answering tricky interview questions about innovation

'Are you innovative?' Tricky graduate interview question

You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to successfully answer innovation interview questions. You just need to show the recruiters that you’ve got potential.

Every employer’s success relies on the people who work there, the ideas that they can bring to the table and their ability to have a positive impact on the company’s work. So don’t be surprised if your graduate job interview includes a question on how innovative you are.

Several graduates have told us that they find the word ‘innovation’ intimidating, are worried that they aren’t innovative enough or struggle to think of an example of when they have been innovative. It can be tricky to come up with a good answer on the spot. However, if you take the time to prepare an answer before your interview and use our advice below, there will be no reason for nerves.

You can practise tricky interview questions using resources from our partners at Shortlist.Me.

How not to reply to the interview question ‘Are you innovative?’

1. ‘I’m not really sure if I’m innovative.’
While this may be the first thing that comes into your head, it’s better to take a moment to consider what you want to say, rather than blurting this out. Instead of demonstrating your innovativeness, it may suggest that you aren’t making an effort or aren’t enthusiastic about the job.

2. ‘Without a doubt. I’m the most innovative person I know by far.’
You don’t want to oversell yourself with such a bold statement, especially without any evidence of your experience or achievements. It’s good to be self-confident and it’s definitely OK to say that you think you are innovative, but you don’t want to sound arrogant.

3. ‘Yeah, I’d say I’m innovative. I just completed a group project at university. We needed 30 students to complete our questionnaire but were struggling to recruit enough people. My friend Bill came up with a great idea: all of the participants were entered into a prize draw and the winner got a pizza on us.’
What’s good about this answer is that it gives a real example of an innovative solution. You should try to include an example in your answer. Unfortunately, this example is somebody else’s idea. It’s important that the answer you give demonstrates your innovativeness.

What is the graduate recruiter really asking?

Innovation will mean slightly different things to different employers; while an engineering company may be looking for a graduate who is committed to developing cutting-edge technologies, a marketing agency will be impressed by a candidate whose instinct is to think outside of the box for different ways to reach people.

Ultimately, though, the recruiter is asking whether you’re the kind of person that sticks to the status quo and doesn’t challenge how things are done, or whether you’re eager to find new and improved ways of doing things. They’re also asking whether you have the potential to help their company succeed.

So how should you tackle the question ‘Are you innovative’?

Think about what innovation means to you – and to the company. Its website could give you some clues, especially what it says about its values and priorities. It might also help you to think of somebody who you would describe as innovative. Why did you pick them? What skills and qualities do they possess that you admire?

Some skills and qualities that go hand-in-hand with innovation are:

  • the confidence to take on big, ambitious goals and take risks
  • the ability to adapt and be resourceful in unexpected situations
  • the motivation to identify where things can be improved and then act on it
  • the enthusiasm to try new things and gain new skills
  • a creative approach to problem solving
  • the ability to think imaginatively, but also strategically and practically (after all, it doesn’t matter how creative an idea is if it isn’t realistic commercially)
  • the ability to work independently without much input from others as well as to work with a team towards a shared goal

 

While it isn’t essential, the recruiter will be impressed if you can draw on your work experience, extracurricular activities, university studies and so on to explain how you’ve developed these skills and qualities.

Your examples don’t need to be extraordinary. The recruiter will appreciate that you’re just starting out in your career; they won’t be expecting you to have invented a time machine, given the prime minister tips on how to make a success of Brexit and come up with a way to cut the queueing time at Heathrow in half, all by the time you graduate.

More realistic examples include:

  • thinking of a unique way to fundraise for charity
  • brainstorming how to increase ticket sales for your drama society’s theatre production
  • finding a less time-consuming way to complete a group project for your degree
  • suggesting a new weekday deal that will bring in more students to the restaurant where you have a part-time job

 

Focus on what you did, although that doesn’t mean the example shouldn’t be team-based. Just highlight how you led the team and worked well with others.

If possible, use an example that shows how you had a positive effect. For example, maybe your idea to introduce a student-only meal deal on Thursday evenings, alongside a loyalty card scheme, saw a 50% increase in repeat custom.

Other interview questions you could be asked about innovation

There are several competency-based questions that you could be asked, such as:

  • Tell me about a time when you were innovative.
  • Tell me about a time when you took an innovative approach to solving a problem.
  • Tell me about a time when you thought of a better way to do something.

 

Other questions about innovation that an interviewer could ask include:

  • What’s the best idea you’ve ever had?
  • In your opinion, what’s the greatest innovation in history?
  • Can you think of a new way to…?
  • Do you like to experiment?
  • If you had one month to spend £30,000 on one project, what would it be?
  • If you met our CEO for half an hour, what future opportunities would you suggest to them?

 

Careers where innovation is in demand

If you’re applying for jobs in any of the following areas, you could be asked about innovation at interview, as it is seen as a particularly important quality by employers in these industries:

  • banking
  • charity and the public sector
  • consulting
  • engineering
  • fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG)
  • IT
  • marketing and advertising
  • retail
  • science and research

 

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