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Showing Creativity to Hiring Managers

Imagine you're being interviewed for a position as a product manager at a prestigious software company. Fortunately, you've done your homework. You researched the company, know the industry and are confident you'd be a good fit for the position. But instead of being asked to discuss these routine subjects, the hiring manager throws a curve and asks you to design a full-page newspaper ad about yourself, then show it to him.

This type of scenario, in which job seekers are taken by surprise, occurs more often than you might think. No matter how much you prepare, you can't anticipate every question or challenge. Don't panic, though. Advance research and practice is still the best way to prepare for interviews, so keep doing your homework. Learn as much as you can about the company and its products, as well as general trends affecting the industry, before meeting with hiring managers.

But to truly excel at the unexpected in interviews, you must go a step further and spend time developing your creative talents. Imagination is the spark that interviewers really seek in candidates. As Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." This couldn't be more true today. Says John Scully, the former CEO of Apple Computer, "Innovation has never come through bureaucracy and hierarchy. It has always come from individuals."

Connecting with your creative core will increase your chances of landing the job you want since you'll be better equipped to provide excellent, if not exemplary, responses to unexpected interview questions. It also will help you to excel in your new position. To learn how imaginative you are, take the accompanying quiz, then use the instructions that follow to score yourself.

Boost Your Creativity

If your score is low, don't be discouraged. With practice, you can train yourself to be a more original thinker. Start by applying these techniques.

Periodically revisit your core values. Determine which have changed and which need to be changed. Gain insight and support by asking people you admire about major revisions in their thinking and behavior over the years.

Take inventory of your creativity. Write down the major problems you faced and the methods you used to solve them. Once you've identified your primary approach to solving problems, research alternative methods. Vow to apply one every other week.

Use metaphors. Management guru Warren Bennis observed, "If I were to give off-the-cuff advice to anyone seeking to institute change, I would ask, 'How clear is your metaphor?'" Whether you're seeking a new position or implementing changes within your company, you must persuade others to accept you and your ideas. Learning to express yourself through metaphors will serve you well. (For example, Peter Silas, former CEO of Philips Petroleum observed, "We can no longer wait for the storm to pass. We must learn to work in the rain.")

Consider the consequences. Jumping from one thing to another is the mark of a creative person. Eventually, the chaos must be tamed, but going in a dozen directions at once illustrates an ability to think quickly and divergently. If your thinking tends to follow a lock-step progression, force yourself to stop periodically and ask, "What would happen if we were to do things differently?"

Manage your contacts. It's been said that the person with the fattest Rolodex wins. In a wide variety of business situations, including the hiring process, forming strategic alliances can be the deal-maker. Think beyond the moment. Consider who can assist you (and whom you can help in return) as you move toward your goals.

Read, read, read. Experts say that at least 35% of what you read should be about unrelated fields. Being knowledgeable about areas outside of your work is a hallmark of highly creative people, who often make associations between disparate fields. This may be why Peter Drucker once advised a young man who had asked him for advice on how to excel as a manager, "Learn to play the violin."

Consult with many different sources when contemplating issues affecting your small corner of the world,. Consider the museum curators who wanted to know which exhibits were most popular without having to pay for a survey of museum visitors. A janitor who overheard their discussion gave them their answer. Look for the areas where the carpeting is most worn and you'll find the most enjoyable exhibits, he said.

Seek adventure. To accept and enjoy the challenge of change, you may have to become a more adventurous person. If you're truly interested in developing your creative potential, make a commitment to try something new at least once a week. Read the newspaper to learn about local events, take classes, find a hobby, visit the science center or art gallery or attend a lecture. Discuss with a trusted friend or relative the changes you observe about yourself as you undertake new ventures.

There's an old saying, "When you're through changing, you're through." Observe others at home or in your office or neighborhood. Who seems to be adapting well to changing circumstances? Make a date to meet with that person and learn more about their attitudes and beliefs. By becoming more optimistic, you may live longer, since studies show that people who are optimistic about change have lower stress levels than those who resist it.

Cultivate all your acquaintances. Work relationships are seldom static. Depending on the project or task, you'll interact with different groups in various ways. Treating receptionists and assistants with the same respect as a human resources manager who's about to interview you may affect your job prospects more than you realize. If you form all your work relationships only to benefit yourself, your motives soon will become transparent. Treat others the way you'd like to be treated. The benefits of adhering to this "golden rule" are immeasurable.

Analyze yourself. If you checked all the "a" answers in the accompanying quiz, your psyche may wish to cling to orderly arrangements. But life isn't orderly. Periodically step outside your neat, familiar and well-organized life and purposely experience mental or physical chaos long enough to let the seeds of these recommendations begin to germinate.

Force yourself to try a new hair or clothing style. Add new words to your vocabulary or cultivate an atypical friend. Immerse yourself in history, mystery, poetry or fantasy for two weeks. Visit a new part of town or take a trip to a place you never expected to see. Learn how bagels or sushi are made, talk to a child, bake bread or break habits. In short, force yourself to have experiences that are jarring enough to shake loose any plaque forming on your brain cells.

Cloaked in Imagination

Trish Rintels, a Charlottesville, Va.-based film producer, who helped produce the films, "Switch" and "Blind Date," advises candidates to wrap themselves in a cloak of imaginative thinking when communicating with employers.

"No matter what the circumstances, the creative person will stand out," she says. What sets you apart may be humor, memorable phrases, disparate experiences or out-of-the-box thinking. But by showing you can generate many innovative ideas quickly, you'll excel in your current job or while interviewing for a new one.

-- Dr. Caroselli, a corporate trainer and writer in Rochester, N.Y., is the author of 36 books on business topics, including "Quick Wits" (1998, HRD Press).

Test Your Creativity

Creative candidates always seem to make lasting impressions on interviews and receive offers following the meetings. Taking the accompanying quiz can help you determine how imaginative you're or if your skills need improvement.

As honestly as possible, select the response to each question that best reflects your typical behavior in similar circumstances.

  1. When it comes to basic beliefs:


    1. I haven't changed mine in the past 10 years.

    2. I periodically undergo shifts in my basic philosophy of life.


  2. When it comes to problem-solving:


    1. I have developed a system that works.

    2. I'm always experimenting with new approaches.


  3. When it comes to communicating with others:


    1. I tend to "tell it like it's ."

    2. I often use metaphors to convey my concepts.


  4. When it comes to expressing myself:


    1. I state my ideas in a logical manner, with points arranged sequentially.

    2. I frequently jump from one thing to another.


  5. When it comes to job expectations:


    1. I work hard to meet the expectations others have of me.

    2. I move beyond expectations to form strategic alliances.


  6. When it comes to decision-making:


    1. I tend to concentrate on the facts at hand.

    2. I often bring in seemingly unrelated information.


  7. When it comes to acquiring new knowledge:


    1. I obtain most of it from "tried-and-true" sources.

    2. I turn to a wide variety of outside and non-traditional sources.


  8. When it comes to new situations:


    1. I prefer to work in circumstances that are familiar to me.

    2. I accept and enjoy the challenge of change.


  9. When it comes to viewing a new project:


    1. I believe most work situations have a simple set of relationships.

    2. I believe there are multiple cultures involved and can move in and out of them with ease.


  10. Which of the following do you prefer?

Scoring Yourself

If you answered "b" to seven or more questions, commend yourself for your ability to think outside the box. Of course, some problems can only be solved by using a scientific, linear approach. However, if you were suddenly asked to create a full-page ad extolling your virtues, you'll need more than convergent thoughts. Ideally, you're able to depend on and switch between logical and imaginative thinking styles depending on the situation.

If you answered "b" to four to six questions, you're likely in the "average" category for creativity. Three or fewer "b" answers suggests that you need to rediscover the creativity you were born with and once enjoyed but probably haven't tapped for years

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