I think this is an obnoxious interview question because most people have no idea what someone is talking about when they say, “So, give me an example of your lateral thinking.”
Simply put, lateral thinking is a creative way toward solving a problem. However, when they are using this term, rather than the more common way of asking, they are trying to create an impression. They want to give you a sense that they are more “powerful,” they are more “knowledgeable,” and that you are stupid.
The 1st thing I want to do is encourage you to ask, “I want to confirm what you mean by lateral thinking. Do you mean creative problem-solving? Is that what you are referring to or something else?”
Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!
What you’ve done is indicate that you know what they mean by lateral thinking that you want to confirm that THEY know what is meant by lateral thinking.
It’s a creative way of demonstrating that you know how to swat them back like the fleas that they are for using an obnoxious term when asking the question. So, what you’ve done is ask them whether when they are using the term, “lateral thinking,” they are referring to creative problem-solving or something else. They will respond by saying, “No! No! No!. Creative problem-solving.”
Depending upon where you are in your career, you would answer differently.
If you are a student and looking for your first job and trying to answer this question, you might stop and say, “You know, I don’t have many professional work experiences where I have been asked to creatively problem solve. Certainly not to the degree that you will be asking me to do. The kind of situations that I had to deal with have been relatively simple.” Then, you address how you approach them.
Let’s say, you are in a customer service situation and had to deal with an irate customer, you headed them off with the joke, a smile, a laugh, deflecting their anger In some way. How did you address the kind of situation? Maybe you had a manager who is “biting at you” for some reason. They were having a bad day and maybe you said, “I want to help you but I would appreciate it if you tell me what is going on because you seem more upset and stressed than usual. How can I help you?”
If you’re a more experienced person, you should talk about a professional situation where you were given something that was a unique challenge and how you went about dissecting the problem to come up with a creative solution and then talk about the dissection process through to the solution.to come up with the solution.
See what I’m doing? I’m starting by asking them to define the term and then talking about situations that you could have conceivably been in where you had a situation and creatively addressed an issue.
Again, if you’re a college grad, the nature of the creative problem-solving that you had to deal with may have been relatively simple in comparison to what you might be asked to do in this organization. If you are a more experienced person, you go into the situation, define how you addressed it, and go on from there.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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