How Do You Hire for Innovation?

I was working with a client recently, and one of the managers declared, “What we really need are a bunch of innovators. All of our open reqs–let's hire some innovators.”

Well, there's a little bit about creating an environment in which innovation can flourish (e.g. ending the multitasking, giving people a little slack time, building trust among the technical staff and between the technical staff and the manager), but there are ways to look for people who are innovators.

When I look for innovators, I look for people who see problems and solve them. I don't specifically look for geniuses who think big thoughts and create big breakthroughs. I'm from the innovate-a-bit-at-a-time school, and after you do enough of those, the big idea occurs to at least one person in the organization. I look for people who see broken things and fix them, as well as general problem-solving skills, and what they do when they are stumped–can they work across the organization to get things done?

So, here are some questions to assess problem-solving and innovation ability:

  • “Give me a recent example of a time you saw something that bugged you.” …(wait for the answer) “What was it?” …  “What did you do about it?”
  • “Have you ever noticed something wrong in a system or product you had some responsibility for?”…” What was it?”…” What did you do about it?”
  • “Give me an example of a time you had a great idea that required other people to implement or clear an obstacle to your solution.”  … “What did you do?”

Those are just three jumping-off questions. You'll start a conversation with these questions and keep going. If you have other questions you like, please comment.

Hiring for innovation doesn't have to be the big-bang theory of “We'll get great people and innovate!” As long as you look for people who are great problem solvers, you'll be ok. Let me know what you do.

4 thoughts on “How Do You Hire for Innovation?”

  1. A great post. Too often people will say “innovative” but then either mean or merely accept “creative” which isn’t quite the same.

    Perhaps a slight distinction, but an important one.

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  4. Vasanthakumar PV

    Excellent way of finding Innovators. The persons, who are thinking differently and creatively, are innovators. Learning from the mistake and performing the job with passion are qualities of innovators.

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