In a business setting, creativity can be broadly defined as the thoughts and vision that come up with a new product, a different take on an existing product, an innovative solution to a problem or an improved way of doing things. Recruiters like to see creative thinking in their graduate hires because these are the people who come up with the ideas, big and small, that help their businesses to succeed.
Creative thinking is closely related to – and an integral part of – other competencies and qualities, including:
- problem solving
- an entrepreneurial mindset
- being able to adapt easily to new situations
- curiosity (also known as a questioning mindset)
- imagination and vision.
How graduate professionals use their creative thinking skills differently
Professionals in different careers call upon their creativity in different ways. It may be fairly obvious to you how professionals in so-called ‘creative jobs’ apply their creative thinking: those working in architecture, product design, web design, UX design, the media or marketing and advertising, for example. It may also make sense to you that management consultants need creative thinking not only to devise strategies for clients, but also to ‘sell’ those strategies in the most compelling way. But it might be less obvious how important it is for investment bankers to think creatively when spotting investment opportunities. Or that the best lawyers apply a creative mindset when they interpret laws and previous judgments.
Creativity on graduate job descriptions
As creativity can be applied so differently in different professions, recruiters may not explicitly stipulate creativity as an essential or desirable criterium on their job descriptions. Instead, they’ll wrap it up in the skills listed above. Adverts for engineering graduate jobs often ask for candidates with ‘an innovative approach to problem-solving’, for example, and you can’t innovate or solve problems without taking a fresh, creative look at the problem. Be alert for times when creativity is a ‘hidden’ skill in this way and make sure you demonstrate it.
Creative thinking v. commercial thinking
When in the workplace, graduates often find the full scope of their creativity tethered by commercial considerations: the brief or the budget set by the client, say, or market forces. For example, retail buyers might have the creative vision to spot an exciting new product, but if the sales data and their analysis of consumer trends don’t justify the purchase, they won’t be able to commit. Bear this in mind when applying and interviewing for graduate jobs: demonstrate your creative thinking, but also acknowledge any commercial constraints.
How to demonstrate your creativity in graduate job applications
Should you submit a ‘creative CV’ or ‘creative application’? We’re not talking here about being ‘creative’ with your grades or the amount of work experience you’ve done – but whether you do an ‘off the wall’ CV, such as submitting a CV designed as a wine label. This depends on the sector you are applying for and the employer. Creative approaches are likely to be more successful with marketing and advertising agencies than with a City law firm. So, before you submit a creative application, take a good look at how the company presents itself and judge whether it will appreciate a different approach.
Rest assured that you can show off your creativity on your CV without putting together a ‘creative CV’. For example, you can demonstrate creative flair through your CV layout, your choice of typeface and your use of colour. If you are applying for a design-oriented role (for example, for an engineering design role), you might want to add diagrams or designs to your CV.
You can also highlight times when you used your creative thinking skills when writing up your work experience and key extracurricular achievements, either on your CV or on an application form. Emphasise how you solved problems or came up with a new idea. If something was your idea, say so.
Graduate interview questions that test your creativity
Your creative thinking might be assessed through a variety of interview questions, depending on the job you are applying for. The interview questions will probably double up and also assess your ability to innovate and solve problems. You might be asked.
- ‘off-the-wall’ or ‘brainteaser’ questions that are specifically designed to test your creative thinking – this is particularly the case in management consultant job interviews. An example of a brainteaser might be ’How many tennis balls can fit in a Mini?’.
- job-specific or employer-specific hypothetical questions that aim to discover how you would approach likely workplace scenarios. Common ones include ‘If I gave you £20,000 to invest in a new project or product, what would it be?’ and ‘What would you do if a client complained about the quality of work they’d received?’.
- to provide evidence of when you have previously used your creative skills. You might be asked a problem-solving competency-based question such as ‘Tell me about a time when you had to solve a problem to a strict deadline’. Alternatively, you might be asked ‘Are you innovative?’ or ‘Explain how you’d go about solving a problem’ – your answers to both will be enhanced by examples.
When answering these questions, it is best to explain your thinking in order to show how you are approaching the question. Particularly when asking brainteaser or hypothetical questions, don’t be afraid to ask your interviewers clarifying questions to indicate your thought processes and to guide your answers.
How to demonstrate your creative skills at an assessment day
At an assessment centre, you have opportunities to demonstrate your creative thinking and approaches throughout the exercises you are set, most obviously in the conclusions you reach in a case study exercise and the contributions you make to group exercises. When giving a presentation, your creativity can be indicated by how you represent your ideas visually (whether via MS PowerPoint or a flipchart) – as well as in the content of your presentation.
How to develop and improve your creativity skills while at uni
Examples of ways in which you can develop your creative skills and gather evidence for job applications and interviews include:
- becoming active in the running of a student society. You’d get the gold star award for creativity if you set up a new society but, in the absence of that, taking action to rejuvenate an existing society would be just as good. You would be calling on your creativity skills if you: devised and ran a recruitment drive; managed the society’s social media feeds; or promoted an event in a new way.
- raising money for charity in creative ways.
- creating your own blog, website or app – particularly if you want a writing job or want to go into IT.
- writing for your student newspaper (if you want an editorial-related job).
getting a part-time job as a tutor or TEFL teacher: lesson planning requires creativity!