MediaBistro led me to the latest career advice in Fortune.com’s Ask Annie column: Employer’s Wacky Interview Questions. I don’t know what’s wackier: the questions, or that Annie Fisher really believes that the mission of career advisors is to come up with clever answers for them.
Get this question from an Ask Annie reader:
Yesterday an interviewer asked me, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” I was so surprised that it took me a few minutes to come up with an answer. I said I was like a dog, “loyal to a fault” — which made sense, since I stayed with my last employer for 17 years, despite having had other offers — but I couldn’t really tell from his reaction if that was a good response or not.
A good response? About what animal you would be?
Fisher answers with an anecdote to encourage confused job candidates to play guessing games:
J.P. Hansen, president of Omaha-based Hansen Executive Search, was once asked the Barbara Walters-esque what-animal-would-you-be question in a job interview. His answer: A jaguar. Why? Hansen explained that “the jaguar is very versatile, able to patiently wait for its prey for hours on end, then pounce with lightning speed and grace. Plus, it’s a cool car!” The hiring manager who was quizzing him smiled, reached into her purse, and pulled out her car keys — with a Jaguar emblem on the key chain. Hansen got the job.
What luck! Another winning answer to one of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions!
Next, Hansen explains the “strategy” behind these idiotic queries:
“The job market is so tight right now, with so many candidates available whose backgrounds and qualifications are so similar to one another, that some hiring managers try to find an ‘aha!’ moment where they can trip you up, or get you to reveal something you didn’t plan to say,” he says.
Aha! The interviewer doesn’t know what the F she’s doing, so she tries to trip the job applicant with… Do you walk to school or carry your lunch (heh-heh…)?
Since there is no way to predict what you might be asked, how do you prepare? Hansen… says job seekers need to go into interviews with enough confidence to handle any wacky question that might come up. The only way to get that confidence: Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Prepare what? A Noah’s Ark of rejoinders that might reflect the pets (or cars) that some wacky interviewer owns? Fisher wraps up the article with a plug for Hansen’s book about interview animals. The caution to job hunters is clear: You’d better stock up on interviewer-approved answers to dumb-ass questions, or you’re not going to get hired. And here’s a book full of ’em…!
Is it any wonder employers think there’s a talent shortage during the biggest glut of unemployed talent in American history?
- There just aren’t enough job applicants who know what animal they want to be!
- Today’s job hunters just haven’t got a heh-heh clever explanation for their greatest weakness, and,
- They can’t tell you where the hell they see themselves in five years (as though the company in question is likely to be in business in five years…)
Like most of life’s mysteries, Why should I hire you? has a Zen sort of “best answer.” That is, another question: The most important question in an interview:
“Would you like me to show you how I can help increase your profits if you hire me to do this job?”
If the interviewer doesn’t get that, you walk. Imagine taking a job with a dope who hires you because your answer is a match to the keys in her purse. Lotsa luck. My good buddy Nancy Austin explains it simply: Beyond the Trick Question. (Her article includes a hiring manager with a lu-lu of a Stupid Interview Question of his own.) Nancy’s article is all you need to know to interview like an adult.
But Fisher and Hansen need to consult the nearest ten-year-old who knows the joke about the trick question. (HR execs, please pay close attention.) Most kids are exposed to this famous childhood gotcha, and are thereby innoculated against embarrassing themselves later in life. This joke is told in a group, where one kid is set up as the sucker by the others, who all know the story:
The Joke: Two elephants are sitting in a bathtub, scrubbing away. One elephant pauses and cries out to the other, “Pass the soap!” And the other elephant shouts back, “No soap! RADIO!”
All the kids burst out laughing at the hilarious rejoinder and they slap one another on the back with glee. The sucker in the group cracks up, too and exclaims how funny it is — only to be mocked by the rest because there is no joke.
The story and the rejoinder are nonsense, of course; designed to determine whether the kid is so desperate to “belong” that he’ll suspend his common sense, his honesty and his integrity. Just like the foolish job applicant who goes along with the even more foolish hiring manager — both suckered by some “career expert” who is clueless about how to have an intelligent discussion about the work at hand.
Even ten-year-olds get it. An entire industry — the career industry — continues to embarrass itself by trying to con job hunters and hiring managers into pretending they’re silly elephants sitting in a tub.
This is no joke. It’s time to grow up and interview like adults.
I’d probably say “I’ll stick with hairless primate. It’s what I’m good at.”
And I’d probably not take an offer from that company, especially if this interviewer would become my boss.
I haven’t had the chance to use it yet, but I have a prepared response for the “where do you see yourself in 5 years” question:
Face down in a gutter in a pool of my own blood in some seedy third world city, shot full of holes from a shady drugs-for-guns deal that’s gone horribly, horribly wrong. Well, that or living on my own small island after winning the lottery. Kind of up in the air at this point.
(pause for effect)
Just kidding! Sorry about that. How about we get back to talking about the job and what I can do for the company.
We have a restaurant here in town who’s application includes the following questions:
If you were a monkey, what kind would you be?
What sensation does the color orange evoke?
Do you think you’ll ever get fired from here?
(Can’t get fired if I don’t get hired)
What’s the most annoying sound in the world?
(I know now it’s the vuvuzela)
Use the word’oscillate’ in a sentence.
(When I got home it was oscillate)
And of course there is an essay question. Topic: Why I don’t suck. Answer: Because straws are for little kids and people drinking sissy drinks.
The food is pretty good, but the staff is kinda weird.
What if Justice Elena Kagan were asked “Why did you wait so long to obtain a driver’s license?” Or if not having a Jaguar would eliminate her from one of the highest and most prestigious jobs in the country?
“Where do you expect to be in five years?”
Alive. Do you keep people here for five years? Will you be in business five years from now? I hope to be five years wiser.
“What kind of animal would you be?”
Hopefully, not one in the gun sights of those guys wearing bright orange vests, funny hats and large numbers on their backs. But let’s see. If I lived in North America, I would be an eagle. In South America, a wild horse in the Pampas. In Australia, a koala bear. In Africa, a cheetah. In the Arctic Circle, a Siberian Husky. In Europe, a fox. In the deserts of Arabia, a camel. In the South Pacific, a dolphin. In the Himalayas, a yak.
Now Ms. Interviewer, how do I bring out the animal in you? ;-)
“If I were a wolf, I’d bring down the dumbest and lamest cattle”
I can’t stand trick questions. So in our process we avoid them like the plague. We like to ask questions that we’d really like real world answers to which will include work questions.
But the animal question brings to mind something I just have to share. In the process of interviewing someone he described his experience in a previous company and got into the culture.
It seems that it was the practice of the president to honor his executives with animal nicknames, right down to a plate with applicable picture outside their office door.
For instance, guess what the president was? I’m sure you nailed it..A lion of course. Someone was a gazelle, a panther, and so on.
Remember that old saying that no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the living room? Well in this company, no problem except they did the talking in the conference room. And someone surely commented on what the “panther” produced in the mens room
I was too aghast, or amused or something but not smart enough at the time to ask how the interviews went, but I’m willing to guess that one question is “If you could be an animal etc.”
Nor did I learn if the person got to vote on their name, but surely if you found out that you were to be blessed with “warthog” you’d speak up. And all kinds of questions I missed e.g. what happens if you get promoted? does the ducking become a swan? Are layoffs safaris?
I don’t know if this (software) company is still in business, but…working there must have been an experience…an what an opportunity for a very unique resume…
Job Title: Ass
Many candidates who really want the job will try to engage just about any question no matter how disengaged from the real work of the company. That’s why telling the hiring manager as soon as possible how you will do the job makes so much sense. Managers ask dumb questions because the conversation has gotten off track from the purpose of the interview. Get it on track and keep it there and you’ll cut off opportunties for the “animal cracker” question.
yes sometimes lame questions come from the interviewer running out of gas, but the kind in this scenario are deliberate cultural things. Someone(s) decided they are a tool to see how you react and handle….well dumb questions like these. Better suited is a real work related situational question to see how you react and handle that.
for instance years ago in the IT world.(I don’t know if they still do it) Microsoft was well known for, and you could expect it, to ask off beat questions to see how you reasoned..e.g. why are manhole covers round? How many gas stations are there in the US? and so on.
Here’s another, a trick process. A friend interviewed with a bank. The day was a heavy schedule of interviews. The day started with filling out the application form, followed by a test. He didn’t finish the test before he started out on the day’s agenda. Not even close. He was off balance and PO’d the entire day. Turns out he found out later, the day and the test was designed that it was impossible to complete the test. They just wanted to upset you before you started your interviews…to see how you’d react and handle it etc. He didn’t want to work for them
I had an interview a couple of years back that along with the application was the Marcel Proust Questionnaire to fill out which are subjective questions like “What is your favorite color?”, “What trait do you most deplore in others?” and “If you could choose an object to come back as, what would it be?”. The questions that could be considered illegal in an interview were omitted. It was one of the most bizarre interviews I have ever been on, but I worked for that company for 2+ years and loved every minute of it.
I was actually asked on my last interview what my favorite movie was. I answered honestly: THX 1138. When I flashed on the sex and nudity, I quickly said, “Actually, it’s a toss-up between THX and 2001: A Space Oddysey.”
I hope someone on the committee didn’t watch THX (she said she had never heard of it). I’m not paranoid enough to think that was the reason I didn’t get the job, but I made a mental note to stick with 2001 next time. No sex in that, just apes killing apes, and computers killing people. Should be safe enough.
Good thing we didn’t start talking about my third favorite, The Man Who Fell to Earth. Security would have escorted me out.
I think THX-1138 is a great answer, especially when you consider that some companies seem to wish they could have employees like that. Definitely ones to run away from.
How about replying to such studpid interview queistions with a question: “Can you please tell me how the question of my favourite animal would relate to my contribution to your business?” That way one could may be get the interviewer bac on track without too much embarassment.
I think many of you have missed the point entirely and metaphors are not in your mental domain.
5 years? me? R&D. my personal number 1 goal is r&d in engineering…aka how ambitious are you? are you going to be dead weight? do you plan on doing what the majority of workers do which is do the bare minimum or below just for a paycheck?
animal…could be the same as 5 years. how ambitious are you? what is the behavior in which you go about doing things? are you a crow who just caws all day? are you the hunter that plans every move before physical application?
not saying all are meaningful just saying keep in mind the actual reason behind the question(s).