what does this interview question mean? and why must it be answered in an essay?

A reader writes:

I have a question regarding an email I received from a potential employer. This is the first contact we’ve had since I applied last night. They said that they wanted to know more about me, and if I could please answer the following questions.

The first one was a typical “what are you looking for in your next job” type of question. The second was…odd. I’m not sure what they are looking for. It was, “If you had one hour, how would you spend it?”

That’s it. No context or anything, so I’m not quite sure how to interpret this. Are they asking if I had one hour left in my life, how would I spend it? Or if I had one hour to get something done work-wise before it was due? Should I answer it both ways?

That is a terrible question. It’s terrible because it’s so unclear what they mean, and it’s terrible because whichever way you interpret it, it still doesn’t give them relevant information about how you’d approach the job. If they were intentionally being unclear to see what you do with it, they suck for putting you in an aggravating purpose for no particular gain, and if they didn’t realize how unclear it sounds, they suck for not having the inclination or ability to think it through.

In any case, I suspect it does not mean “what do you want to do in the hour before you die?” It probably means “if you had one spare hour, what would you spend it on — would you read, do something industrious, cook a gourmet meal, etc.?” But that’s an incredibly silly question that will produce no useful information and a lot of BS answers from candidates trying to guess what will reflect best on them.

Also, I refuse to believe that there’s any utility in them sending you these essay questions to begin with. They don’t need essays about your hopes and dreams; they need to hone in on what it actually takes to do the work well. And conveniently, we already have well-established mechanisms for ferreting that out: resumes, cover letters, phone screens, in-person interviews, and exercises related to the work you’d be doing on the job. Unless you’re applying for a job as a camp counselor, there’s no need for this cornball essay approach to hiring, which also happens to be inconsiderate of candidates’ time and likely to drive away the strongest candidates (who have options and are less likely to invest the time when the company hasn’t even bothered to have an initial screening phone call with them yet). So I’d take this as the mark of a company that doesn’t really know how to hire — and you should keep your eyes open for other signs of nonsense in their operations.

Related:
silly hiring practices: essay questions on job applications

{ 121 comments… read them below }

  1. Nodumbunny

    We just went through the college application hellscape with our oldest (still waiting for admission letters) and that sounds like a prompt for a college admission essay. As such, I’d take it as carte blanche to write about whatever you want – your favorite hobby, something you’ve always wanted to accomplish in your job if you had a spare hour, or even what you’d do in the final hour of your life. Just pose the question that way and answer it. But I agree – dumb hiring practice!

      1. Melissa

        Don’t let the hype take you over, and don’t visit any online message boards about the process. They are full of ridiculousness and competitiveness. I visit one regularly where kids with 4.1s and 2100s desperately ask if they will get in *anywhere*, and where one anxious junior called scoring an 1800 on the SAT “appalling.”

  2. Joey

    When I read the title I just knew you were going to say “it means exactly what it says, no more no less.” Glad to see that wasn’t the case.

    That said I highly doubt a HM would purposefully be that unclear. And what’s up with that- an email saying thanks for applying please give me an essay on some random stuff? If I’m going to ask an applicant for anything that might take some time to develop I’m at least going to weed out as many folks as possible first.

    1. Pandora Amora

      This is probably a position that doesn’t have a lot of applicants; or a position that has a low rate of applicants and a high vacancy rate (a growing software team for example). The hiring manager is probably thinking that by getting applicants to spend more time applying more deeply to the position, that the manager is getting the applicant to mentally commit more to the position: so when an interview is followed by an offer, the applicant is more likely to accept, essentially due to sunk coat bias.

  3. tesyaa

    Is there any chance they want a writing sample and used this silly question in order to get it? Does the job have anything to do with writing? If it’s in a creative field, I can see how an application *might* be able to make use of this.

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      Then they should just ask for a writing sample, preferably one that is actually related to the job.

    2. OP

      It was for a creative field….a web designer. There would be social media updating involved.

  4. VictoriaHR

    I saw this question in the jobs subreddit and I answered that it could be a badly veiled attempt to suss out marital or parental status of the applicant. The other redditors disagreed with me, though.

    1. OP

      Aha! You caught me.

      I submitted this to Alison, but then also asked on reddit because I didn’t want to put off responding. What a small world.

    2. Anonymous

      I thought that too. Does the nature of the organization give you any insights? For example, this sounds like something a nonprofit might ask. Is this a religious-affiliated organization or something in healthcare?

      It seems rather off that a for-profit would ask this, and regardless, it’s very silly. I mean, you could answer: If I had just one spare hour, I would spend it working out (or going out for a walk, etc.).

      1. OP

        It was in healthcare, but not like a doctor’s office setting. More like an organization that provides training for clinicians.

  5. Mike C.

    What a great way to discourage all but the most desperate of applicants from applying!

  6. Adam

    Is it possible this might be a lazy way of weeding out truly interested applicants from the rest?

    1. Chris80

      If so, they’re not doing it very effectively. Lots of truly interested candidates will become a lot less interested in a job when they realize they have to jump through hoops like that to get it.

      1. Stephanie

        Yup. I applied to a role and got an email back with a bunch of short answer questions like this. I replied and the hiring process just got crazier and crazier. The director wanted me to do a writing test (that I suspected was free work for her) and missed our scheduled phone interview. She wanted me to come to Chicago to interview on my own dime (which I was fine with) but wasn’t very responsive to my suggestion that we do a phone screen first.

        Even unemployed, I was just like “Eff this. I don’t have that many options, but she’d be a nightmare to work for.” I dislike being flaky and not following through on things, but I figured this situation warranted it.

        1. Jax

          After a very brisk (borderline mean) phone interview, I went against my better judgment to a 2 hour interview where I was asked to answer phones for 40 minutes.

          Then? They asked me to come back for a 2nd interview where I would work a 1/2 day (unpaid) with the owner. All for an $8 per hour receptionist gig at a granite countertop manufacturer. EFF THAT! I never went back.

          Trust your gut on weird interview requests.

          1. Yup

            Wait, they wanted you to do real — not simulated — reception work for them? TWICE?

            How does that even work? I mean, realistically — you’ve had no training, you don’t know anybody’s titles or job roles or phone extensions, you don’t yet know any of the procedures or standards or product lines, etc. I’m totally baffled as to how they expect you to proceed. Does the candidate who cries the least get the job?

            1. Kelly L.

              Heh, they probably never hire anybody. Just drag in applicant A to answer the phone on Monday, applicant B on Tuesday, and so on, and get your reception duties covered for free in perpetuity!

            2. Jax

              I pity whoever did end up with that job. It was a very small granite showroom and the owner wanted a receptionist/personal slave all rolled into one.

              “Drive home and take my dogs out” was on the job description. Sorry, but this woman was not Miranda Priestly and she wasn’t the head of Vogue.

        2. Chris80

          Definitely a bullet dodged – it does sound like she would have been a very difficult person to work for. Time consuming and useless requirements for job applicants will drive away people that have options…and sometimes even people without very many options.

          1. Stephanie

            Ugh, yeah. The writing test was basically a research paper. It was a nonprofit that specialized in archival work and transcriptions pertaining to underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. So the “sample” she wanted me to complete would have been about 10-15 pages on a topic of my choosing. This was my “Eff this” moment. If she was like that when she’s supposedly trying to woo me, it’d only get worse when she had actual managerial power over me.

            Didn’t help that (well-meaning) friends were like “But Stephanie, this job might be the one! You should follow through!”

        3. Anonymous

          Eek! Yeah, not doing a phone interview before an out-of-town job interview would be bad. It doesn’t say much for her that she wasn’t willing to skip that step.

    2. EngineerGirl

      Not really. Some people will take it just as you stated – lazy. That’s a great way of weeding out well qualified candidates who have options.

    3. Anonymous

      I applied for an internship where they wrote back asking me to answer three questions – sort of short essays. I turned in a few paragraph per question . The questions were relevant to the internship. I appreciated that they didn’t ask everyone applicant to answer the questions, just the key prospects. What I wrote was great (IMHO) and got it.

  7. James M

    If OP actually wants this job (read: is willing to put up with tomfoolery like this), she could treat it as an excuse to advertise her proactive work ethic.

    I’m thinking OP could write a paragraph about using that hour to tackle a challenging portion of a personal project, preferably one that involves learning and problem solving. E.g. I’d spend that hour testing thermal properties of mint glazes for chocolate teapots.

    1. EngineerGirl

      This. The lack of context is bothersome, so I would reframe the question. I would explicitly state the following:
      “This question has different answers depending on the context of the hour. Since this is a work related question, I’ll reframe the question as “If you had a spare hour at this job, how would you use it?”
      Then I’d go on to answer that question.

      Your other option is to contact the company – once – and seek clarification. There is nothing wrong with follow up in this case.

  8. A Reader

    Even if it’s ridiculous, if you want the job I’d take the question as an opportunity to show that you’re a great cultural fit and a great fit in terms of your work style. So if you know about the work culture (if it’s work hard play hard, laid back, everyone has a particular kind of hobby, they like people to be outgoing, etc) you can answer and subtly add in details that suggest you’re similar to that. You can also highlight abilities that they might want you to have. So maybe they value creativity. Give a super creative answer. Maybe they value methodical workers. Make the answer a little more methodical. And so on…. it’s a silly practice, but it can be viewed as a nice opportunity for you if you really want that job!

    1. Sadsack

      How does one know what type of culture there is and what the employer may desire in an employee without ever having had a conversation with anyone there? This essay was the employer’s first contact after an application was submitted.

      1. KJR

        This would be a great answer if you really felt these particular attributes applied to you. Beware of fitting yourself into a position out of desperation — it may lead to misery on the job if you are hired. Plus, judging culture without having set foot in the place is going to be difficult.

  9. Anon

    If this were a job I was truly interested in having, I would answer it as though it was asking what I would do with an extra hour *at work*: i.e., file papers, respond to emails, return phone calls, prep for tomorrow’s meeting, catch up on relevant industry articles, etc.

    1. ArtsNerd

      Me too, though I’d stay away from “filing” and say something more like “I’d put together a wish list of long term projects, and then see if there are steps I can start taking now to turn them into reality” or “I’d focus on improving my workflow efficiency by learning new Excel functions to automate data analysis.” I have actually done both of those in some downtime, so it’s not entirely inaccurate – even if most of the time a free hour is spent on AAM, reading industry news, or cleaning my desk!

      1. Just a Reader

        I actually always have an “extracurricular” side project going that I work on when I have those rare extra hours. Perhaps the OP could outline something he/she has always wanted to explore or spearhead and put that extra hour toward it.

        So answer in the spirit of career development and only comply with the letter of the question.

  10. Just a Reader

    Blah.

    I slogged through BS like this for my current job, but I knew that I really, really wanted to work for this company, even before the initial screening interview. And I still almost abandoned the application process. The questions weren’t dumb but they were lengthy.

    The LW should think about the value of his/her time, the landscape of the market and whether he/she wants to work for a company that gets cute with something as serious as hiring.

  11. KJR

    I just don’t get this type of question. Your answer could mean 5 things to 5 different hiring managers. How utterly annoying.

    1. CAA

      The answer to every open ended question means something different to every interviewer who hears it. This one’s really not any different in that respect. It is different that they want her to write a short essay and that they didn’t provide the obviously needed context.

  12. tango

    Well if you really want to burn bridges, you can respond with something along the lines of “if I had an hour free at work I’d spend it fixing the hiring process and stoping the process of applicants having to answer questions on what they’d do if they had an hour”.

    I know, I know but somethimes don’t you just want to respond with something like that? It’s fun to dream.

  13. Joey

    Well I know a lot of people say things like “good applicants have options.” But the truth of the matter is when you are among the most desirable companies to work for you can get even the best applicants to do crap like this. I’ve seen this over and over- really good companies with very very good candidates going on 6-7 interviews and jumping through all sorts of additional hoops to get in.

  14. Brett

    I think the real problem here is the timing of the essay rather than the question itself.
    This could be useful between a first and second interview. Fewer people are involved, the applicants have a better understanding of the position, and the applicant knows that there could be a significant pay off to time invested in the essay.

    But as a first contact after the initial application? That means a broad swath of candidates with minimal understanding of the position and a low possibility of pay off for the time invested.

    My advice would be just to write an interesting essay and make sure you write it well. Stay on the general theme, use an introduction and conclusion, have an overall thesis to the essay, and use transitions. Make sure to vary your sentence structure (simple, complex, compound, and compound-complex sentences) and use a natural vocabulary. Follow those grammatical rules and you can use a relatively simple thesis and still keep the reader drawn in.

    1. Anonymous

      It’s possible the answer doesn’t matter and they truly are just looking for the basic mechanics of writing. But seriously, I could answer that question in ONE sentence.

  15. MaryMary

    I ran into an online application once that wanted candidates to write a poem about why they wanted the job – with a required word count (what if I wanted to write a limerick?). Best if all, you couldn’t save or submit the application without completing your poem. The application was for a young software company, I think they were assessing cultural fit as much as poetic skills, but probably losing a lot of good candidates in the process.

    I wrote three haikus (stupid word count) and did not get an interview.

      1. KellyK

        who had candidates by the bucket,
        So they said “Write an essay,”
        Because they were crazy
        And people with standards said…

    1. EngineerGirl

      I would be sooooo tempted to do a Dr. Seuss answer:

      I want this job, I really do! And you should want to hire me too.
      I work quite hard all through the day – that’s what all my bosses say.
      My workmanship is quite the best – it stands up to any test.
      If you need someone extraordinaire, so your life has not a single care, Then hire me, hire me, quick quick quick! You’ll find that I am quite the pick.

      1. Emma

        I’m foreseeing an AAM meme of answering inane job questions in the style of various authors, poets, comedians, etc.

        Call me JobSeeker. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me at CurrentJob,I thought I would search about a little…

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single worker lacking possession of a good fortune must be in want of a job.

          1. CEMgr

            It was the best of jobs, it was the worst of jobs….
            {much book}
            …..it is a far, far better Job I go to now, than I have ever known.

            1. Anonymous

              I got hired today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the company: “You’re hired. Start tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That does mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

            2. The Stranger

              I got hired today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the company: “You’re hired. Start tomorrow. Faithfully yours.” That does mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

    2. JAM

      A couple of years out of college, I applied for a health care tech writing job, and in addition to an hours-long test that included math problems I hadn’t done in at least 7 years (think: one car moving at x speed, another moving towards it at x speed – when will they meet? type of thing), and science and health questions I had no background to answer (which I was told beforehand I would not need), the test also included multiple writing prompts. Now, I knew I had already completely blew the test portion, but I thought I had to see this through. I REALLY knew I should have bailed when the first writing prompt was: Share a few lines from your favorite poem.

      “Kill me now” were my exact thoughts when I saw that. Ridiculous for a tech writing job. Now I know to run from a job like that, but I was young and desperate for a “real” job at that time. (For the record, I hate poetry, so I think I dug up some random song lyrics I could quote. Surprisingly, I didn’t get that job!)

        1. Anonymous

          Nope. It was an entry-level job, so they didn’t really expect any in the job posting or when I did a phone interview (and I didn’t have any, other than a bit from school).

          The rest of the writing prompts were weird, too. I remember one being something like “write a review of your autobiography.” Only one seemed to apply to the actual job, which was taking facts they gave in a list and writing a newspaper report.

          The whole thing was crazy and took like 6 hours total. I would have walked out about an hour into the test if I was doing it now, but I was young and desperate. ;)

      1. PJ

        Favorite poem:

        “Go ask Papa, the maiden said.
        The young man knew that Papa was dead.
        He knew the life that Papa had lead.
        He understood when the maiden said,
        ‘Go ask Papa.'”

        Think I’ll get the job?

        1. Chuchundra

          Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
          Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
          Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
          And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
          Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
          But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
          Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
          Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

        2. Elizabeth West

          A favorite limerick:

          The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher
          Called a hen a most elegant creature.
          The hen, pleased with that,
          Laid an egg in his hat,
          And thus did the hen reward Beecher.

          :) I got a million of these.

      2. Anonymous

        Was it perhaps for a job working for a company headquartered in South Central WI? I applied for a tech writer position there and had to do the same tests. I didn’t get a call back either!

        1. JAM

          I just don’t know what kind of insights they were going to get from this. I’m pretty sure my hating poetry and not being able to quote a poem verbatim out of thin air would not impact my ability to do my job. (It hasn’t yet in any job I’ve had!) So stupid.

          Anyone know any job-related poems? :)

      3. Not So NewReader

        I hate poetry, too. All I could think of was:
        “Three cheers for Pooh…..”

      4. Anonymous

        “I knew I had already completely blew the test portion, but I thought I had to see this through. ”

        How do you know that? If they have a job opening, it’s quite possible you only needed do better than other applicants, not ace every question.

    3. James M

        Once upon a midday dreary,
           my eyelids drooping weak and weary,
        I drudged across many mundane
           spreadsheets bearing long forgotten lore.

  16. Midge

    As a former camp counselor I would just like to point out that cornball essays are not a good indicator of being a good camp counselor either. (Because it’s actually a pretty demanding job, not 40 hours a week sitting back while your kids are adorable, we’ll behaved, and engaged.)

    Anyway, I have seen questions kinda like this- though usually not so vague- on applications for academic programs or internships. Is there a chance the hiring manager is used to working with students rather than professionals?

    1. summercamper

      I hire camp counselors, and even I don’t ask these sorts of “cornball” essay questions. I’ve seen plenty of ’em, though.

      I think you are right, Midge, in noticing that these sorts of questions are most common for academic programs or internships – places where, presumably, the candidates have little to no work experience.

      If we can go off on our own little tangent here, what do you think are some good camp counselor traits to watch for in hiring – and what are good questions to ask of folks with very little professional work experience that can help identify the right applicants for the job?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Can I guess? I have zero experience in this realm, but my initial guesses would be:
        * problem-solving skills
        * low-drama
        * warm/friendly
        * able to command respect of the campers / able to be appropriately directive without being tyrannical
        * really comfortable working/living in groups and being “on” most of the time
        * responsible/reliable/someone you can count on to report or otherwise problems (as opposed to brushing them off or burying their head in the sand)

        That’s my guess, based on Girl Scout camp in grade school.

        1. HR “Gumption”

          Tolerance to noise.

          Just the mere thought of being a Camp Counselor sends me into a panic attack.

          1. Poe

            This, for sure. I worked at day camps for a summer, and the shouting inside on a rainy day when everyone has been cooped up for 7+ hours…that wore on me. Most of the time, fine.

            You need to be good at thinking on kid-level. Sometimes an activity doesn’t work out, and you have to make something up. This was my biggest asset, to pull ideas out of the air and make them fun for kids. If you can think like a kid while being an adult, you will probably be good at camps.

      2. Mints

        Late to the party, but I’d like to add that it’s important to have a mix of personalities, or the special unicorn people who can switch gears really well.
        Because we need physical game types, crafty artsy types, musical goof balls. But also, people who act calm even when they’re internally having a panic attack because they need to call 911 for a camper on their third day of being lead camp counselor (true story!) And people who will plan days to the minute and like logistics. Also people who can put on their grownup hat and talk to parents when everyone is mad at us some days. Also just generally cheerful and patient (although ADD is not a hindrance because they will find ways to entertain kids). Almost any “type” can do well as long as they like kids and try to do well

    2. Student Affairs Program Coordinator

      I was a camp counselor for 6 summers, then worked as a program coordinator for one summer, so I have lots of experience in this area!

      -Seconding the “patience” recommendation
      -Fairness
      -High energy
      -Not self-conscious; someone who is willing to “play along” – this might vary wildly based on your camp culture, but at the camps I’ve worked at, counselors needed to be willing to sing camp songs at the top of their lungs, do silly voices, wear costumes or funny hats (we had themed dress up days), follow goofy rules to games (eg: once you’re tagged you are become an octopus!) basically make a fool of themselves. We often joked that we were paid clowns. There was a lot of silliness, and that isn’t a fit for everyone’s personality.
      -Ability to react well under pressure, respond quickly to panic situations (child is missing, child darts into traffic, child throws up, child sustains injury, etc)

  17. Ali

    I had to answer a question similar to this on one of my more recent interviews, except I was asked what I would do with one free day. I was one of the finalists and didn’t get the position, but I was kind of put off by that and at least one or two of the other questions.

    1. Clever Name

      Lame essay question, but I had a ton of fun thinking about what I’d do with a free day. :)

  18. Lee

    I had a similar experience with a growing start-up. I had to apply with a resume and a cover “letter” that was no more than 140 characters. When I heard back from them, they asked for an essay response to a question about a non-work time when I was a leader. (This was not for a management or leadership job.) I was tempted to blow it off, but I was unemployed and the company sounded interesting. I should have taken it as a warning sign! The rest of the hiring process was absurd, with multiple “projects” and essay questions. It was so unlike anything else I had ever seen before. I had to jump through about five hoops before I could even speak with anyone, and I was beyond frustrated when they didn’t even discuss any of my answers. I ended up bowing out of the process, but wish I had done so much, much earlier on in the process.

    1. Fiona

      I admit, the Twitter-sized cover letter requirement is kind of entertaining (for the right job). “Can you be compelling in two sentences or less? Prove it.”

      1. Lee

        Yes, definitely interesting if it makes sense for the job (e.g. social media). This one didn’t make much sense :)

    2. Frustrated Job Seeker

      Is this a certain web development company on the West Coast that starts with 14th letter of the alphabet? Sounds similar, but I was told the interview process (at least the first 5 rounds) were different (I would be applying for a job that starts with the 15th letter of the alphabet) Cuz if it is I’m going to cry…

  19. HR “Gumption”

    Q- “If you had one hour, how would you spend it?”
    A- With a bottle of bourbon and a replay of the Seahawks/Broncos game.

  20. OP

    Hi all.

    What I ended up saying was basically that I enjoy staying up to date on my field (web design, so it changes quite a bit!) and figuring out ways to implement newer tech into my workload. I also said that in my free time I do a lot of reading, writing, social media, forums (reddit counts, right?) where I contribute to furthering my skills. None of it was a lie, I do enjoy all those things. I was able to tie it with the first question on what I’m looking for in my next position as well.

    I did not write an essay. Maybe one paragraph to answer the second question. Haven’t heard back, but it’s still early.

    1. Clever Name

      If that’s the way they phrase a question, I bet they have no idea how an actual essay is structured, so you’re probably cool.

  21. ThursdaysGeek

    Q- “If you had one hour, how would you spend it?”
    A- First, I’d spend some time wondering if this was a work hour, hour of leisure, or perhaps the last hour of my life. Then, I’d submit the question to AAM and reddit, trying to get some input on which hour it might be. Finally, since without a good definition of the problem, it’s hard to find the right solution, I’d debate with myself whether I wanted to continue with this application process and ask the potential employers for more details on this hour, or whether I’d rather save the last few minutes of the hour and spend it on something worthwhile, like washing the dirty dishes from last night or finishing the limerick in the comments above.

  22. AmyNYC

    This reminds me of “Describe your perfect date” from Miss Congeniality. The answer wasn’t wrong but it wasn’t exactly right

    1. Fiona

      “All you need is a light jacket!”

      Miss Congeniality is in my top 5 favorite movies of all time. :D

  23. Area51

    Completely agree with Alison; her last paragraph says it all.

    One company sent me ~14 essay questions to answer. The recruiter could’ve easily answered at least a third of them by simply *reading* my resume, so I suspect he/she didn’t.

    A company sending you a list of essay questions to answer is a huge red flag. Run far away, if you can. IMHO, the greater the number of interview hoops to jump through, the less likely you’ll get the job.

  24. Cally

    I sometimes ask candidates a softball question – like “what is your favorite food?” – just to help put them at ease and establish a report. But I’m starting to realize that may not be the best idea.

    1. Eric

      So I’ve been known to start interviews by asking if there are any foods that they like or don’t like. But that is just because we are going to be taking them out to lunch in a couple of hours, and don’t want to take the vegetarian to the steak house. There are a few candidates who I can tell feel uncomfortable answering honestly (even when I give them the context), and think I’m judging them based on the answer.
      Trust me, I’m not going to hire based on whether or not you like Thai food!

      1. R

        If the “favorite food” question is really about logistics, then that might be something you or an assistant could cover in an email before the interview. I agree with Katie that you might be inadvertently making people over-analyze something very trivial.

    2. Katie

      As someone who’s interviewing now, PLEASE don’t do this. I think it might have the opposite of its intended effect- I’ll spend my time worrying and overanalyzing what should be a very simple question, wondering if there’s an ulterior motive behind the question. Are you trying to psychoanalyze me? Do you hate Thai food? Am I too provincial if I tell you I like something American? And as an avid cook and enthusiastic eater, I don’t have a favorite food. I LOVE ALL TEH FOODZ.

      My answer to this question gives you no idea what sort of employee I’ll be. Set your candidates at ease by welcoming them warmly, having someone prep them on what to expect prior to the interview (business formal, should last one hour, please park in the back lot, etc.), and by being prepared.

      Is anybody ever really able to name their favorite food/ movie/ color anyway? Those are all so changeable for me, and depend on a variety of factors.

      1. Stephanie

        +1

        Or I’d be worried that saying that I like something unhealthy would reflect poorly upon me.

      2. Poe

        Mine is pepperoni pizza and Phish Food (Ben & Jerry’s). So…I would be super-uncomfortable with that question, as I am not rail-thin and I would worry that I seem slovenly.

    3. Laura

      Something like that would do the opposite of putting me at ease, just because I tend to over analyze such things. That’s just me, but I think lots of people might be like that.

    4. Carpe Librarium

      Perhaps this question could be asked after you’ve wrapped up the interview part, as you and the candidate are getting up to leave the room; that makes it clear that the question does not form part of the interview.
      Then asking “Since I’ll be taking you to lunch, is there any particular food you do or don’t enjoy? Some good nearby restaurants are [steakhouse], [curry place] and [falafel kitchen].”

    5. Rindle

      Agree with the others. You clearly mean well here, and as an interviewee I thank you for trying to put people at ease!

      I’d be stressed by this question IRL, though, let alone in an interview. (I really don’t have a “favorite” anything.) I think I’ve been most at ease at the beginning of an interview when people have been friendly and casual. I always try to keep in mind when I’m interviewing people that they tend to walk in the door seriously on edge. I try to offer water, a place to put their coat, ask how their commute went, etc.

      I also like it when the interviewer talks for a bit first once we sit down. It’s always good to hear from an actual person (vs. job description, etc.) what the job is about, what the context is, etc. I think 5 minutes of hearing about that from a friendly, engaging person is the easiest way to put me at ease.

  25. Not So NewReader

    “If I had only an hour, I would spend it apply to X company, because this is my life’s goal and my big dream. It is such a priviledge to contemplate even filling out this application that I am sure I have found Utopia. I would use nice lined paper and make sure my penmanship is absolutely perfect. Then I would place it in an envelop with the security paper on the inside. Just to protect my biggest accomplishment in life. And I would make a special trip to the mail box just to send it on its way…..”

    Seriously: There is no way I would even have the patience to begin to answer the question. Perhaps that is the point, right there.

  26. Vicki

    If I had an hour I would spend it…
    trying to figure out what is meant by this question.

    But I don’t have an hour.

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