indications. For those less hands on with daily coding, a design problem or even asking about recent work tends to highlight those with a growth mentality. Those with this way of thinking can equally go incredibly deep on their choice of technology and yet, when challenged with new constraints, totally change their solution with different technology without getting caught up. These individuals tend to succeed well in the long term as well, especially in technology where new constraints always come up, technology trends shift often, and new challenges are always around the corner. They find ways to improve themselves and use challenges as a way to develop their skills and grow rather than giving up. These people don’t see failure as a problem, but rather as a way to learn and grow. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Because it leads to long term growth and developmental ability, a growth mindset may actually be one of the most important things you teach your children. Developing a growth mindset early on has proven to result in better performance in school, higher grades, higher college acceptance rates, and higher overall lifetime success. Fostering a growth mindset early in life is like planting a seed that grows into a huge tree. Children with a growth mindset perform better academically, as they view challenges in school as opportunities for improvement and see these challenges as fun puzzles to solve. In fact, they have also been shown to pick up new lessons and learn new areas faster than those with a fixed mindset, especially beneficial for mathematics and science. Beyond academics, these children are better at sports and athletics as well as they don’t give up when they fail. They may not always be the most gifted in talent, but they make up for it with effort and sticking through the tough times. These children are the ones who tend to stick with a sport through middle school, high school, and keep going into college. They aren’t always the pros, though can be, but tend to be the athletic scholars who always have a fall back plan or have a career plan and continue the sport for the fun of it. Many professional athletes also have credited a growth mentality with their success and longevity. Very few athletes claim to be “naturals”, most credit their success to hard work and dedication, putting in long hours, and constantly pushing themselves to improve. These skills, learned early, greatly shape effort and success later in life.
Obviously a growth mindset is a strong beneficial skill to cultivate in children, but how does a parent do so? Any time is the right time to start, but the earlier the better. Start with thinking about your approach to praise. Praise should be directed at effort and the action, not the talent or skill. The first time your baby lifts their leg to help you change them or picks up their toy, don’t tell them they are smart or helpful which encourages a fixed, talent based mentality, tell them that picking up toys is a smart thing to do or that helpful babies pick up their legs. The goal is to reward the effort and encourage behavior rather than praising fixed attributes in them. Even if you don’t get such an early start, it’s fine, the best time to teach a growth mindset is the present. If your kids are older and already in sports, don’t tell them how fast they are or how strong, instead, encourage the effort you see them making or that you can see the practicing they did really paid off. It’s not just about sports either. When reading, encourage slowly sounding out words and trying multiple times. Celebrate their first time through a sentence or a whole book, but also celebrate the progress they make while working through it. Praise the improvements they make each time through a particularly tricky phrase. Dr. Seuss books are great for this. It’s all about praising, encouraging, and rewarding effort, consistent improvement, and practice. It isn’t so much that practice makes perfect, but more importantly that practice makes better.
In 400 interviews, I’ve noticed a trend in candidates. Those who can adapt and solve new problems succeed. Those who cannot struggle and get stuck. Though there is no way to tell for sure, I would guess that those who can adapt were instilled with a growth mindset fairly early on in their lives. These individuals not only tend to do better on interviews, but are those I see succeeding down the line years later in their careers. The industry has begun to notice and now looks for several of the indicators of this type of mindset when hiring. It’s no coincidence that most executives and leaders demonstrate a similar mindset and look for new challenges and areas to develop themselves. This is why so many CEOs point to a voracious appetite for books as a key factor in their success. These people believe that consuming knowledge is the key to success and that one can always stretch and grow themselves to improve. Learning this mentality early on in life is key as growth is exponential. The earlier our children get started, the more they grow and develop, benefiting them throughout life. It is therefore of paramount importance to foster this philosophy in our children from an early age. By rewarding effort and practice, we can teach our children that their skills and talents are not fixed and can always be improved upon. By fostering this ideology, a growth mentality can be encouraged and prove successful.