What has been your most creative achievement at work?

Why Ask This Question?

Creativity in this case has nothing to do with ''artsy'' stuff or candidates' needs for aesthetic satisfaction at work. Instead, it centers around coming up with unique solutions to existing challenges that face companies every day. Individuals with penchants for reframing problems and customizing solutions deserve a special place in your organization. The question is, How do you make people feel comfortable discussing their discoveries when cultural and personal barriers get in the way? After all, lots of candidates will equate discussing their achievements with bragging about themselves.

Analyzing the Response

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. A prudent way to get candidates to open up to you regarding the creative solutions they've offered their past employers is to apply a technique from the behavioral psychology realm called appropriate sharing. Appropriate sharing is a therapeutic technique to overcome ''blocking'' tendencies where respondents have difficulty answering questions that make them personally or culturally uncomfortable. The premise of the technique lies in sharing personal anecdotes that show the candidate that you've been there, too. Once that mutual level of understanding is established, candidates will hopefully feel more at ease exchanging personal information about themselves.

Here's an example of an introduction into this sharing technique: ''Marlene, one of the things we value most in our company is people who look at problems more creatively and try to find solutions to issues that impede our growth. When I originally interviewed here, the employer asked me how creatively I solved problems at work. Well, I didn't quite understand what she meant until after the interview was over. And then I kicked myself for not being able to give her an answer on the spot. But I'd like you to think about one problem—no matter how minor it might seem—that slowed down your department or created extra work with very little payoff. Then tell me what you did to make the situation better. Or even if you did nothing, tell me what you possibly could have done to change the situation.''

Obviously there's no need to go overboard in creating a comfortable environment to encourage open responses. After all, you don't want to coddle the candidate. Still, painting a picture of how you responded to the question—for example, how you ordered Post-It notes to replace fax cover sheets—when it was asked of you during a past interview should allay a shy candidate's fears about revealing creative achievements that maximized the work flow.

Unfortunately, many candidates don't even realize the positive impact of their actions. Although your role in the interview process certainly isn't to build strangers' self-esteem, it's certainly exciting to watch the lights go on as candidates play out their past achievements before your very eyes.

Swapping tales about creative achievements might be an excellent place to start when dealing with self-effacing individuals.

What would your current supervisors say makes you most valuable to them?

Why Ask This Question?

Your final query in this section should focus on mapping out the direct benefits of candidates' actions. In the preceding examples, you've probed individuals' impact on the company or department via increased revenues, decreased operating expenses, or time saved. An alternative lies in questioning interviewees' impact on their bosses. Although senior managerial and professional/technical candidates will typically be able to affect an organization's bottom line via the breath and scope of their responsibilities, lower-level employees might feel intimidated at having to address such grand and global issues. Provide them with an alternative by setting their sights on a much more definable and concrete result—namely, making their bosses' lives easier.

Analyzing the Response

How are bosses' lives made easier? Well, for the typical administrative support or light industrial worker, aiming to please a supervisor could very well define the individual's overriding career philosophy. After all, junior-level employees typically don't see their contributions recognized in the monthly newsletter or on the company's 10Q statement. Still, having relieved the boss of time-consuming tasks or having electronically organized a former paper-trail system might have been the primary accolade on the candidate's last performance appraisal.

How to Get More Mileage out of the Question. As a matter of fact, the key to generating a realistic response centers on the performance evaluation process. If a candidate has difficulty articulating how her boss's job was made easier, then question what the boss focused on during the last performance review. Namely, the sections entitled ''Strengths'' and ''Areas for Development'' target tasks that the individual already performs particularly well or should focus on developing to an even greater degree. Similarly, question tasks in which the individual is expected to train coworkers. If an employee assumes quasi-supervisory responsibilities even for very limited projects, that's usually enough to lighten the supervisor's workload.

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