If you haven’t figured it out yet, employers ask some pretty inane questions during job interviews. This one may top the list.
If you’ve already been on a dozen or more interviews with different companies and already answered any sane person’s share of these “surprise” questions, I honestly wouldn’t blame you for just thanking them for their time and walking out the door.
Maybe, you might be a little more tolerant if it’s just an HR screener interviewing you – someone else probably gave her the list of questions, or worse, didn’t. But, if the manager you would report to asks you this question, you really should think long and hard about whether you could be happy and successful working for that person.
However, you may really need a job, or really want to work for this company (although I don’t know why). If so, you’re just going to have to bite your tongue and say something. Let’s try to figure out what.
Don’t Say This
We’ve already discussed walking out; other responses that could lose you the job opportunity might include:
- A long soliloquy on your love of bunnies is going to be counterproductive. Keep your answer short. This question doesn’t deserve a long answer, and the interviewer surely is not looking for one.
- Don’t choose an animal with a bad reputation. Definitely not spiders, or snakes. Rats, chickens, sloths, hyenas, and skunks also come to mind. At all cost, avoid an animal that is associated with failure.
- Since you’ve chosen to answer, don’t show your disdain for the question. Pretend you find meaning in it and pretend to spend a few moments thinking of your answer, as if it’s worthy of a little thought. Just don’t act like it requires a lot of thought.
- As much as you want to say “human,” don’t.
What to Say
Obviously, the opposite of the above is a start:
- Choose an animal with a good reputation. Lions, eagles, hard-working ants, loyal dogs, energetic beavers, strong horses, a smart dolphin or Border Collie would all be reasonable choices.
- Connect the animal to personality traits of yours that make you the best choice for the job. If the position requires teamwork, be the ant. If you will be a loyal assistant to an executive, a cute dog sounds good. And so on.
- State those connections rather than leave it to the interviewer to imagine them. Don’t let them think you’d like to be a loyal dog because you’re not loyal now. You want to be that animal because it’s so much like you already, so say that. Explain the reasons why you chose that animal.
- Keep your answer short. Oh, wait, I already said that.
Why Are You Being Asked This Nonsense?
Ok, if you insist, let’s understand what this question is supposedly about and the strategy behind answering it.
Like the other “surprise” questions employers like to throw out, this one supposedly lets the interviewer see how you react during moments of stress to unexpected pressure. The idea is that you will not have anticipated this question and so, won’t have a canned response ready to regurgitate.
The interviewer gets a glimpse of the real you, and sees how your mind works to solve an issue.
Of course, you will be prepared for this question, just like you’ll be prepared for the other inane questions – because you’re a professional, and you want the job offer (whether you accept a job offer is a different issue – you always want to get the offer). But don’t let the interviewer know that.
Furrow your brow, touch your face to signal stress, dart your eyes from side to side a couple of times, then, starting slowly and then faster as you get into it, tell your animal story, just like you practiced so many times.
The question is also supposed to help the employer determine whether you personality meshes with the current team and the company culture.
Ignoring for the moment that any company culture that has employees wondering which animals they could be is probably not going to be in business very long, one still wonders whether most candidates prioritize cultural aspects of their animal choice rather than choosing an animal that better reflects their skills and training.
You may be a cuddly kitten with all your team members, but if your strongest talent is the ability to get a lot of quality work done in a short time, are you more likely to choose a cheetah? I guess they are both felines, but one doesn’t play well with others.
More importantly, you need to choose an animal with traits comparable to those that the job requires.
I know; it was hard enough making a case for your skills being the ones the job requires – now, they want you to explain your value proposition through the façade of an imaginary animal. No one ever said getting a job would be easy.
But play along with them, interviews don’t last forever. Prepare by, first, mapping your skills to the job requirements.
Next, prioritize those job requirements and, ergo, your skills. Then, choose an animal that represents the most important skills and, hopefully, has a few of the other skills as well. That’s not to say that you can’t choose a cartoon animal that has a human-like personality – “I’d be Nemo” – to make the comparison easier; just be sure the character is popular enough that the interviewer would understand. Having said that, you need to make sure you are giving them enough reasons to justify why you want to work there.
If you have the personality for it, and the interviewer seems to have the personality to accept it, it’s not unreasonable for you to question the motives behind such a question – after you’ve answered – as a way to, hopefully, forestall more inane questions.
Perhaps, saying, “I’m really curious how you think such a question is going to help identify the best candidate for this job. The answers have just got to be all over the place. How did you answer this when you interviewed?”
Finally, understand that job interviews work both ways. You should be interviewing the hiring manager as well, and asking questions about the company to determine whether it’s the right fit for you. Being asked questions like this might be a sign that you need to continue your search elsewhere.