SmartRecruiters Blog

Should You Hire for Curiosity?

The climate of the job market is shifting. The days of organizations looking to hire only “yes men” and “yes women” are gone. As the speed of doing business continues to increase, so does the need for businesses to be able to adapt to constantly changing market conditions.

To accomplish this, companies want to employ people who are naturally inclined to see the bigger picture. Recruiters and hiring managers are on the lookout for potential employees who show a high level of intellectual curiosity. Where does curiosity stand in your priorities when hiring the next employee?

Why Hire Intellectually Curious Employees

Employers are looking for intellectually curious employees because they:

  1. Learn faster. Intellectually curious employees are always thinking. They’re knowledge hounds who listen attentively and are constantly absorbing new information.
  1. Fight the status quo. These workers enjoy discovering previously unchartered territories. If there’s a better way to do something, they won’t stop until they find it.
  1. Play well with others. Employees with intellectual curiosity are usually good at working with clients. They’re always asking questions and looking for opportunities to help.
  1. Bring in knowledge. Most of these employees are born, not made. Being intellectually curious is their way of life — inside and outside the business. Because they’re constantly learning, they bring a large body of knowledge to the company.

Understanding that organizations are often looking to recruit forward-thinking individuals means job candidates must be able to demonstrate their proactive nature early and often in the interview process.

Take some time before your next interview to think about two or three specific instances when you did something without waiting to be told to do it. Examples can be from your personal or professional life. For example:

  • Did the candidate start a new club or project at school?
  • Did the candidate teach your older relatives how to use social media?
  • Did the candidate organize an initiative to address a pressing need in your community?
  • Did the candidate develop a program to reduce costs, waste, and energy in a previous job?

Ultimately, in the eyes of the interviewer, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you did — what matters is that the candidate did something, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. The interviewer is just trying to determine whether you can be trusted to do the right thing, even when no one is watching.


5 Ways to Identify Curiosity

While it’s important to assess a candidate’s history of taking initiative before the interview, it’s also important to be proactive elevate their curiosity during the interview. When appropriate, pry the candidate on why they did what you did and why few had done it before. Make sure to record your learnings in your hiring platform.

Here are five ways to identify intellectual curiosity. Does the candidate demonstrate these traits?

  1. Pursuing challenges. Does the candidate recount instances in your work history when you discovered a solution to a problem no one else had considered before?
  1. Fixing what needs fixing. Does the candidate describe ways he or she has creatively managed stressful or difficult situations? Intellectually curious people are natural problem solvers.
  1. Thirst for knowledge. Has the candidate researched the company? It’s great to hear not only about the company itself, but also a few of its competitors and the industry as a whole.
  1. Connecting the dots. Does the candidate see how the organization fits in the market and ask questions that go beyond what can be derived from your marketing messaging?
  1. Heart. Do you feel the passion and energy when the candidate speaks of interests outside of work? Passion can move mountains.

The golden rule of business is clear: Adapt or Die. It’s not necessarily the ‘strongest’ companies that survive these days — it’s the ones that can adapt to change. That means the people running businesses must constantly look for new opportunities and hire people who are comfortable with change — naturally curious individuals who are aware of the changing landscape, both inside and outside their immediate industry.

Embrace your inner 4-year-old. Is the candidate asking you, “Why?” And do you hear the “Why?” throughout their professional story and future ambitions? When it comes to prioritizing curiosity, I say, value people who value the bigger picture.


stirling coxStirling Cox is the managing director of AlphaSights USA, a company that connects today’s business leaders with the insight and expertise they need to prosper. The company assists a global client base, including private equity firms, asset managers, strategy consultancies and corporate executives, in making more informed decisions. Photo Credit flickr Zak Greant.

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Stirling Cox