If you own a widget factory, what you need in employees is punctuality, efficiency, and the ability to withstand the boredom of repeatedly following a set procedure. But you're probably not running a widget factory.
In pretty much any other sort of company, you're going to need some people who can think on their feet, challenge the status quo, and call BS when appropriate. In short, you're going to need what Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant calls "originals."
"We can't all be nonconformists at every moment, but conformity is dangerous," Grant says, explaining the value of originals and iconoclasts in a fascinating and lengthy recent First Round Review article. "If you don't hire originals, you run the risk of people disagreeing but not voicing their dissent."
So how do you hire these constructive trailblazers? The First Round piece offers a deep dive into the subject, laying out subtypes of originals, exactly why they're so valuable, and wisdom on finding them and convincing them to join your company. But perhaps one of the most actionable insights in the article is a list of questions from Grant that bosses can use to assess the originality quotient of a potential new hire. Here they are.
1. How would you improve our interview process?
This question is "an opportunity to see if they're willing to speak up," according to Grant. It's also "a window into their thinking process," he explains. "When they encounter something that they don't like, do they have the instinct not only to raise why it may be broken but also suggest how it can be better?"
2. Tell me about the last time that you encountered a rule in an organization that you thought made no sense.
Follow up with: What was the rule? What did you do and what was the result? "You're not excited about candidates who just let it go. But you also don't want somebody who says, 'Yeah I saw this rule, marched into my boss' office, argued and quit over it,'" explains Grant.
Instead, you want to hear something more like this: "I saw this rule that I thought didn't make sense. I first did some research to figure out how it was created and why it was this way. I spoke to a couple of people who'd been at the organization longer than I had, asking if they knew what it was initially set out to do. If they didn't know, I reached out to some people who have influence and sought their advice on ways forward to improve the rule and made a few suggestions on how. I got tasked to lead the committee to change the rule. We made a change and here's the evidence that we had an impact."
3. Why shouldn't I hire you?
"[Former president of Gatorade and Equinox] Sarah Robb O'Hagan once opened her job application... describing why she shouldn't be hired. In one breath, she outlined which qualifications she didn't meet, but also why she was suited to do it anyway," says Grant.
"She challenges the job description and shows that she can bring something different than what a company thinks it needs. Part of why this worked is that, in one fell swoop, she shows extreme awareness: not only of her abilities, but also of the proposed requirements--and why some don't really matter," he continues.
4. It's your first few months on the job. What questions would you first ask and to whom?
"This idea came from one of my collaborators, Reb Rebele, an applied positive psychology expert who leads many of our hiring projects," Grant explains. "He observed that when new people are coming in, their first few months should be as much about learning as doing. Originals distinguish themselves by asking questions that no one else has thought to ask, and posing them to people who have fresh perspectives to offer."
What are you listening for in a candidate's answer? Open-ended questions and "a willingness to draw from and challenge many sources of information."
Do you have any other suggested questions to add to this list?