Why You Should Hire Overcomers Instead of Ivy Leaguers

Master's of Grit, Resilience, Problem Solving & Innovation

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We would all love to hire employees who are already trained for grit, resilience, problem solving, and innovation. Historically, you may have called these soft skills, but increasingly, these are becoming critical skills. We found where you can hire for just those critical skills and the pipeline doesn’t start in an Ivy League classroom.

The employees with the most grit, resilience, problem solving abilities, and innovation are women overcomers. These are women who have overcome challenging pasts of incarceration, addiction, poverty, and engagement in the sex trade. The woman living on the streets and the mom struggling to feed her children know how to solve problems. Women who have overcome sex trafficking situations have a credential of their own – survivor. She survived because she had those critical skills we all hope to see in our employees. We know, because we have worked with such women – one of us through the housing program she ran for almost two decades and the other through her research of the methods that worked to support women overcomers. 

So, as a company, what benefits can you expect when you hire overcomers instead of Ivy Leaguers?

Bringing in the Skills You Can’t Train

You can’t, or at a minimum, it is harder to train for critical skill. Instead, you can hire for these critical skills if you hire women overcomers and train for the technical skills. The investment in technical skills training upfront will pay off exponentially, when combined with the natural skills and attributes of women overcomers. Take the example of coding. You can teach someone to code, but the best coders know how to solve problems and troubleshoot – much harder talents to teach. Women overcomers have been troubleshooting their whole lives. Their energy was used to survive, but in a safe environment with basic needs met, that energy can be redirected to work.

Reducing Turnover & Increasing the Bottom-Line
Promising results have shown lower turnover among employees with a criminal record, such as those being hired through efforts from the Second Chance Business Coalition [secondchancebusinesscoalition.org]. Turnover is costly and lower turnover is associated [journals.sagepub.com] with better financial performance. Hiring overcomers can fill the gap by reducing turnover on the backend and increasing the hiring pool on the frontend.  

Increasing Your Hiring Pool

Companies will benefit from finding new recruiting strategies and creating new pipelines that expand the hiring pool for the company. A great place to start is by creating partnerships with nonprofit organizations training and supporting women overcomers, including women who have previously been incarcerated.

In the US, the number of people with a criminal record is equivalent to the number of people who have a college degree, at over 70 million (Brenna Center [brennancenter.org], 2015). The number of individuals released from prisons each year, estimated at around 600,000 and millions more come through the criminal justice system (ASEP, n.d.). This far exceeds the number of undergraduate students graduating from Ivy League schools, which is closer to 15,000 students a year, estimated from each school’s enrollment data. Yet, companies have focused much more on hiring and training individuals with college degrees. To expand the selection pool in the hiring process, developing practices that don’t stack the deck against those who have been formerly incarcerated is critical [obamawhitehouse.archives.gov].

According to the Second Chance Business Coalition, over 80% of managers’ report equal or greater performance and value provided by employees with a criminal record compared to those without a criminal record.  As a result, more professionals are open to hiring formerly incarcerated individuals.  For those who are not there yet, a 2018 study showed that theft-related costs associated with hiring individuals with a criminal record is significantly lower than the costs saved from reducing turnover. 

Creating Across the Board Diversity within Your Company

Overcomers bring diverse skills, attributes, experiences, and perspectives into a corporation. Those perspectives are beneficial to an organization as we have solved all the easy challenges and are left with the most complex. Further, they bring racial diversity into organizations. For example, the formerly incarcerated population [bop.gov] remains disproportionately Black and African American. Hiring overcomers is an opportunity to move the needle in diversity, if accompanied by the necessary inclusion efforts.

Why Hire Overcomers?

Of course, some Ivy Leaguers are also overcomers. We see a few stories a year, they take over the news, but they are not the norm. However, they are the norm in housing programs, rehabs, and prisons across the country. Hiring women who have overcome challenging past is the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do for your bottom-line. With the right support, such women will be some of your best, most loyal employees. As a bonus to your community and the world, providing them with economic opportunities will impact generations to come by lifting children out of poverty and increasing the disposable income of your customer based. It’s a win-win.

We must hire for the skills we need not the pedigrees we think we want. All it takes is expanding the hiring pool and our mindsets from Ivy Leaguers to overcomers.

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