Swarm Vision Innovation Talent Blog

How to Use Interviews to Confirm Candidates’ Innovation Potential

Posted by Suzan Briganti on Jan 17, 2019 6:13:50 PM
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When you find candidates who score in the desired Swarm Innovation Profiler range, use interviews to dig deeper into their motivations and behavior patterns. To prepare for such interviews, be sure to study this easy guide to the Eight Innovation Skills. Candidates don’t need to (and rarely will) have all of the eight skills and 26 sub-clusters. Look for candidates whose innovation skills can strengthen the team they will be joining.

And keep in mind that Interviews alone are not sufficient for diagnosing a candidate’s innovation skills. Why? Because:

  1. There are too many innovation skills (8 skill clusters made up of 26 sub-clusters) to explore in an interview. Whereas in just 15-20 minutes, you can assess all of these skills using the Swarm Innovation Profiler.
  2. Interviewers vary in their ability to detect innovation skills and interpret answers. Whereas the Swarm Innovation Profiler is consistent and lets you compare candidates, apples-to-apples.


The Eight Innovation Skills

Here is an overview of the Eight Innovation Skills that the Swarm Innovation Profiler measures:

8 Skills

Interview Questions for Hiring Innovators

Here are some examples of questions you can use to delve into and confirm the Eight Innovation Skills when interviewing candidates. Use these questions to explore their strengths and weaknesses as revealed by their Swarm Innovation Profiler scores:



Tell me about a time when you initiated a new project at work [in your community or at school]. What was it, and how did you go about getting it started?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who can describe several times (a pattern) of initiating projects. Innovators tend to “beg forgiveness rather than ask permission.”

Persistence: Tell me about a time when you faced repeated failure or resistance to something you were trying to do. How did you react? What did you learn?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who is highly persistent in the face of challenges, yet who also learns from set-backs. Innovators need to be persistent in pursuing their vision, yet flexible about how to get there.

Intensity: Tell me about a time when you encountered a new concept or subject that you knew nothing about. What did you do?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate with broad curiosity who explores new topics on his own initiative and with great intensity, whether in a book, online course or seeking knowledge from others. Innovators dig deep to understand a problem and are often “autodidacts” (self-teaching).



Boundary Breaking: Can you share a story about a time when you saw a problem differently than your peers or your manager, and how that lead to a new opportunity or a novel solution?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who has an original point of view on familiar topics. If he/she doesn’t find a receptive ear for his ideas, he will try another path, even if that means breaking with hierarchy or conventional wisdom (e.g. Not, “Do it this way because we always do it this way!")

Thriving in Uncertainty: Have you ever been asked to take on a project where the requirements were not well-defined? How did you handle that? Did you like it or hate it?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who thrives on ambiguity. She can break the unknown down into bite-sized problems or hypotheses and make progress, without the need for a lot of structure or supervision. In fact, she may thrive in it.

Self-Confidence: When you take on a new project or assignment, do you believe that circumstances or your own efforts play a greater part in the outcomes?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate with a strong dose of self-confidence, who believes in her own “agency.” Yet innovators need to have the self- and situational- awareness to be flexible in changing circumstances.


Tell me about something new and interesting you read about recently. How do you keep abreast of new trends?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate with “a nose for the new.” When reading an article, they will seize on the new, interesting nugget in it, and explore it on their own steam.

Uncommon Connections: Can you describe a time when you put two things together that maybe didn’t appear to other people like they belonged? What was the result?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate with a somewhat “looser mental filter” than average. They can see a novel use for an emerging technology (e.g. how could bar code scanners be used for something other than grocery check-out and tracking lost luggage?). Or how disparate stakeholders could solve a problem for each other (e.g. Who else could benefit from pets who are left alone at home all day?).

Growth Mindset
: Can you tell me about a time when you got a poorer grade in school than you wanted, a lesser performance review at work, or lost a game in sports? How did you process that?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who sees himself as a lifelong learner, learning from mistakes and from experience — versus being defeated, or avoiding challenges where success is not guaranteed.




Relating: Can you describe your circle of friends to me? What draws you to them? (no names needed!)

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who enjoys and thrives when interacting with diverse groups. She respects and finds it stimulating to interact with people with different life experiences and points of view, and has a well-developed sense of empathy for others as a result. She can easily modify her approach for different audiences.

Persuasion: Tell me when you had to convince your boss to go in a different direction than they first planned. How did you go about influencing them?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who is highly persuasive. She can marshal passion, facts and stories to move her audience.


Social Intelligence: Can you explain how [your industry] or [your company] is structured? Who are the most influential people or organizations in [your industry] or [your company]?

Interpreting Responses: Look for a candidate who has awareness of both official and unofficial influencers in an organization or industry. For example, the CEO or President of your company is the official boss, but are there opinion leaders in the industry who are gaining influence, whether bloggers, upstarts or critics?




360-Degree Involvement: When you’re working on some aspect of a project, do you prefer to focus on that? To what extent do you understand the rest of the aspects of the project? How do you learn about them? Can you give me any examples of this?

Interpreting Responses: Look for “T-shaped” candidates, with a deep expertise in their domain but also broad curiosity and awareness about the other domains involved in the project. This is because on agile or innovation teams, everyone needs to be able to anticipate the effects of their work on others and take on overflow tasks.

Financial Orientation:
When you get a pile of mail at home, what is your reaction? Do you look forward to paying bills and tracking your finances? How do you feel about the wealth that successful entrepreneurs or athletes can make?

Interpreting Responses: Look for candidates who enjoy the subject of money and finances, rather than dreading it, or seeing it as “someone else’s job.” They should be excited to make money for their firms, partners and themselves because innovations have to generate a profit to be successful.




Information Capacity: Tell me about something you have read or learned recently – whether related to work or not. Can you recall the source, and the top 1-3 points it made?

Interpreting Responses: Look for candidates with a thirst for knowledge, the ability to retain it and put it to use.

Pattern Recognition: Thinking about a very successful new product or company (e.g. Uber, AirBnB, Tesla), can you think of a few trends that enabled them to be successful? (They could be technologies, cultural or societal trends, or changing consumer expectations?)

Interpreting Responses: Look for candidates with strong external awareness beyond their silo or industry. Innovators tend to see emerging patterns and frameworks before others do.





Resourcefulness: Tell me about a time when you had to get something done and didn’t have the resources. How did you approach it?

Interpreting Responses: Look for candidates who are not intimidated by lack of resources. Innovators can make something out of nearly nothing.

Adaptability: Can you share a story about a time when you were going down a path and were blocked, or didn’t get the results you expected? Were you able to change course, or did you abandon the project? Why?

Interpreting Responses: Innovators hold their vision tightly but are flexible about how to get there. Knowing when to pivot or stay the course is extremely difficult, and a mark of the most successful innovators.





Making Others’ Lives Better:

Tell me about an observation you have had about an unmet customer need. How did you get this insight, and how did you go about solving for this unmet need?

Interpreting Responses: Look for candidates who are obsessed with finding unmet needs and delivering great customer experiences. The best innovations are inspired by an innovator who observes how something could be easier, better, or more delightful. User-centered innovations tend to be more successful because they are based on human insights.

Making the World Better: What is the sort of “higher purpose” in your work? How do you want to leave the world a better place?

Interpreting Responses: Innovation is difficult, so it is important that the candidate have a clear higher purpose that can sustain him or her. Most innovators believe that their creations make the world better in some meaningful way.


These are just a few questions designed to elicit real-life stories from your candidate interviews to confirm their innovation strengths. It is extremely rare for a candidate to excel in all of the eight skills. Individual employee development experiences and training can advance these skills over time, if the candidate is motivated.

Try to match the candidate with the rest of the team, so his/her skills increase the team’s average innovation score and coverage of the Eight Innovation Skills. And remember, the further from the known business and established procedures the candidate will work, the more he/she will need these Eight Innovation Skills, and the higher their Swarm Innovation score should be.

Topics: innovation talent, recruitment, corporate innovation, organization transformation, culture of innovation, talent acquisition