One of the most critical parts of becoming a successfully innovative company, is hiring the right employees to innovate. Though in today’s competitive job marketplace, startups and established organizations alike are competing to employ the next great minds and it can be difficult to compete for the best candidates. In this situation, what’s the best way to hire for innovation at your organization?
Attracting the right candidates
The first step of the hiring process is finding the right candidates and marketing your organization to appeal to them.
- The hiring process is as much about presenting your organization as it is about having candidates present themselves to you, so make sure to market yourself effectively. Any interaction you have with prospective employees should send the signal that your organization will be a place where innovation is valued. This includes your website, social media, and job descriptions. Make sure you’re persuasively presenting your organization’s brand, mission, culture, and values.
- Speaking of the job description, this content should clearly establish that your organization is made up of innovators, creators, and risk takers. Communicate that you’re looking for people who aren’t afraid to tackle large problems and speak up where they see opportunities. The goal is to receive responses from candidates who will be excited by the opportunity to work in this type of environment.
- Your current employees can be incredibly valuable while looking for new candidates. To help identify innovative referrals, consider the history of the employee who referred that candidate. Is he or she innovative in their day-to-day role? Are they excited to solve problems and take leadership roles? How does this employee know the candidate? Answering these questions about your current employee can help inform potential shared qualities in the referred candidate.
- Unfortunately, you may not always meet the perfect candidate at the right time. If you meet someone you think can help your company innovate, see if you can find a role for them at that time. Of course that’s not always possible, so make sure to stay in touch with this candidate. That way when the right role comes along, you can reach out.
Evaluating candidates for innovation
While it’s not always crystal clear if someone is an innovator upon first introduction, there are certain qualities you can look for that may be indicative.
- Willingness to try new things - Innovators tend to get bored when focused on one thing too long so look for candidates who are open to trying new things. For example, reading the “interests” section of a candidate’s resume can shed light on what experiences they’re willing to try. Similarly, any travel or experienceabroad can indicate excitement for new experiences.
- Excitement for solving problems - At the heart of innovation is the ability to see problems and work to solve them. Look for candidates who want to fall in love with your customers' problems and will actively try to solve them. For example, you may ask the candidate about a time when they noticed a big problem and how they solved it. You could also ask the candidate to propose a solution to a problem your organization is currently facing.
- Tolerance for ambiguity - The solution to big problems are almost never clear (otherwise anyone could solve them!). Innovators need to be comfortable working with ambiguity and not having a clear process to reach the solution. Make sure to ask clients how they would handle potentially ambiguous situations, like dealing with limited data or resources.
- Passion for learning and betterment - Being innovative is very often synonymous with persistent learning. Inquire about candidates’ learning strategies by asking what the last skill they learned was and how they learned it, or what book they’ve last read.
- Highly-skilled - You should look for skill in any of the candidates you evaluate. To look for creativity or innovation, require prior samples of work (if applicable) or ask the candidate to complete tests like case studies or coding exercises.
Setting new hires up for success
Once you’ve hired the perfect candidate, it’s critical to set them up for success in your organization.
- Where possible, try to balance skills across teams. For example, if your new hire is highly expressive and innovative, try to pair that person with a coworker whose strong point is planning or organizing. Not only does this balance encourage innovation, but it helps bring innovation to fruition for maximum benefit to the organization.
- Communicate effectively around how much creativity and innovation is expected out of this role. Should this person plan to reinvent the wheel or will they be innovating incrementally? Setting expectations upfront will set the tone for the work completed.
- Create an environment in which innovators can innovate freely. Nurturing an innovation culture is incredibly important because it allows employees to innovate safely and effectively, bringing greater value to the organization.
Hiring for innovation isn’t always easy, but it provides value to the organization by increasing the potential for better products, design, and even operational efficiencies. Attract innovative candidates by marketing your company effectively. Evaluate candidates for key indicators of innovation, and lastly, set new hires up for success by creating an innovative work culture.