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  • Writer's pictureRiikka

Hiring for Creativity

Updated: Jan 25, 2021

Innovation is about survival nowadays, not just a ‘bonus’ driver of growth or market competition, wouldn't you say?! If you agree and are wondering how to recognise creative ability at hiring stage, this is for you! Whatever role or level you’re recruiting for.

I’ve heard hiring managers say that you can’t really test for creativity. Yes you can! All it takes is an understanding what creativity is and what kind you need.

The popular impression is something free-flowing and uncontrolled, all about ideas, the crazier the better. That’s a part, but there is more.

‘Serial innovators’ have a real tenacity about their vision and how to bring it to fruition. They connect and transfer knowledge and ideas from one field to another. They apply conceptual thinking, not just subject matter expertise. They reflect & imagine, using their brain differently to logical reasoning and verbal thought.

Creative people tend to have a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty (a quality you'll want to recruit right now in any case!) They are curious with wide-ranging interests, and display ‘active open-mindedness’.

Consider the below skills and qualities, and what kind of creativity you need in the role in question. What is missing from the business? Pick 2-3 that are most relevant, and here's a couple of ideas how to test for them in the selection process.

Many of these questions also test for motivational match. You will see what the candidate is passionately interested in - does that fit what they would be working on in the role?

1. Customer understanding.

How customers use the product and how it is affecting their lives. This takes imagination, empathy, and an interest in people.

EXAMPLE QUESTION: Think about a customer using Product/Service X - what would you say they most value about it? What would improve that even more?

2. Desire to tackle unsolved problems.

EXAMPLE QUESTION: [Within the relevant topic, e.g. In content marketing... With our technology platform... In a typical tender process...] ...what is a problem that you notice and would really love to get your hands on to solve?

3. Connecting information across various domains.

This means the person can see a wider range of possibilities and transfer concepts from one realm to another. That has led to many of the world’s groundbreaking inventions, electricity being one.

EXAMPLE QUESTION 1: Mention a part of their earlier experience or a hobby/ personal

project from CV. How would you apply something you learnt there to X part of this role? or How has your experience of X made you better at Y?

E.g. What would you take from your experience as a swimming instructor into making our commercial contracts more profitable?

Ask about something where the connection isn’t obvious, i.e. not ‘How does your experience in retail help you sell our solution?’ The more unlikely & wacky, the more you’ll see their ability of seeing unexpected, innovative possibilities. Not the parallels that are obvious to anyone.

EXAMPLE QUESTION 2: Ask a question that prompts them to make links between several areas of your business, for example the employees, marketing and technology. E.g. How would you involve our colleagues in engaging our clients with our technology?

4. Idea generation.

EXAMPLE QUESTION: Give the person a problem, e.g. How could we replace our live

events? and ask them to come up with as many ideas as possible.

Stress that the ideas do not have to be realistic, possible or practical. And then you need to bear in mind not to assess them on that basis. You are assessing based on originality and imagination. Not looking for real solutions to real problems, but the skill of idea generation.

5. Opportunity analysis.

EXAMPLE QUESTION: This is where you can give them some real, potential business opportunities in their area of work, if you prefer. Ask them to consider which ones would be worth pursuing, what additional information they'd seek; and explain their thinking. You're looking for the breadth and depth of their evaluation.

6. Visioning.

EXAMPLE QUESTION: What would you ideally like to build or create here? Get them to describe what they see. What potential do you see in this business/ market/ product?


Finally, set up the interview right to get useful results. People will need more time than usual. I would give a couple of these questions, and leave them to think about it, perhaps with some other work sample tasks.

And you need to be clear with yourself and the candidate, when are you looking for relevant, realistic to the business answers, and when are you simply assessing the characteristic of creativity. In the latter case, remember the actual detail of the response is not important, only how original and expansive it is.


Good luck with these and get in touch if you’d like help designing or running interviews!

Sources: David Epstein: Range, 2019. MacMillan;

Abbie Griffin, Raymond L. Price, Bruce A. Vojak: Serial Innovators, 2012. Stanford University Press.

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