Searching For Your Jedi: What Star Wars Can Teach Us About Hiring Innovative Talent

Job hunting isn’t what it used to be, when you could knock on doors, hand out hard copies of your resume and maybe get some face time with the hiring manager. Now, you compete online with hundreds or sometimes thousands of other job-seekers hoping to get past the tricky weed-out questions designed to cull the herd.

If finding the perfect job has become harder for applicants, then finding the perfect job candidate has become darn near impossible for managers. It’s daunting to look at all those resumes because everyone is putting a positive spin on what they can do. It’s hard to see through the over-stated accomplishments and over-inflated credentials to find someone who really thinks like an intrapreneur – an entrepreneur on the inside.

A manager I know likes to say that hiring employees is kind of like dating: You don’t really know the person until you’re in too deep — or way past their probationary period. In the short time from interview to offer letter, how can you separate the true innovators from those who just give lip service? To answer that question,  I’ll refer to one of my favorite movie franchises — Star Wars.

Why Star Wars? Because Jedis are special, just like innovative talent. On your team, you want a diligent Luke Skywalker, a butt-kicking Princess Leia, a wise and experienced Yoda, a fearless Rey. These are people who can pivot, problem-solve and don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. Yet it’s not enough to be a Jedi master these days. The complexities of the modern workplace also require a reckless Han Solo, a tech-geek C3PO and even a fearful Finn (because a little bit of fear keeps you from driving the whole company off a cliff).

I’ve come up with a few questions to help hiring managers get past the puffery of resumes and determine if the job candidate in front of them is a Jedi in training, or just another stormtrooper who needs micromanaging.

“Do. Or Do Not. There Is No Try.” – Yoda


1. Tell me about an instance in which you led an innovative change and the results that came from it? This can be a pretty standard question, but the way a job candidate answers it can be very revealing. You must listen carefully and press for details. Was the project truly worthwhile and effected change, or was it simply a mindless, pencil-pushing exercise? Did the candidate really push through budget constraints, tight deadlines, lack of technology or other obstacles? If so, how did they do it? Which leads me to the next question…

“Never tell me the odds.” – Han Solo


2. How did you handle resistance to your idea or project? You want an employee who, like Han, thinks nothing is impossible. Leading in from the first question, ask your candidate how they managed the initiative when they encountered the formidable forces of the Empire. What you’re trying to get at is personality. Are they diplomatic? A team-builder? Or a whining, foot-stomper who bullied their way through the project? If there was a limitation, did they find a work-around?

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” – Yoda

3. Things are changing so fast, especially with technology. How do you keep up? I have long said that innovative people are flexible people. They recognize that change is inevitable. Instead of resisting it (But we’re always done it that way!), they are the first to sign up for something new. You want to assess the flexibility of your job candidate by finding out if they keep up with changes in technology, the competition, social media, best practices and other tools that help them expand their knowledge base. Even if your candidate hasn’t had the opportunity to attend industry conferences or take an online course, do they seek out knowledge from coworkers who have? Being chained to a desk is no excuse for not learning. Don’t accept it.

“Help me, Obi-Wan. You’re my only hope.” — Princess Leia

4. What do you believe is the company’s role in helping you do your job? This question is self-explanatory: You don’t what to hire someone who needs a lot of hand-holding and cannot work without constant supervision and guidance from you. The best answer to this question is that someone is looking for an environment that is supportive, open-minded, respectful and willing to try something new.



“Someday, I will be the most powerful Jedi ever.” — Anakin

5. What is your work style? I used this quote from baby Darth because he’s exactly the kind of guy you want to avoid. Sure, Anakin is smart, talented and innovative, but he ultimately uses his power for evil. Serious evil. You want to ascertain if your job candidate is collaborative and can play well with others. This is tough because all managers want to hire innovators, but they also don’t want to hire a jerk. There’s a fine line between innovative and arrogant, so listen for keywords that clue you in to whether you’re hiring a potential megalomaniac. Do they speak negatively about former co-workers or managers? Do they say I more than we? Are they empathetic to customer needs? Do they circle everything back to themselves, or do they talk more broadly about the industry and what they hope to accomplish in it?

There’s a lot on the line for hiring managers these days. A new employee is an investment, and managers want to make sure their ROI is solid. Before you call that job candidate, put on your fave Star Wars flick and see what it can teach you about finding your very own Jedi.

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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