Creative thinking isn’t necessarily important, or even welcome, in many jobs. Think about manual labor, simple jobs in retail stores, or even about entry level positions in big corporations, companies that have processes in place for everything. The last thing they want from you is to do things in your own way, to challenge the status quo.

Maybe that’s why they expect all applicants to have a degree from University, because most schools and colleges kill creative thinking in young people. Once you are done with cramming for your last exam, following the instructions, learning things word to word, not thinking creatively, and not questioning things, has actually become a habit for you. You are ready for a job in a big corporation :).

In some places and some jobs, however, creative thinking is highly appreciated, or even necessary. Jobs in advertising agencies, positions in small startups, any jobs in design or marketing. At the end of the day, they can ask you questions that test your ability to think creatively also in places where no creative thinking is needed. Just because HR people are often far from the reality of the workplace, and may ask you fancy questions that have nothing to do with the reality of the job.

Summarized and underlined, the chances are quite high that you will get some of these questions in your interview. Let’s have a look at them right now.

 

Tell us about a time when you demonstrated creative thinking at work, or at school

This is a behavioral question, and you should talk about a situation the actually happened. Or you can make something up, of course. As long as it sounds credible, they have no way to find out that it is just a story. But if you make something up, you should have an answer ready for possible follow-up questions.

What situations can you talk about? For example:

  • You suggested an improvement to some process or procedure that was in place for years, and nobody else in the company challenged it. They gave you a green light, you applied your changes, and as a result the productivity improved.
  • You presented a unique point of view on a certain project, or you shared some interesting idea in the team meeting, something that made other people puzzled. Basically you challenged them intellectually.
  • At school, you were not afraid to raise your hand when you didn’t agree with something the professor was saying. Other students just quietly sat on their places, writing down the lecture, word to word. But you decided to challenge the authority, because with your creative mind you saw that maybe something was not correct–or at least it was worth to discuss it with the lecturer.

Anything you narrate, try to tell your story to the end. Use numbers or dates, they give your words more credibility. And if you can, talk about a situation that had a happy ending–when your creative thinking actually helped your employer to achieve better results, or to make some important decision.

What is the most innovative idea that you’ve implemented in the workplace?

Some companies strive for constant innovation. This is true especially in technology, where things evolve quickly, and you cannot afford to stay at the same place for a long time–because the others will simply overtake you.

These companies look for managers and engineers who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. People who are never really satisfied with the way things are going, and always try to better them.

I know that this is not an easy question, and if this is your first or second job application, you may struggle to recall any innovative ideas that you implemented in the workplace, or even at school. Let me show you one sample answer (from our eBook for people who try to get a job with Amazon) to help you out:

The most innovative idea I implemented in my last job, and I faced a lot of opposition for it, was shortening the shift for warehouse operators from 8.5 to 7 hours. I felt we needed some competitive edge due to the situation on the job market, and, doing my analysis and questioning the employees, I felt that they could actually be even more productive with the model. Nobody from my superiors liked the idea, because no other company in the field implemented such a model.

But I wanted to give it a shot, I presented my arguments, and eventually manage to get a green light to test it for three months. I set clear KPIs and monitored everything. And while the productivity hasn’t improved, people actually managed the workload, and our company became more popular for job applicants, because many people liked the idea of starting at 6am and ending at 1pm, without a lunch break.

My superiors considered the idea too disruptive, and eventually returned to the old model, which was a bit disappointing to me but I accepted their decision. Anyway, I am looking for a job in a company that supports innovation and isn’t afraid of brave ideas. I believe that your business meets this criteria perfectly…

 

Here is a product (they hand you some simple item from their table–can be a mobile phone, notepad, pen). Try to write down a slogan that characterize it perfectly, something we could use while marketing or selling the product.

In my opinion, simple exercises or role plays–just like this one, are the best way to assess the creativity of job applicants.  Because everyone can boast about their creativity, and smart job seekers can even make up some stories before the start of their interview, stories which demonstrate their creative thinking.

Once you are given a real task, however, once you are supposed to do something you cannot really prepare for in advance (at least not completely, because you do not know the exact task), there’s no place to hide.

Anyway, remember that they do not expect a perfect sales pitch, or a best-ever slogan from you. It takes time to create such things, and sometimes the entire marketing teams work on them. What they expect, however, is that you will actually come up with something–even with a bad slogan. Because if you refused the exercised or didn’t present any ideas, they would not hire you.

Just look at the product, and think about the target customer. Ask yourself what they expect from a perfect pen (notepad, mobile phone). Then try to refer to the USP (unique selling point) in your short slogan. If you can come up with something funny or easily memorable, it’s even better.

I know that this is easier to tell than to do :). But you have no other option than giving it your best shot, and seeing how it turns out…

 

How would you motivate your subordinates to think creatively?

To come up with new ideas is great, but it is an entirely new dimension if you manage to induce creative thinking in your team. All of a sudden, the daily meetings change. People are brimming with ideas, they are not afraid to speak up, and you, as their manager, benefit from the variety of opinions and thoughts.

But how to induce such creativity in employees? Well, in my opinion, you cannot ask a man to give you two apples unless they have some apples. What I try to say here is that once you have dumb people in your team, or, to put it more politely, not the most creative brains in the city, you cannot do much from the position of the manager.

Anyway, you never know what’s inside the people unless you give them a chance to express their thoughts.

Say that you would encourage people, again and again, to share their opinion. You will ask them for feedback on your work, you will ask them to be critical. You won’t lead your team meetings in a despotic style, talking and shouting while others are quietly listening, just like at school…

On the contrary, you will give everyone some room for expression, and you won’t scold people for stupid questions and ideas. Because you do not want them to be afraid to talk.

That’s probably the most you can do motivate your subordinates to think creatively. Whether they come up with some great ideas is another thing, but you can lose nothing giving them an opportunity to do so…

 

Some other interview questions about creative thinking you can face in your job interview

  • Tell me about a time when you challenged the opinion of your superior or supervisor.
  • How do you handle criticism?
  • If you could improve one thing about our company (or our core product) what would you improve?
  • Tell us about a situation when you had to deal with ambiguity.
  • Which artist do you consider the most creative, and why?
  • If you could turn back the clock, and do one thing in your life differently, what would it be?

 

Conclusion, answers to other tricky interview questions

Each child is born creative. Because that’s what distinguishes humans from other animals–our ability to create, to think critically. But our parents, schools, and of course mass media and other influences in our life, often kill the creativity in us, or at least suppress it heavily.

Hence it is not easy to awaken, and to deal with interview questions about creative thinking in your interview. But you’ve read this article, you saw the questions and also some sample answers, and I hope that I’ve awakened at least a bit of creativity in you :). Wish you good luck in the interview, and do not forget to check also the articles below.

Matthew

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Matthew Chulaw
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