5 things to look for when you’re hiring for innovation

With innovative digital companies bringing new business models and fierce competition to nearly every industry from telecoms to transport, traditional companies are under pressure to step up innovation if they are to grow and remain relevant. But to do so, they’ll need to attract innovative employees into their organisations and give these innovators the space and resources they need to do what they do best.

As companies recruit innovators, it is important to remember that innovation is not necessarily the same thing as invention. Where invention is a flower – nurtured through a careful process and often driven by R&D – innovation is a weed that takes root and sprouts in unpredictable ways. There may be an element of invention in innovation, but it is as often about clever application of an existing technology or idea as it is about creating a completely new invention. Most innovation is seen in the realm of start-ups, where there is no existing infrastructure, culture or business to change. The start-up innovator may be different to the corporate innovator and the challenge is identifying the qualities that make innovators CVs different to operational managers. With that in mind, here are some qualities to look for when hiring for innovation.

1. Eclectic CVs
Where the inventor is usually a specialist who has spent years developing expertise in a specific domain, the innovator is often a restless spirit who has flitted between different industries and disciplines in search of stimulation. He or she might be as excited by art, sociology or anthropology as by technology or business management, and bring a CV with experience in fields as diverse as marketing, financing, and sales.

This multidisciplinary experience gives the innovator a different perspective on the world. Unlike the proverbial carpenter with a hammer who sees every problem as a nail, the innovator can use many different tools and experiences to address a business opportunity or challenge.

Look for CVs with a couple of career changes or a difference between what was originally studied to what they are doing in practice.

2. Lateral thinking
This one sounds obvious, but an innovator looks at problems and their solutions in a lateral and creative manner. He or she will look at the world through a range of different lenses, able to connect dots between ideas and concepts that don’t have any obvious connection to each other.

But in addition to thinking differently about the world, the innovator knows how to translate thoughts into action. That said, the innovator might be challenging for some co-workers and managers because he or she may stray outside the job description or ignore the established business processes.

Looks for CVs with multiple job roles within a business or a non-standard role i.e. an attempt by the business to make this person “fit” into a corporate structure.

3. A playful willingness to experiment
An innovator will often be a person with a track record of many small failures as well as a few spectacular successes. He or she cannot be afraid to fail – instead, the innovator sees every failed experiment as a stepping-stone towards eventual success. To innovate, an innovator must be willing to try different approaches and tools until something works.

Their CVs will often include failed projects or businesses. When asked about what they learned from their failures, an innovative person will speak at length about the insights they have gained.

4. Humility and social skills
Thanks to Steve Jobs, we have a stereotype of the business innovator as being a tyrant who rails at underlings when they fail to understand or execute his or her vision. However, in most cases innovators are not running the business. Innovators must have outstanding social skills so that they can sell innovation in business cultures that are often hostile to new ideas. Indeed, the best innovators will have the charisma, enthusiasm and persuasiveness to get everyone in the building excited about spreading new ideas through the organisation.

Look for CVs that show positions of supporting strong leaders, i.e. people who were chosen by previous leaders to drive projects or change management initiatives.

5. A youthful outlook
An innovator needs to be comfortable with rapid change and constant challenges to the status quo. While often we consider youthfulness to be the domain of the young, it’s not just about age – it’s about curiosity, adaptability, and a propensity to get excited by novelty and new thinking.



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