If You Were An Animal…

I spend a lot of time chatting in round tables with professionals looking for work. I’m hearing some interesting stories these days about interview questions. Employers are actually asking questions like, “if you were an item in a grocery store what would you be and why?” And, “if you were an animal what animal would you be and why?” Another was asked, “if you were as superhero what would be your super power?”

I’m not going to lie, I’m horribly embarrassed for companies posing these types of questions. Interviews are business meetings not game shows. They are also a two-way exchange. How would that interviewer feel if the job seeker returned the question? So, potential employer, now that you know that I view myself to be a Spanish olive, what grocery item are you? How about the other employees you supervise? Since this is a team environment, I’d like to know if any of your current staff is, say, Cool Whip. Cool Whip and olives don’t mix all that well, after all.

I’m sure there is some logic behind the strategy. Perhaps the goal is to measure how candidates respond to the unexpected or how they deal with requests that don’t seem to make sense. That said, it seems to me there are better ways to accomplish this without compromising the employer’s credibility. It’s easy to understand how a job seeker might wonder if other business situations within the company are handled in such an, cough, interesting way.

The biggest issue I have with these types of questions is that I personally think they invite discrimination. I’ll give an example. Consider how many adults seeking employment at any given moment are potentially on the spectrum of Autism. They’re perfectly good employees and function well in their roles. Their brains dissect information in different ways. In an interview setting asking that person to pick one thing in a store of thousands of items he would identify with is overwhelming, if it’s even understood. Many who I’ve encountered and suspected of being on the spectrum are noticeably missing the ability to bull****, which is exactly what some of these questions require. Do companies really want a screening device that favors those more inclined to spit out baloney? I know I wouldn’t.

For job seekers faced with these questions, answer them as well as you can. Don’t get mad or annoyed. It’s just a question. That said, you may want to ask some questions of your own that shed light on the company’s culture and business strategy. The company you align yourself will be a business partner. They’ll be contributing a check and an opportunity to make yourself useful, while you’ll be contributing your talent, connections, energy and time. Make sure the business partner has the good judgment necessary for a successful outcome down the road.


  • Scot says:

    Lisa, I concur with your assumption oblique questions may be used to gauge how quickly one can answer a truly non-interview question. I don’t think the answer matters at all. I think it is the speed with which one answers. I base my observation on two personal experiences; one, the rapidity with which the interviewer asked the next question and two the startled look I received when I said “May I think about it for a moment?”.

    Oblique questions are just questions and unfortunately part of the interview game some employers feel job seekers must play. I believe it directly reflects on the potential employee’s new office culture.

  • David Brooks says:

    Lisa, you are correct. I can see my son sitting there with the dear in the head light look at questions like that. I’ve never had any questions like that and if I did I would fire back with “what does that have to do with this position?” I consider myself a professional and to me, questions like you described borders on wasting my time. I wouldn’t be able to take the rest of the interview seriously. Okay, I will be understanding and I can see this line of questions for a creative position in advertising…….maybe. As someone that was long term unemployed I’m not interested in playing a game that an employer thinks that job seekers want to play. If employers want employees that are professional then they should present their company in a professiolan manner. The old saying is true…..”first impressions are lasting impressions.”

  • Lisa says:

    Scot and David, I agree. It adds to the feeling of it being a game. Interestingly enough, some of the Human Resource professionals I network with who have found themselves on the other side of the interview desk in this economy have told me they will do things a bit differently once they are employed again. Understanding things from the job seeker’s point of view has been eye opening for them. They now realize what turns off the professionals they are most interested in attracting. Surely there are some candidates companies would never dream of asking whether or not they identified more with a bunny or deer. They know it would come off as unprofessional or juvenile. Can you imagine asking Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs that question? I can’t. So don’t ask it of anyone. No matter what it’s evaluating, it’s hard for those who take the business of interviewing seriously to take your business seriously after that.

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