It’s not too difficult to detect an applicant’s general competence level based on their job experience, their résumé, their interview skills. But if you’re hiring for a position which will call for the employee to speak up in meetings and hopefully offer fresh ideas that you haven’t heard a thousand times before, and to make you see your products and systems in ways that defy groupthink, how do you actually test their creativity?
What you don’t want to do is hurl those painful if-you-were-a-tree-what-would-it-be questions at them during the interview itself. These are more tests of reaction time than real creativity (and are difficult to deliver with a straight face). The best approach is to leave a person in a quiet environment, with no spontaneous presentation skills required. This is where a pen and paper step in with a timed exercise that reveals whether that apparent gem sitting across from you actually has something upstairs that can bring real “Aha!” moments to your projects.
Here are some sample questions you could present to an applicant, allowing them no more than three minutes per; just enough to apply the smallest bit of time pressure. The key is to force them not to think fast, but unusually.
• Describe two ideas for an unusual birthday party for a 30-year-old man.
• If they had to replace “The Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem with a song that was written in the last 50 years, what would be a good candidate?
• Invent a silly new corporate buzzword, and describe what it means.
• The commissioner of baseball asks you for two new ideas to improve the game. What are they?
• How would you make a cemetery a less depressing place to be, yet still remain respectful?
• You’re starting a running shoe business tomorrow. What interesting name should you give it?
• Which fashion trend from before the 20th century is most likely to make a comeback, and why?
• You're so devoted to innovation at your restaurant that you've even decided to come up with a new look and feel for the traditional menu format. What will customers see when it's handed to them?
• A network TV executive wants to produce yet another primetime drama about lawyers, but with a new twist. What twist would you apply?
• You come to work one day and see that the owners of the building have painted the entire thing bright yellow. What good reason might they have to do this?