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Tips for Hiring Innovators

Michael Miller May 29, 2014 10:20:17 AM

Innovation_lightbulbsEvery company needs innovators. Business models are being disrupted in every industry. Google is getting into the car making business. Zappos has redefined shoe retailing. To remain – or become – competitive, businesses are turning to HR to help them bring in innovators. Innovators are the engines of progress and their unrestrained thinking and ability to connect seemingly unconnected ideas and trends are behind some of the greatest success stories in business.

But how do you find them? And how can you tell in an interview if your candidate is a true innovator or just looks good on paper?

If you’re looking for ways to find qualified candidates, you need to know how to dig for it during an interview. Three authors, Jeffery H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review back in 2009 called “The Innovator's DNA.” They identified five skills that innovators possess:

  • Associating – connecting ideas and thoughts others wouldn’t
  • Questioning – asking questions that challenge common wisdom
  • Observing – using the world around them as a source of inspiration
  • Experimenting – trying new things
  • Networking – seeking out different people and perspectives

If you’re interested in hiring innovators, you need to look for these skills in your candidates.

Along similar thinking, Lisa Bodell, the CEO of futurthink, created a list of 14 interview questions she feels should be a part of the interview process when you are trying to hire an innovator.

Interviewers will look at a candidate's resume and see the accomplishments listed. Behavioral interview techniques will help you uncover evidence of past success, but Bodell believes that it’s also necessary to see for yourself, just how each candidate can think for themselves through the use of very specific questions. These questions don’t have a right and wrong answer. They’re meant to get the creative juices of the candidate flowing, to see just how quickly their minds operate.

Bodell categorizes her questions into five groups according to her own list of critical innovation skills. Below we’ve summarized each skill and provided one sample question. You can view the complete list in her article. Remember, there is no right answer to any of the questions. 

Strategic imagination or the ability to perceive the forces that are changing the world as we see it today. “If you had one month and a $50,000 budget to tackle any project, what would it be?”

Provocative inquiry is the ability to ask smart, and often unsettling questions. “If you had five minutes with our CEO, what question(s) would you ask that would make him/her rethink our business?"

Creative problem solving is the ability to apply ideas from diverse sources and use them to create new solutions. “What steps do you take when you need to make an immediate decision but don't have much data available?”

Agility is the ability to think on one’s feet when the unexpected happens. “Share an example of a time when you were given new information that affected a decision you had already made. How did you proceed?”

Resilience is the ability to stand firm and push forward when you face obstacles. “Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react?”

The answers given for any of these questions will give the interviewer an idea of whether or not this person is a true innovator. Embed parts of the probing method from behavioral interviewing into these questions and you’ll get stories of how they applied these skills.

Is your company looking for innovators? Share how you do it in the comments section below.

Topics: Recruitment