By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman
Engineers are naturally curious and resourceful problem-solvers who can handle most assignments with ease. But these days, managers are demanding even greater levels of creativity, due, in part, to the growth of new specialties such as robotics, 3D printing and the “Internet of Things.”
So how can engineering managers screen candidates for superior levels of creativity during the hiring process? It takes planning, and a carefully crafted process, to identify and charm creative engineers who often have their choice of assignments. Here are four ways to attract and select engineers with a penchant for creativity.
Determine How Much Creativity You Really Need
Before you create a hiring profile, reflect on how much creativity you really need, advised Jeffrey Baumgartner, a creativity expert, trainer and author. “Because a lot of companies don’t want nearly as much creativity as they claim,” he said.
Baumgartner referenced a 2010 study by Cornell University where researchers found that people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. So, requesting more creativity than you really need may result in incompatible hires who attempt to win favor for “far out” ideas that don’t fit your firm’s culture or needs.
“Do you just want to make a few incremental improvements or are you looking to completely redesign a product?” Baumgartner asks. “Understanding the problems that need to be solved can help you ask the right questions and find someone with an appropriate level of creativity.”
Design a Creative Hiring Process
If your job description is boring and your interviewing process is dull, convincing a highly creative engineer to join your team won’t be easy.
As Xander Hough notes, creative people don’t want a job; they want opportunities to create. When designing roles or writing enticing copy about a vacancy, ensure you can clearly articulate the opportunity or opportunities to create.
Engage your team in the hiring process so everyone involved can assess the creative chemistry. Kicking around real-world problems and solutions allows prospective teammates to learn about each other’s creative abilities and methodologies. It also stimulates emotions and intrigues the candidate by creating an air of excitement for your project.
Look for Traits and Experience that Drive Creativity
Creative people have a few things in common, according to Baumgartner. First, the engineers who excel in his creativity workshop are open to new ideas, and are tolerant and avid learners. But because they’re engineers, they also exhibit disciplined thinking processes and logical reasoning.
To identify professionals who engage in whole brain thinking, pose a problem and ask the candidate to walk you through their approach.
“I don’t recommend brainteasers or puzzles for evaluating creativity because there’s typically only one answer to the problem,” Baumgartner said. “Forcing a candidate to come up with the right answer won’t demonstrate divergent thinking, let alone creativity.”
“Asking for a guided tour is more meaningful,” he added, “because it not only gives you the opportunity to see how the candidate thinks, but to see if their creative process is sound and repeatable.”
A study published by the American Psychological Association suggests that people with international exposure and diverse work experience tend to be more creative. Researchers concluded that experiencing diverse perspectives and cultures, and adapting to cross-cultural challenges, stretches your mind in ways that can be applied to real-world situations.
If you’re looking to hire a creative engineer, the best question you might ask could be: Have you lived abroad? Or, tell me about a problem that you’ve solved by applying your training and experience in a unique or unusual way.
Don’t limit yourself by embracing a traditional view of what the ideal engineer looks or acts like. Highly creative types may have backgrounds, thought processes or funny bones that differ from the rest of your team. Experts insist that being open-minded is critical to hiring and retaining outside-the-box thinkers. Plus, to thrive and succeed, creative engineers need a supportive, tolerant manager who will champion their ideas.
Baumgartner summed it up by saying, “Creating an open and diverse culture that encourages people to step outside the box will not only help you attract creative professionals, it will encourage them to join your team.”
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