We’ve all walked into interviews crossing our fingers, hoping that no one will ask one of those seemingly absurd questions, like 'If you were an animal, which one would you be?' And just when you thought you've got away with it, you're hit with the question 'tell me about a time you had to think outside of the box.'
Just like the questions about animals and bizarre situations that would never happen in real life, 'tell me about a time you had to think outside of the box' is designed to give the interviewer a glimpse of your creativity, innovation, critical thinking, initiative and persistence, etc. The best way to prepare an answer for the question is to write down all the qualities the question is designed to reveal and examples for each one from your work experience.
Skills You Need to Demonstrate
- Did you solve a long-standing problem by looking at it in a new way?
- Did you breathe new life into an old product by coming up with a new use for it?
- Did you come up with a new product to fulfil customers’ unmet needs?
- Did you find a workaround for something that “couldn’t be done”?
- Did you provide the breakthrough insight to why your company was losing market share?
- Did you identify the real problem in your supply chain when everyone else was just addressing the symptoms?
- Did you take it upon yourself to solve a problem that everyone else had been working on for years?
- Did you come up with a new idea and ask for permission to pursue it?
- Did you land an account that no one else could get by working through all of their objections until there were none left?
- Did you navigate a major project overcoming every obstacle and rejection thrown your way?
Example Interview Answers
Next, pick the example that best fits your current needs, and then formulate an answer that explains in detail how you used each of those skill sets:
- 'We had a product that was having high failure rates but only in certain regions and during certain times of the year. After looking at all of the data and working onsite with the vendor, I concluded that, due to one material used in the manufacturing process, our product was particularly vulnerable to high temperatures. We changed materials, and our failure rates went back to normal.'
- 'When I was hired, my first project was to figure out why maintenance calls on our products had gone through the roof. After looking at all kinds of things – like the manufacturing process, the mechanics’ training, etc. – I started to wonder what effect the problem was having on the mechanics’ pay. It turned out that, about three months before I started, the company started giving bonuses based on how many calls each mechanic made. To increase their bonuses, the mechanics were deliberately not doing the job right the first time. Based on my recommendation, the company changed the bonus structure so that mechanics were no longer rewarded for repeat visits. Maintenance calls quickly went back to previous levels.'
An interviewer who asks about a time you used out-of-the-box thinking is trying to find out if you have certain skills the company needs: creativity, innovation, critical thinking, initiative, and persistence. The best answer is one that illustrates your mastery of as many of these skills as possible.
Have you ever been asked this question? Did you answer it effectively or were you completely blindsided? Let us know in the comments section below…