Lateral thinking questions in job interviews

Resume examples that attract the interest of employers

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Senior recruiters are increasingly on the lookout for a high level of lateral thinking proficiency.

Build powerful examples into your resume.

Be prepared for lateral thinking questions.

STAND OUT . . . and win the day.

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Not entirely sure what lateral thinking is?

Umm … Don’t walk into a job interview unprepared.

Quickly check out the concise meaning and return to this page.

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(A quick shout out of “thanks” to my contacts at Australian firms HAYS RECRUITING EXPERTS WORLDWIDE and MORGAN RECRUITMENT SERVICES for their invaluable inputs)

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The three topics most likely to draw a lateral thinking question:

  1. Problem-solving;
  2. Market differentiation; and
  3. Generation of new business/opportunity.

Yes, there is overlap in the questions. However, it is important to find examples that DEFINE your expertise PRECISELY within each category.

Let’s jump in …

1/. Problem-solving

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“Give me an example of how you’ve faced a difficult situation and used lateral thinking to resolve it?’

An example I might give:

A huge shift in the value of the Australian dollar had caused our manufacturing to become massively uncompetitive. It was a case of reducing costs substantially … or shut the doors.

A secondary problem hit us at the same time … a change of product specification inflicted on us by new government regulations. A new type of fire-retardant needed to be mixed with the polymers. The retardant “gummed up the works” causing us to have to shut down two hours earlier each day to run a cleansing process through the machinery.

“We didn’t just need to reduce costs … we needed to halve them or better”

The situation looked hopeless.

I put a day aside to try to break through the problem. I got the Production Managers, our engineers, and an external consulting engineer, and I got them to walk me through the materials and production process. Every step was challenged.

My determination: We were operating at a level very close to “world best practice”. No savings of note.

I wasn’t giving up.

Lateral thinking tool in play: Creative Combinations.

The next day, I called a production meeting with the Production Manager and our engineers, but I took the unusual action of inviting senior sales staff and our Marketing Manager to see if we could break through the problem differently.

A stop-gap solution we initially found was:

  • Change the emphasis of our sales/marketing towards products that didn’t “gum up the works” as much with their manufacturing requirements. That way there would be less “downtime”.

Not bad, but I needed a lot more. The breakthrough actually came from the Sales Manager:

“Is there something we can manufacture that cleans the machinery at the same time?”

The question intrigued the engineers … could we creatively combine productions for a superior outcome?

The following week they came back with several products that could be manufactured using a variant of what we used in our main process, but one that didn’t contain all the “clogging” inputs such as fire-retardant.

One of the polymer products they’d devised was so “pure” in its manufacture, it actually cleaned the equipment as it was manufactured.

The CREATIVE COMBINATIONS outcome:

We moved from 8 hours per day production to 24 hours per day which resulted in massive savings in our production costs. We created a new product line, finely adjusting the emphasis of marketing and price over time to perfectly balance our manufacturing for minimal downtime and maximum profit.

We survived … and when the Australian dollar finally settled back down to a more “competitive” rate, we were in an enormously advantageous position.

Very powerful, yes?

Find something within your own experience that demonstrates the purposeful application of any one of the great lateral thinking tools available to solve a problem.

Build the example PROMINENTLY into your resume.

Practice presenting the example ready for use in an interview.

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More awesome examples of lateral thinking in business

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2/. Market differentiation

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“Give me an example of how you’ve used lateral thinking to turn the focus of a business away from competition and towards profit?”

An example I might give:

We sold a generic product. The competition was tough … profits minimal. When several new competitors entered the market, a price war erupted. The situation wasn’t sustainable.

Lateral thinking tool in play: Alternative Perspectives

I contacted a leading firm of commercial architects and asked to see them so that I could consider our business from their perspective. They weren’t too keen at first, but I can be persuasive LOL.

The architects had a very good understanding of our product. They liked it, but because of the generic nature, they wouldn’t necessarily “specify” our product into their designs, preferring to allow the builder to “shop around” for the best price.

The architects confirmed what I had suspected … we were in an intensely competitive field with little opportunity to differentiate … as our products stood. I tried some open neutral questioning to try to draw out … “something”.

“Tell me about some of the design issues you face these days,” I asked. “Issues not necessarily related to our product.”

The architects faced a lot of issues with design and specification. It got them thinking about new ways to overcome problems. At the appropriate moment, I asked them to think about ways our product could help … by maybe adapting something.

The innovations suggested by the architects:

An enormous building construction project at a new international airport presented some unique safety issues. By:

  1. Building in a “safety” feature; and
  2. Providing custom size.

The changes could substantially reduce building costs.

The ALTERNATIVE PERSPECTIVE outcome:

We were “specified” as a unique product, and therefore not facing price competition. The salesforce changed its focus from providing a product used in construction, to seeking out solutions for architects and designers that needed innovation.

Pretty simple, yes?

Find an example from your own employment history that demonstrates your ability to think outside the box … to turn your focus away from competing and towards differentiation.

Build the example PROMINENTLY into your resume.

Practice presenting the example ready for use in an interview.

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These example pages will assist you with GENERATING IDEAS:

  1. Lateral thinking examples in BUSINESS;
  2. Lateral thinking in DAILY LIFE.

These free lessons pages demonstrate the basic lateral thinking skills recruiters are looking for:

  1. Random Entry Points;
  2. Alternative Perspectives;
  3. Provocative Operation;
  4. Challenge Assumptions;
  5. Escape Dominant Thinking;
  6. Backwards Planning;
  7. Creative Combinations.

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3/. Generation of new business

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“Tell me about how you’ve used lateral thinking to improve sales”

If an advertisement mentions “lateral thinking”, this is what you can expect LOL.

Imagine walking into an interview and facing a question like this without preparation. Yoicks!

An example I might give:

I was appointed to the position of “Sales Manager” for a highly successful firm that produced an aluminum extrusion product. They were the leaders in the marketplace with a well-trained salesforce. Each salesperson managed their own territory, competing with the other salespeople for the top honor each month.

The operation was so successful, dominant, and profitable, it was made very clear to me when I started that it was sufficient that I ONLY maintain the status quo.

The lateral thinker challenges everything though.

Lateral thinking tool in play: Escape Dominant Thinking

I accompanied several of our sales representatives to some key client visits. The previous Sales Manager had done a brilliant job of training the reps to cement solid relationships that secured the business away from price competition.

However, something became apparent as I visited more and more clients … could we get more from the relationships?

We already had 100% of their business (mostly) for the products we sold, but the business had grown too comfortable … too content.

I took some ideas for a horizontal business integration strategy to the CEO, and then later presented my idea to the board of directors …

The outcome:

A few months later we bought (very cheaply) a struggling supplier of a complementary product and coupled their products with our own to great success. It brought our average cost of representation per sale down considerably, and it further cemented our relationship with our customers.

Even the most successful businesses should challenge the status quo.

Find an example from your own employment history that demonstrates your to think laterally about improving sales.

Build the example PROMINENTLY into your resume.

Practice presenting the example ready for use in an interview.

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Add these powerful creative skills to your resume:

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Check out the concise definition: What is lateral thinking?

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For the complete lateral thinking menuClick here

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Coming soon: Lateral thinking fiction!

Good luck with your job hunting,

Michael Muxworthy