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Candidate Interviews and Creativity: “A Brick Or A Blanket?”

By Simon on

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the lack of candidates in the creative sectors, in particular digital and PR, is having a detrimental impact on many companies’ aspirations to grow. This is particularly apparent in the agency sector. Although in-house roles, which normally have more success in sourcing relevant candidates, are now beginning to experience the feeling of being unable to plug gaps in their workforce. So what’s happening with candidate interviews?

What Is Happening With Candidate Interviews?

Is there really a lack of potential superstars or are we all looking for the same type of person? One that says the right things, looks appropriate, and has the correct content on their CV? Or maybe certain interview formats have become archaic, leading to talented individuals being overlooked for all the wrong reasons?

People are sometimes rejected at interviews for being too quiet or reserved. Yet it is well founded that introverts can be great problem solvers and have the tenacity to stay with a problem much longer than someone who is extrovert and confident. People can also fall over at psychometric tests. But can these really reveal how a certain individual can operate in a particular environment? I’m not convinced. Most of all, there appears to be a reluctance to give those who have the right personal attributes such as drive, emotional intelligence, and imagination, but don’t have the perfect CV, a chance to get past gate one.

A Famous Example

The Beatles had been performing for ten years before some of their greatest musical achievements such as Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club. In 1960, while they were still a struggling rock band, they were invited to play in Hamburg. At this point in time, Hamburg did not have music clubs; it had strip clubs. A chap called Bruno, originally a fairground showman, had the idea of bringing in rock groups to play in various clubs. Bruno went to London to look for talented bands, and by pure chance, met an entrepreneur from Liverpool. They made a connection, and The Beatles eventually made a connection not just with Bruno, but with many club owners as well.

The Beatles travelled to Hamburg several times and were also given the opportunity to play for hours on end, several nights a week. They played for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, they had performed an estimated 1200 times. Most bands do not perform close to this in their entire careers. They learned about stamina and had to learn an enormous amount of numbers from cover versions to jazz. They became disciplined on stage and by the time they returned to the UK, they sounded like no one else. In some respects, this chance to play music and practice their art was the making of them. And, shall we just say, the rest is history. All because of someone giving them a chance.

A Second Famous Example

Bill Gates was a similar story. The brilliant young maths whiz who drops out of Harvard, and sets up a small computer firm called Microsoft! At an early age, he was easily bored by his studies, so was sent by his parents to a private school called Lakeside. Each year, a Mothers Club did a kind of jumble sale and the proceeds would be given to a variety of good causes. But in 1968, they put $3,000 into a computer terminal room which Bill and his chums then took over. This was quite amazing because most colleges did not have computer clubs in the 1960s. From that moment on, he lived in this computer room. But without this chance, we may never have heard of Bill!

The Beatles and Bill Gates are undeniably talented. Lennon and McCartney come around once in a lifetime. And let’s face it, Bill Gates wasn’t short of a few brain cells. But what truly distinguishes their histories is that without these extraordinary opportunities, and the additional chance to learn, practice, and develop, events may have been very different. Isn’t that what hiring is all about? Giving a person who can demonstrate drive and sound work ethics a chance to learn, develop, and progress?

The Need For Change

There is no doubt that for certain roles, such as Web Developer or a Digital PM, experience and technical knowledge is imperative. But considering it can take an experienced employee three to six months to fit into a new environment, is it vital to all roles, particularly at a more junior level? Experience will only matter up to a certain point. Then other things such as common sense, drive, energy, and practical intelligence will most definitely start to kick in.

I also feel certain interview scenarios need to change. Try to imagine being sat in an interview and the normal scenario unfolds. “Tell me about yourself?”, “What can you offer us?”, and the one that is really poor, “Where do you see yourself in the next four to five years?” I could not tell you what I am doing tomorrow or next week, let alone the next five years. Certain candidates are well trained to answer these questions. But you’ll discover a lot more about an individual’s true traits by being more imaginative and open with certain questions.

More Creative Candidate Interviews

I’ve been reading a book called Outliers by Malcolm Caldwell. He came up with the idea that emotional intelligence and imagination are incredibly powerful human traits. He also came up with a couple of interview questions which made me think and smile at the same time. For example: how many different uses can you think of for the following objects – a brick and a blanket. It’s a divergence question and, before you think I’ve gone a bit barking, I encourage you to think of the brick and the blanket test.

In truth, I am not a fan of fantasy candidate interview questions. But the hiring of creative individuals is not just about having a perfect CV. It’s about taking a risk on someone that may lack commercial experience but has tenacity, a strong work ethic, and a fertile and imaginative mind-set. There are loads of answers to the brick and blanket question, such as testing the depth of a well to keeping warm. But if your neighbour has kept you up late with loud music, please don’t throw a brick through their window!

I’m sure you can think of many more inventive questions that may lead you to finding talented people that can add value to your business. But if we aren’t prepared to give people a chance or look outside the norm from time to time, you might let the next John or Paul slip through your fingers.