Last week, I wrote about why employers like to hire people with "grit" and how to work on your grittiness. This week, I turn to "curiousity," which is another buzz trait that employers are increasingly looking for in new employees. Like "grit," "curiosity" showed up a lot in our recent survey of 2,400 investment banking professionals. A vast number of these bankers told us their firms are looking for people who are "curious" (or "intellectually curious").
And Wall Street isn't the only place where curiosity is important. It's also a desirable trait in Silicon Valley. Here's what Matthew Prince, the CEO of cybersecurity firm Cloudfare, recently told the New York Times about how he hires.
I look for an incredibly high degree of curiosity—people who just relentlessly want to learn new things and put themselves in new situations—and a high degree of empathy. If people are curious and empathetic, they can learn just about anything.
In addition, Forbes recently singled out the trait in an article entitled "Top Employers Say Millennials Need These 4 Skills in 2017," noting that "curiosity and commitment ... will be among the most important skills for millennials in 2017 and beyond."
In regards to why curiosity is so desirable, employers like it in candidates because, as Prince notes, it points to a strong desire to learn, the ability to problem solve, and a level of comfort when presented with new situations. Which all typically leads to on-the-job success.
Curiosity also can be an indicator of other traits. Here's Fast Company in an article a couple years ago geared toward recruiters and hiring managers (whom apparently got the message) entitled "These 7 Interview Questions Will Help You Hire The Best Person For The Job."
This trait carries a lot of punch and is an excellent indicator of a whole range of other qualities you want to hire into your company: Empathy, creativity, innovation, the ability to learn quickly—they all spring from curiosity.
As for how employers try to determine if you're a curious person or not, Prince says he finds out everything he knows with respect to curiosity in his final interview question. That is, the one where he asks if you have any questions for him.
One of the best ways to tell whether someone's curious and empathetic is to ask them for the questions they have. You can see how their mind works and how thoughtful they are.
Fast Company, in that same article for recruitng managers, also recommends that recruiters use that final question to test curiosity.
And never wrap up an interview without the deceptively simple, “Do you have any other questions for me?” This may actually be one of the most telling exchanges of your interview. “If they don’t, then they better have already asked you plenty of things along the way. If a candidate has no questions, that’s a bad sign. At the very least, they should ask questions about the individual interviewer, showing they’ve done their research and know what the person in front of them can teach or offer.”
And so, one thing you need to do in an interview to demonstrate your curiosity is make sure you ask thoughtful questions, either along the way during your interview (which ideally is a conversation, not a Q&A session) or at the close of your interview. This means coming to your interview prepared with questions to ask based on your research of the firm, position, and interviewer.
Perhaps more important, it also means making sure to be thinking about questions to ask during your interview based on where the conversation leads. Maybe your interviewer brought up a new part of the company's business; you can ask more about that. Maybe there's a new workplace initiative that your interviewer brought up; you can also ask more about that. However, don't just ask questions to ask questions; ask questions on topics you're truly interested in and want to know more about.
Another thing you can do in an interview to show off your curiosity is come prepared with a few examples of times you took initiative in an academic or work setting where it wasn't required. This highlights your desire to learn and gain knowledgable on your own.
You could also come prepared to talk about an outside interest of yours that you've recently "geeked out" on. Here's a hiring manager who spoke to Fast Company for the article cited above.
“I interviewed someone the other day who told me he was his friends’ go-to when they bought anything,” says Hamilton. “He was famous for researching guitars down to the type of wood they were made of, for example, and he knew every part in a ’67 Mustang. If someone doesn’t have that quality—if they don’t need to learn every single detail of the topic in front of them—they’re probably not going to reflect that level of engagement in their work, either.”
The point is not to necessarily be a guitar or car nerd but to show that you have passion. If you have passion about one thing, chances are you can have passion about another thing. And, of course, that other thing, hiring managers and recruiters hope, is the work you'll be doing for their firm.
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Each year, Vault surveys thousands of investment banking professionals, asking them to tell us about life at their firms. We ask about company culture, hours, compensation, overall job satisfaction, work/life balance, benefits, diversity, formal training, mentoring, business outlook, and more.
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