Top Posts of 2012: 9 Interview Questions for Finding Innovative Leaders

Over the next week, we’re going to take a quick trip down memory lane and check out the posts you guys read and shared the most. So sit back, grab some coffee, and enjoy the year’s best Mojo according to you, my esteemed readers.

Most interviews are pretty boring, so it stands to reason that most interview questions are also boring. There are certainly exceptions, of course, but by and large interview questions are some of the most predictable and inane questions we ever ask other humans. Seriously, you’d almost have to be an idiot not to answer some of these brain-busters correctly:

Are you a team player? What are they going to say? No?

Tell us about your attitude. If they’re dumb enough to say they have an awful attitude, hate people, and occasionally kick cute puppies, you don’t have to hire them. But most folks aren’t dumb enough to give you anything other than what you want to hear.

What are your leadership strengths? Really? You both know what the candidate’s going to say. He encourages collaboration. She likes to empower her employees. He’s an “innovative problem-solver.” She happens to have just the right mix of “big-picture thinking and attention to detail.”

What are your weaknesses? Guess what–I have flaws. What are they? Oh, I don’t know. I sing in the shower. Sometimes I spend too much time volunteering. Occasionally I’ll hit someone with my car…”

And somehow, through questions like that we’re hoping to discover whether this person is truly innovative, imaginative, creative, and so on. So we’ve got to think about framing leadership interviews differently. I’m actually in favor of scrapping traditional interview formats altogether, but that’s for a different post. Most of us still have to think of ways to ask questions and spark discussions that really help us get to know that person sitting across from us that we just met. Perhaps if nothing else, example interview questions like the below might help get your creative juices going…

1. What wild cards do you see emerging in our industry that could pose a threat to our business? What would you do about them?

2. If you had one month and $25,000 of budget space to tackle any project your little heart desired, what would you do?

3. What situations or environments seem to make you most creative?

4. If you had ten minutes to talk with CEOs across our industry, what would you challenge them to do differently?

5. Tell me about a time you attempted to solve a problem with a completely unorthodox approach. What was the problem, what was your approach, and how did it work out?

6. In concrete terms, please explain the last creative idea you had to improve your own work performance or that of your team.

7. What are some specific things that your organization changed and/or implemented as a result of your ideas or ideas generated by a team you led?

8. What previous professional failure are you most proud of? Why?

9. Say you’ve come up with a crazy idea that you think could have a huge, positive impact on your organization. You pitch your idea to your executive team, but they don’t buy what you’re selling. What do you do? Can you give us an example of a time you did this?

Obviously these aren’t terribly profound. (I mean, really–if I can think of stuff like this, almost anyone can.) I just think we need to ask more targeted questions if innovation–or any other quality, for that matter–is something that’s important to us. If nothing else, try changing up the phrasing or wording in your current questions. Try to nudge the candidate off-balance a little bit. After all, the life of a leader is lived off-balance, right? See how they can adjust to questions they might not have anticipated. Press them for specifics if necessary. The bottom line is that with interviews, like many other things, you’ll only get what you ask for. So ask for more.

9 thoughts on “Top Posts of 2012: 9 Interview Questions for Finding Innovative Leaders

  • Great post,and I agree. Often the way traditional interviews are designed we just hear the same old answers. Change it up, focus on what we really want to know and don’t waste your time asking questions with no “meat” or purpose. Thanks for sharing!

    • I know, right? Right up there with “Why are you the best person for this position?” How the heck would they know if they’re the best for the position? How could they possibly know how to rate themselves against people they’ve not met? Yikes.

  • I am COMPLETELY with you on this. I create customized interview questions for my clients for this very reason. I mean, seriously! What IS the point of asking questions that candidates are expecting and can memorize and deliver with robotic accuracy? You want a leader or executive that can think on their feet and respond to the unexpected with a certain level of finesse.

  • It’s definitely easy to appreciate your frustration with those initial mindless questions…almost as frustrating as dealing with the smugness that so many HR people and supervisors seem to deliver these questions.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m not prepared to answer all of your 2nd set of questions. Those were good! Thanks for forcing me to think through some critical things more.

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