Which is the odd one out..?

1. Creativity and innovation lie at the heart of organizational prosperity and longevity.

2. Innovation in product, process, service, etc., is of significant importance during tough economic times.

3. Organizational mission, values, behaviours, competencies, etc., are increasingly focused on creativity and innovation.

4. The people within an organization are the cradle of creative endeavour.

5. Recognising the above... schools, colleges, universities and businesses excel in the identification of creative people...


Answers on a postcard...


In this step the fourth step of the Twelve Step Programme for Organizational Creativity we will draw upon some hints and tips to consider when recruiting creative people.

Step four of the twelve step programme of organizational creativity continues below...

Step 1: Blind monks, elephants and other stories - What is creativity?
Step 2: Reclaiming creativity - Not everything is creative, not every approach is an innovation.
Step 3: Some people are more equal than others - What do creative people look like?
Step 4: Recruiting for creativity - How to assess for creativity.
Step 5: So now what - Are there hints and tips for inducting creative people?
Step 6: Creating teams - A new take on the diversity issue.
Step 7: Cogito ergo sum - Can we help people and teams think more creatively?
Step 8: Creativity is not just about creativity - What else do we need to work on?
Step 9: Pulling teams together - The long march from individual to team creativity.
Step 10: When two tribes go to war - Balancing bureaucracy and brainstorming.
Step 11: Building a culture and climate for creativity - Embedding creativity in the bricks and mortar.

Step 12: Bringing it all together - The leader as orchestra conductor.


Why do companies struggle to identify creative people when recruiting...?

There are many reasons, but the two biggest are probably...

A) They use outmoded, unreliable and not very powerful selection techniques


B) an over-emphasis on competency models and frameworks

Most organizations tend to place the greatest faith in the least effective predictors of performance. They usually adhere strictly to the (un)holy trinity of resumes, references and casual interviews. Unfortunately, none of these techniques have been found to be particularly predictive of how good someone will be at doing a job. Similarly, a lot of faith is placed on previous experience - again, not a very good predictor of future job performance.

How does an emphasis on competency frameworks hamper the recruitment of creative people? The primary reason, is that most competency frameworks contain a full list of all the desirable qualities and behaviours for the perfect employee (the list usually reads along the lines of... excellent interpersonal skills, time management, good team player, strong commercial focus, etc.,). The problem being that very few people will possess all these characteristics anyway (it's a bit like the search for the "organizational superman") and that many of the most commonly sought executive traits run counter to the common traits of creative people (please refer to step 3 of these posts).

OK! So what can organizations do to identify creative people?

To answer this, I will relate to the most common tools for recruitment and suggest how they can be focused on identifying creative potential and what pitfalls to avoid.

1. Resumes

The first major issue when using resumes to recruit, is to make sure that high quality (but perhaps unusual) candidates are not filtered out because they possess a non-traditional background. In many organizations there will be a tendency to filter aggressively, so that fewer people are put through expensive interview or assessment center processes. In doing so, people with esoteric, maverick or unusual backgrounds will be discarded. For example, it might be that a specific professional qualification is deemed essential or that the candidate has a minimum number of years experience in the same or similar role. Given that creative people often take unusual career choices or have managed their careers in ways that are different to the norm - a fantastic potential employee might be deemed unsuitable because they don't "fit the mould".

Tip: Don't discard creative talent at the resume screening stage...

2. References

To be honest, references as a source of information about how well a candidate will perform in the future are generally useless. Most referees are so concerned with potential legal action that might be brought against them for providing an inaccurate reference, that references are no more than statements of fact (e.g. number of years worked at the company, confirmation of the position held, etc.,). The process can sometimes be improved by phoning referees, rather than asking them to complete a form.

Tip: Whatever approach you take around references, try to standardize the questions asked...

3. Interviews

Much as this approach is not particularly effective, it cannot be ignored! The most essential issue to address, to improve the efficacy of interviewing, is to add structure - make sure candidates are all asked the same questions. Once that is sorted, it is important to ensure that the questions asked of the candidates provide an opportunity for them to express their creative potential. One way of doing that is to ask people what they WOULD do in a certain situation, rather than asking people what they HAVE done. After all, you might be very creative, but not had the chance to show it in practice.

Also... when considering interviewing, try to think of questions that are not of the standard type. Traditionally we ask questions like...

"How does your experience make you well suited for this position...?"

"Can you tell me about a time when you faced a difficulty at work...? What did you do to overcome it...? What did you learn...?"

Alas, university careers services, job centres, recruitment agencies and headhunters train people how to answer these basic questions.

Tip: Want to recruit creatives? Get creative in the questions you ask...

A lovely example I came across recently...

"Tell me about a time when your values as a leader were challenged?"

Still, after all of this, the evidence tends to suggest that even highly trained interviewers find creative potential hard to spot*.

4. Team exercises

Recruiters are increasingly beginning to question the value of assessing a candidate on their lonesome. So... they put people into group tasks and examine their behaviour. Overall, great idea! Someone might say they are a good team worker in an interview... a group exercise can show if this is the case.

However, beware...

Firstly, creativity is often best practiced (to begin with) alone, before bringing ideas into a group setting. Therefore, don't expect a group "brainstorming" session in a selection context to be a good demonstration of a persons' creative potential.

Secondly, as mentioned in step 3 of the programme... creative people often possess traits that might make them act a little differently or be a bit "spiky". When everyone is being on their "best behaviour" in a group exercise, the creative person might not always be the most polite, measured or collegial.

Tip: Team exercises are great for assessing team dynamics and interpersonal skills, not so good for identify raw creative potential...

5. Psychometrics

The use of ability (intelligence, cognitive ability, reasoning, etc.,) tests as well as personality, motivation and values questionnaires are increasingly common in recruitment practices. Will they help us identify creative people?

"Yes".... and "No"!

The research generally suggests that we cannot tell much about creative potential from a standardized measure of "intelligence". My bet, is that if your company tests for ability, it'll be using a measure that will say a lot about "straight line" thinking, but not much about "lateral" abilities.

An alternative would be to consider using tests of Divergent Thinking (also explained in step 3). These are predictive of creative potential**, but they are time consuming to administer, score and interpret.

Perhaps the greatest utility is to be had from measures of personality, motives and values.

There is consistent evidence that there are common personality traits of creative people (with some notable differences when we consider specific domains like art v science).

So... we could stop there and suggest the use of personality measures. However, 99% of measures are concerned with measuring general personality traits with no emphasis on creativity. Such that it can be rather difficult to see which traits of the 16pf (for example) would predict creative potential.


Tip: Personality measures can provide insight into traits important for creativity...


6. Assessment Centres

The last recruitment process to consider from our short run through, is the Assessment Centre (AC). The AC is a process that brings together a range of techniques and bundles them together to predict potential.

Typically this might include... An interview, a group task, psychometrics, and a presentation exercise. Surely (you must be thinking) this will make for a highly predictive tool?

Ummmmm... Not really? There is a well-known "validity gap" problem with AC's. Such that... the AC tends to be LESS predictive than the sum of the validity of it's component measures! That is, the components that make up an AC might be good predictors independently, but when we bundle them together something strange happens and the result is a less predictive process.

E.g. (with approximate correlations to job performance in brackets)

On their own...

General Intelligence Test (0.5)

Personality Inventory (0.4)

Structured Interview (0.5)

When combined into an Assessment Centre... = 0.37!!!

Tip: Beware, Assessment Centres can be expensive and inefficient...

Back to our main issue... Can we design an AC to predict creative potential? Yes!

Here is an outline AC I designed with some colleagues in the media industry to identify creative TV producers to work with a well-known highly-critical TV impressario...

1. Personality Assessment (with guidance on the relevant personality traits for creativity in the role)
2. Divergent Thinking assessment
3. Structured interview with Senior TV Producer to assess skills and knowledge
4. 2 x Presentation on ideas for pilot TV shows. These were "pitched" to Senior TV executives.
5. Informal interview to assess "fit" with future Line Manager

This process worked very well and great care was taken at the "Wash up" session to ensure careful judgment on the basis of the data we generated. For each assessment method we focused on creative potential as well as ability to work well with others.

Tip: Make the Assessment Centre components relevant to creativity...


So there we have it...

A brief rundown of why creative potential can be hard to spot when recruiting and some key areas to consider when trying to find creatives for your business.

The key message... If you try to recruit creative people using your usual methods and processes, it is unlikely to be to work well for you.

Get creative in how you recruit creative people!


See you soon


Mark Batey CPsychol. PhD

is a Creativity Specialist at Manchester Business School, UK


For more insight and discussion... Join the Psychology of Creativity LinkedIn group



* Batey, M., Rawles, R. & Furnham, A. (2009). Divergent thinking and interview ratings. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 27, p.57-67.

** Batey, M. & Furnham, A. (2006). Creativity, intelligence and personality: A critical review of the scattered literature. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 132, p. 355-429.


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