Career / Leadership

How to Hire and Retain Curious People

by Team Nuggets
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Published on February 14, 2018

Companies like Google emphasize curiosity above all else in their hiring process because curiosity is the key to innovation and creativity. These traits are hard to ferret out from a resume, though. You'll have to read between the lines and listen carefully to your candidates.

Once they're hired, it's up to you to feed that curiosity with structured education, a culture of learning, and reward systems.


The significance of curiosity

From startups to established enterprises, organizations confront an accelerating pace of change. Success in the marketplace and even survival calls for a spirit of experimentation and the courage to do things differently.

A passion for learning is essential to creativity and innovation. The significance of curiosity has been extolled by Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Eric Schmidt, and Michael Dell, among others.

Leaders cannot depend on flawless mastery of what worked in the past. Rather than having all the answers, they must rely on continually learning and deftly tackling the unforeseen.

And they must hire curious people. New employees must not only be diligent and well-qualified team players, but they should also be curious.

Curious people are natural learners. Their thirst for knowledge motivates them to invest in their intellect. They're not satisfied with just the skills and knowledge the job requires. Curiosity leads them to think beyond the role they were hired for and grow in new directions that capture their interest.

Curious people grow bored with routine and conforming. They welcome rather than fear change. Drawn to novel situations, they can flourish in fluid environments. Their fascination with new concepts means they are more likely to think outside the box. They will question the established practice, as they are eager to look beyond the every day, imagining alternate ways to do tasks.

Conversely, you might lose your curious peopleif you don't maintain a culture of learning.


Hiring curious people

In the hiring process, how do you spot curious people? A resume may not reveal courses, skills, and hobbies that aren't directly relevant to the specific job posting since candidates are often advised to tailor those out. But there are ways to ferret out curiosity.

Before the interview, you might give the candidate a task that requires some research and inventiveness, or a thought-provoking situation they might experience on the job. It might be a little more rigorous creatively than yourtypical technical interview.

In the interview, you might ask the candidate to teach you something off-the-cuff. There are a variety of interview questions that can reveal curiosity.

  • How do you stay current on developments in your field?

  • Tell me about something you learned recently. How do you approach teaching yourself a new skill or topic? What was the result?

  • What skill, not necessarily related to this job, would you like to learn or to improve on?

  • Tell me about a time you took the initiative to learn when it wasn't required.

In fact, the best question you can ask to assess curiosity is that classic final question, "What questions do you have?" Curious people will have insightful and original questions.


Cultivating curiosity

Curiosity and innovation thrive in a collaborative culture that rewards originality and prudent risk-taking. An environment that cultivates curiosity will not only attract and retain the curious people you have identified, it will nurture curiosity and innovation throughout your organization. And there are ways to cultivate that culture.

Though many leaders extol the value of curiosity, many workers experience pressure to be ever more productive rather than creative and find it unsafe to ask questions or take risks.

When a company reacts to downturns by focusing on minimizing risk, top-down command and control, and the rigorous execution of the ponderous process, innovation suffers and the ability to adapt dries up.

A true commitment to innovation means curiosity must become part of the organization's DNA, a core value that shapes policies and business practices.

Providing consistent opportunities for professional development is an obvious first step. Another valuable tactic is frequent lunches where people present on topics of interest, including non-work passions.

Valuing curiosity must inform recruiting: bake it into hiring criteria, screening, and interview practices. It must guide incentives: shaping job descriptions, performance reviews, and reward programs.

Some companies commit to giving people 5 to 10% of their work time for new skill building, and exploratory projects not directly related to their assignments. This calls for providing both autonomy and clear communication about the company's mission and the goals of leadership.

Leaders must model curiosity themselves. Leading an innovative organization requires the confidence and humility to welcome feedback that questions established procedures and your past decisions with a willingness to explore new approaches.

Cross-functional teams and cross-team collaboration promote exposure to a wide range of ideas. Regular retrospective meetings between management and individuals, and management and teams, to explore how decisions were made and efforts were conducted, and seek improvements, are valuable for an organization that learns and adapts.



Curious people are invaluable to organizations facing today's complex and rapidly changing business environment. Finding them, and creating a culture that cultivates curiosity and innovation, is key to surviving and prospering.



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