Applied curiosity

Curiosity’s Role in Intellectual Development and Success.

Working hard is one thing, being willing to grow is another.

Tony Vartanian

Co-Founder of Lucktastic

Overwhelming evidence suggests that curiosity may be as important to academic success as are intelligence and hard work. Curiosity may also be important on the job; employees empowered to express curiosity tend to be more productive, are better equipped to come up with innovative solutions, and may have a greater sense of well-being.

Dr. Sophie von Stumm has spent much of her career studying curiosity. A lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths University of London, UK, von Stumm founded the Hungry Mind Lab in 2014 to research intelligence and personality in collaboration with her students and peers. A key focus of her work is on the role of curiosity in intellectual development and success.

“At the Hungry Mind Lab we have been trying to understand why some people are early adopters and better learners, while others struggle so much with new information and change,” von Stumm explains. “Learning is not just what school kids and university students do, but what everyone must do every day, throughout our lives, especially in our professional roles.”

   A picture of curious employees    A picture of curious employees

What Curious Employees Bring to the Table

Tony Vartanian, who co-founded the startup Lucktastic, a virtual scratch card gaming app, says that he owes his company’s growth to a team he hand-picked for their curiosity as well as their qualifications and experience.

“One of the most difficult challenges at a startup is keeping pace with the rapidly evolving needs of a growing company,” he explained in a recent interview. “Hiring for intellectual curiosity means that candidates are not only qualified and thoughtful, but they are capable of thinking beyond the role they are interviewing for.”

It’s not just start-ups that stand to benefit from hiring intellectually curious candidates. Building on earlier research into on-the-job learning, a study of service industry workers in the United States showed that curiosity improved job performance and interpersonal relationships. And a recent online survey of female employees conducted by researchers in Switzerland identified curiosity among the traits associated with healthier work behaviors and a lower rate of burnout.

   A picture portraying a curious person    A picture portraying a curious person

Identifying the Curious Candidate

If a curious employee is likely to learn and perform better, be more adaptive to change, work better in teams, and be more likely to come up with innovative solutions, what should a hiring manager look for?

Von Stumm suggests looking beyond the résumé. “What you can see in a CV is more about persistence and achievement, which are both good things, but they may have little to do with a candidate’s curiosity.” She says one mark of curiosity may reveal itself in the cover letter.

Every good cover letter should show a good knowledge of the company and the applicant’s possible role within it. How much time were they willing to invest in learning about the company, even knowing they may not necessarily get hired?

Dr. Sophie von Stumm

In addition, von Stumm advises doing more than just asking a candidate about their level of curiosity. “We live in an age when curiosity is more generally valued,” she explains, “and people are more likely to answer questions in the way they believe a company wants them to answer.”

Instead, she suggests giving an applicant a task for them to solve. “Depending on the task, it may give hiring managers a better impression of a candidate’s skill set, their ability to search for answers, and their general approach to solving problems.

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