5 Traits To Look for When Hiring Business and IT Innovators

Hiring resilient and forward-thinking employees is the cornerstone to innovation. If you’re looking to hire a “trailblazer,” here are five traits to seek, as well as questions to ask.

John Jarosz, Partner & Co-Founder, Sightglass

April 25, 2023

4 Min Read
colorful lightbulb for innovation theme
peshkova via Alamy Stock

If innovation is the key to a technology company’s success, hiring resilient and forward-thinking employees is the cornerstone. Businesses that thrive today are doing so because engineering, product, and design decision-makers have prioritized a culture of innovation and have learned how to attract the best candidates that bring innate skills to push creativity into action. If you are looking to hire a “trailblazer” in the modern workforce, there are five traits to look for.

1. High emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is perhaps the trailblazer’s most important skill. An employee with high emotional intelligence fosters teamwork by creating a safe environment where ideas can be shared and iterated. This sense of trust enables the creative process and successful collaboration. It’s the “secret sauce” of innovation. In addition to fueling co-working, a highly emotionally intelligent employee builds bridges with not only internal groups but also with clients and outside stakeholders. Look for skills that demonstrate strong collaboration and communication capabilities, experiences as a “champion” of culture, comfort in communicating bottom-up as well as top-down, and the ability to provide a positive and supportive environment.

Possible interview questions could include:

  • How do you build a safe environment for successful co-working?

  • How do you manage groups with opposing viewpoints?

  • Talk about an experience where a project involved multiple groups that had to collaborate on a goal/objective.

2. Storytelling

You’ll often hear in the business world that storytelling is an art that connects people to a goal or a solution. A master storyteller uses feedback, surveys, data, and interviews to craft a narrative they are confident presenting and pitching, creates a connection to the work, and demonstrates purpose. Look for skills and experiences like problem-solving, experience pitching new ideas or ideas that challenge the status quo, presenting ideas to groups that may disagree with the narrative, the ability to ask the right questions to get the facts, an openness to testing and potentially failing, and a demonstration of persistence.

Possible interview questions could include:

  • What tools or brainstorming processes do you find impactful?

  • How do you know when to pivot if your data suggests to?

  • How do you explain complex systems and ideas in more approachable ways?

3. Strategic planning

A trailblazer can establish an effective business strategy that gets buy-in and inspires the team. But beyond being a source of positivity for change, a trailblazer-type employee can take this shared vision of the future to foster constructive and empowering conversations with colleagues. Look for skills and experiences that demonstrate an understanding of business value, persuasiveness with an ability to define and defend their ideas, and someone who sees opportunities in the challenges.

Possible interview questions could include:

  • How do you capture progress on a goal or objective?

  • Tell me about a time you made a plan actionable across a group.

  • Talk about a time when you defended a plan or turned an unplanned challenge into an opportunity.

4. Lifelong learner

As someone who takes risks and disrupts the status quo, a trailblazer will always seek to learn new things and improve their skill set. They want to grow their knowledge base, and they want that for their team as well. Someone who embraces lifelong learning rather than being fixated on being “the expert” promotes the personal and professional growth that leads naturally to innovation and technology spaces. Look for skills and experiences that demonstrate curiosity, critical thinking, willingness to ask questions and seek others’ feedback and knowledge, and initiative to improve current skill sets.

Possible interview questions could include:

  • What are the advantages of a poly-skilled background?

  • Tell me about the last time you learned a new way to solve a problem.

  • What tools or methods have you used to share an early idea?

5. Evangelizer

More than just a leader, a trailblazer can actively influence a company's culture. These are your networkers with a message. As a champion of effective communication, they are best at leading adoption efforts of new practices, plans, and strategies for cross-functional groups in an organization. They excel at internal networking and strive to build bridges between different groups while challenging and shaping ideas, ensuring all ideas are heard and inspiring a collaborative environment. Look for skills and experiences that demonstrate a positive attitude, willingness to bring attention to problems in order to solve for them, an open-minded style of collaboration, and attention to detail to bring the plan to the relevant folks.

Possible interview questions could include:

  • Tell me about a time you introduced a new plan to a struggling team.

  • Tell me about a trend you identified that influenced a positive change in your organization.

  • How do you share tough results or feedback to colleagues/executives that may disrupt the status quo?

Hiring a trailblazer employee means organizations will need to explore how potential hires approach their successes, how they implement innovative processes, and if they work well under pressure. By targeting traits like expert storytelling, strategic vision, emotional intelligence, lifelong learning, and cultural influence, organizations can ensure that their employees will drive progress and empower those around them. Ultimately, this will help modern technology companies achieve their goals and create innovative differentiation in the marketplace through their main strategic investment -- their people.

About the Author(s)

John Jarosz

Partner & Co-Founder, Sightglass

John Jarosz is a Partner and Co-Founder at Sightglass where he oversees experience design, brand collaboration, and the experience strategy practice for clients. His background with product delivery services firms, as well as in-house enterprise software companies gives John a unique understanding of how to bring diverse groups of people together to achieve unified outcomes.

In the early years of his career, John co-founded the product design and strategy practice at Thoughtworks, a leading global technology consultancy that integrates strategy, design, and software engineering to enable enterprises and technology disruptors across the globe to thrive as modern digital businesses. At Thoughtworks, he led more than 60 design and technology consultants across the U.S. and Canada and delivered positive results for some of their most innovative clients. After growing the division into one of Thoughtworks’ most profitable, John became a leading Partner, working with private equity and funded start-ups across the U.S., Canada, UK, EU, Australia, and China. 

After several years at ThoughtWorks, John joined Ultimate Software Group (now UKG), a leading provider of unified human capital management SaaS solutions for global businesses, where he led multiple business units, including Brand and Creative, Experience Design, Accessibility and Research, Global Product Strategy, and the UX Design Community. He led the software company’s first UltiPro suite redesign and founded its enterprise design language system, which contributed to Ultimate Software achieving a $1 billion valuation in 2019. When Hellman & Friedman Partners acquired Ultimate Software and merged with Kronos Incorporated at a valuation of $3 billion, John oversaw bringing the two giants together through a new product brand strategy and integrated suite experience design delivered across products.

John earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Digital Media and International Studies from the University of Denver and a Master of Science degree in Human-Computer Interaction from DePaul University. John is an author and frequent speaker on topics including business model design, new product development, and leadership development for creatives. John resides in Denver, CO with his husband and their dog. 

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