how to deal with weird interview questions

I’m quoted in this Lifehacker article about how to deal with weird questions in job interviews.

One point I wanted to stress to the interviewer is that there are two categories of these questions: (1) brainteasers like “how many golf balls can you fit into an airplane?” where the interviewer wants to hear you problem-solve out loud, and (2) just plain weird questions like “what kind of a tree would you be?”

Companies like Google that used to be famous for asking the first category have moved away from them, having seen from their own research that they don’t work. And the second category have always been just plain bad.

You can read the whole article here.

{ 424 comments… read them below }

  1. Elmyra Duff*

    I was once asked at an interview, “If you could get rid of any US state, which one would you pick?” This was like two years ago and I still think about it. My answer probably should have been “None” since the question was “If you could” and not “You have to get rid of any US state.” I think I said Wyoming because it would probably have the least amount of people who would be affected by the sudden disappearance of their land.

    I didn’t get that job, btw.

    1. Papyrus*

      Yikes, what a weird question. The only merit I can see to asking it is maybe to root out any biases/racism/elitism or something, but even that’s a stretch.

      Plus, the answer is clearly Florida (I’m kidding!)

      1. Miss Betty*

        Having spent four very long years in the Dallas Metroplex, I’d go with Texas. (Though to be fair, I didn’t see a whole lot of Texas outside of that area or meet many Texans from outside the area, so it’s quite possible that my experience might have been much better if I’d lived elsewhere. There’s certainly a lot of elsewhere in Texas! And I loved the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush every spring and that we we got a day off work if there was a dusting of snow in the morning.)

        1. aaanon*

          As a Texan, I feel the urge to argue, but also as a Texan who lives around a lot of fellow Texans…yeah, that’s about right. Quite a few of ’em would be glad to see Texas leave the U.S. anyways.

        2. tink*

          As a transplant to DFW, I can’t help but think that our wonderful drivers are responsible for at least 125% of this feeling. But the wildflowers out here are definitely beautiful.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I deleted a long off-topic thread here. Please keep comments on-topic so that people can easily find the relevant stuff. Thanks.

      3. Hermione Granger*

        Any answer I woulf give (probably FL or TX) would be based on political reasons that would be completely inappropriate to discuss in a job interview!

      4. Janelle*

        I was thinking Florida too. These questions are so ridiculous. Plus asking provides little understanding of my thought process.

    2. k*

      I’d totally fail that question. My spouse and I have an inside joke about a neighboring state being the worst (really we’ve just had bad luck driving through it), so I would instinctively blurt that out. We’re not far from the border, so there’s a good chance I’d be offing an interviewers home state or home of their family/friends.

    3. Slippy*

      I’d say Texas. They have been wanting to strike off on their own for a while anyways.

    4. introvert*

      For me it would definitely be Connecticut. I could make the trip to NYC (from Boston) much more frequently if I didn’t have to get through Connecticut on my way! :)

      1. Amber T*

        Oh jeez I know exactly what you’re talking about. I live north of NYC and visit my friend in Boston once a year. Getting there is HORRIBLE. For whatever reason, they have these random “slow lanes” on the right that come and go, so you literally go from three lanes to two (maybe four to three? I don’t remember) regularly, so you’re constantly bottlenecking. And those slow lanes are never used for slower cars, they’re used by asshats who want to speed by on the right. Then they have a commuter lane on the left, which is separated from the rest of the highway by spice wider than a regularly that’s dipped in the center… why couldn’t they just make that another lane? Also, so many lights. I know New Yorkers are the weird ones here by not putting street lights on our highways… but your cars have headlights, don’t they? Use those!

        /end CT rant

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It’s actually not random slow lanes—it’s just that people are horrific drivers. It’s seriously a “choose your own adventure” approach to driving. It’s pretty tough to be a worse place to drive than Boston, but I-95 through Connecticut somehow manages to nail it, every time. (I-91 is a little less horrific once you get past Wallingford, but you do have to be mindful of the big drop in speed limits through Hartford.)

          But it’s otherwise a lovely state. :)

    5. Decimus*

      A truly odd question. There are three ways to interpret it (at least):
      1) You will sink the state into the sea, killing or disbursing the populace. Ans: Florida.
      2) You will merge the state politically with a neighbor, so it will continue to exist geographically but not politically. Ans: Rhode Island.
      3) You will cause the state to become a separate independent polity, no longer part of the USA. Ans: Vermont, Texas, or California.

      1. Antilles*

        Because of the different ways to think about it, I actually kinda like the question as a thought experiment. It’s totally inappropriate for an interview, but it’s cool to think about.

        1. hbc*

          Yeah, that question would reveal a lot about me. I can’t possibly answer without about a dozen “if” statements and clarification questions.

          But they probably have something weirdly specific in mind, like you need to pick the state with the least unique resources or lowest population or something.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Taking option 2, I have trouble remembering where a lot of states in the Midwest/Upper South go on the map. We could merge a bunch of them and call it “Lower Midwestia.”

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          I would suggest you never give this answer if you’re ever actually asked it, assuming you want the job.

    6. Trout 'Waver*

      Interviewer: What state would you get rid of?
      Me: Guam.
      Interviewer: That’s not a state.
      Me: My results speak for themselves.

      1. Amber Rose*

        XKCD did a comic sort of like that.
        “I hear you’re the best in the marketing business, but your resume isn’t that impressive. Why should I hire you?”
        “Where did you hear I was the best?”
        “… You’re good.”

    7. AnonEMoose*

      Texas. Because, maybe then, textbook publishers will stop catering to them, at everyone else’s expense.

    8. Anxa*

      That would be my answer! But I’d probably get way too entrenched in the question and start going on about what do you with all the American citizens, native and non-native? What happens to the state employees, university students, military? What would the timeline be like? What role would other nations have in the process.

      This is why I’m no good at these sorts of questions.

      1. many bells down*

        Honestly it probably wouldn’t even have 100% support from native Hawaiians at this point. But I have always thought it was ridiculous that we just took them over for the sake of a strategic foothold mostly.

    9. Catabodua*

      I’d have to answer California. They’ve been telling us an earthquake was going to dump it into the ocean for as long as I can remember… but we’re still waiting.

    10. Manders*

      Finally, a chance to make my case for Cascadian independence! I think any interviewer around here would be amused by that answer (but I certainly hope I never get asked, because what a weird question).

    11. Poster Child*

      I think you’d have to know WHY you’re getting rid of a state and it would be fair to ask the interviewer that because your answer should be different based on the reason. Are you getting rid of the most unprofitable state? The one that contributes least to the economy/GDP? The one with the most violent crime? And then you could share your thought process to determine which state if eliminated would help you achieve your goal, the pros and cons of doing so, etc. This could related to a job that had to determine which department to lay off or which retail stores to close or any number of decisions…make sure you know why you’re doing something and what factors to consider to make that decision. The actual state you choose is irrelevant, it’s still the thought process that’s important.

      1. babblemouth*

        Maybe that was the point of the question? See how the candidates values history, economic output, people, culture etc? It’s still a bad way to tease out that kind of answer…

    12. Master Bean Counter*

      California, they already have great border control. Just try moving a house plant into that state. ;)

    13. Marillenbaum*

      To be fair, Id go with Wyoming. I’ve driven through it, and I never want to do that to myself again.

      1. Insert name here*

        I had a SUPER weird experience in Cheyenne, WY. My husband and I drove up from Denver (just cuz we’d never been to WY and thought, hey why not) and the downtown was basically dead…which is understandable since it was Sunday…but people driving by at their cars stared at me quite openly as we walked down the street. They stared downtown, they stared at the nearby park, they stared at the gas station when we topped off the tank before driving to Boulder, and they stared as we drove towards the freeway! It was like Innsmouth or something if you’re a Lovecraft fan. The facial expressions were definitely of the “we dont want your kind around here” type which I’ve never experienced. The odd thing is my husband is white and I’m technically “white” too (middle eastern but mostly I just look like a white girl with a tan) and everyone staring at me was white too, so I’m not even sure it was racially motivated like you’d normally expect when that happens. I know Cheyenne is a small city but dang! I’ve gone through plenty of small towns in TX, AL, MS, and none of that has ever happened to me!

        1. Chaordic One*

          I’ve had that experience in both Wyoming and Montana and I’m white and I think I’m pretty ordinary and boring looking. I don’t know what to make of it. One of my Wyoming relatives says that it is because the natives don’t ever expect to see anyone and that there are so few people there that anytime anyone walks down the street it is unusual. In the past few years, Wyoming has been losing population. But, yeah. WTF?

        2. Elizabeth West*

          This happened to a classmate of mine in Rolla MO. Her husband was going to school there and they drove back and forth a lot, and she said anywhere they ever stopped, everybody looked at them like zombies, with these dead eyes. She said they called it “Village of the Damned.”

        3. bunniferous*

          I will ask my daughter in law-she is from Cheyenne. She does not stare at anybody as far as I know, though.

      2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        I know one thing about Wyoming. When I was in high school, there was a girl who went to a student exchange year in US. The organization that offered the exchange year didn’t allow her to choose exactly where in the US she wanted to go, there were maybe three or four big areas to choose from. She chose the western part because she was interested in the big cities in California. She ended up in Wyoming and was deeply disappointed.

    14. The OG Anonsie*

      I hate this question in particular knowing (before I even scrolled through the replies) that Texas will be the most common answer up there with a few other southern states. Like the only contexts I ever hear people talk about jettisoning a state is for people to heeheehee about how much smarter they are than those backwards people in this other state, they’re such a bunch of stupid rednecks, they’re ruining the country, etc. Kinda gross on top of being a pointless interview question.

      1. Blurgle*

        I would love if the interviewee had said Hawaii, since it should never have been occupied by foreign powers in the first place.

      2. babblemouth*

        I had first interpreted the question as to “what state would you wipe off the map altogether” not just give independance to. I guess your interpretation is slightly better than mine as at least it doesn’t imply genocide…

    15. Nacho*

      I would have said Alaska. I’ve always thought it was weird how it wasn’t connected to America, but was clearly connected to Canada. Maybe we could sell it to them?

  2. Ella*

    Ugh, these are the worst. I interviewed for a paralegal job at a very fancy law firm in New York City a few years ago, and the interviewer asked me this question: “There are five animals — a lion, a cow, a horse, a monkey and a rabbit. If you were asked to leave one behind, which one would you leave behind?” No other contextual information; he told me to make up the details myself. Is this a Life of Pi situation? Who knows. Anyway, I said I’d leave behind the lion because it would be too dangerous and might hurt me if I couldn’t control it. As soon as I left the interview I googled the question and it turned out he had taken it from some CEO and that each of the animals represented some value–like, the horse represented work, the rabbit represented love, other bullshit like that. The lion represented “pride” (get it?) and so my answer was apparently a good one. (I got the job but left when I got another offer a few months later because I hated the work and the culture was terrible.)

    1. Nieve*

      Thats an absolutely dumb question, because unless the candidate actually subconsciously connects those values to each of the animals, then how can the interviewer interpret the answer in the way its meant to be? I would also also answer that question by thinking about how ‘beneficial’ each animals would be, not in terms of the value they represent lol

      1. Kyrielle*

        And I would leave the lion behind because if I keep it, I may have only 1-2 animals at the end. I mean, lions are carnivores, and the other animals listed are prey in varying degrees.

        1. ImagineThat!*

          I dunno, from what I hear about monkeys, they can be as vicious as a lion. Depends on what particular stripe of monkey it was.

          1. Attractive Nuisance*

            “Is it an old world monkey or a new world monkey?” with narrowed, thoughtful eyes.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              Is this from something or is it just a stupid joke people who studied anthropology like to make, because I say this every time people start talking about monkeys and I don’t know where I got it from.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            Sure, but if you had to pick, wouldn’t you be more worried about hanging out with a lion?

            1. General Ginger*

              I mean, I guess that depends on where we were going. If this is a “pick your crew for the apocalypse” kind of situation, my answer is going to be a lot different from “what animals would you like to hang out in your backyard”.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yup. Especially if it’s a Life of Pi situation. No f’ing way am I sharing my lifeboat with a lion.

          Also, I am exceedingly unsurprised that the company culture was terrible.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Exactly. Like I would think the rabbit represented speediness and the lion fearlessness, but I didn’t even think that would be the connection in the first place.

    2. Alton*

      That’s a really dumb question. I would have answered lion because the lion is the only carnivore/predator in the group and might attack the other animals. Unless they were all in cages or something.

    3. InTheLibraryWorld*

      I would have answered with Lion and explained it this way: The cow provides milk (and potentially meat if needed), the horse can work for you and is a mode of transportation, the monkey can be eaten, and the rabbit can provide a hide/hair and or food if needed.

      1. K.*

        Me too except I wouldn’t eat the monkey, I’d eat the rabbit (and the cow, but I’d keep it around a while for milk).

    4. Antilles*

      The only correct answer here is to leave the lion. Why? Because lions are carnivorous killers and attack prey. You know who’s the best prey among those animals? The slow moving, middle-aged biped with plenty of meat who has never had to escape a predator – me.

      1. seejay*

        Actually from various sources that I’ve read, humans are one of the worst prey animals since we don’t have a lot of good meat and are particularly bony.

        We’re pretty slow though so easy to catch for larger predators.

    5. Poohbear McGriddles*

      Depends on what kind of situation I and the critters are heading into. If there’s some bad hombres on the other side that require fighting, I’m leaving the rabbit behind. I’m riding the horse and the lion is gonna do the dirty work. The monkey will fling poo at them as a distraction, and the cow will be used to reward the lion after it’s all over.
      If it’s more of a survival on a desert island thing, I’m leaving the cow behind. It’s not a Noah’s Ark situation where I’ve got two of each to reproduce, so might as well let the lion put us out of our misery quickly. No sense trying to make one cow worth of steaks last as long as possible, because when it’s gone, its gone.

    6. SarahTheEntwife*

      If we can interpret it as a wild rabbit, I think I’d leave the rabbit because it’ll probably be fine hanging out on its own whereas the others are all either domestic or potentially endangered.

      (Also I am making so many faces at the original question and supposed interpretation.)

    7. General Ginger*

      So somehow I would need to intuit what emotion/value each of these animals presents to the interviewer? Also, the same animals might symbolize different traits to different cultures, if we’re really going this route.

    8. RedSonja*

      I’m pretty sure any answer that I gave would be wrong, but I work in animal welfare.

      In fact, in that case I bet the right answer would be explaining​ why I would keep all of them.

    9. nonegiven*

      I would have picked the lion because it was the only one that would eat the others.

  3. Lioness*

    My friend told me that in his interview he was asked whether he could sing and what would his mother say about his singing.

    1. TJ*

      I don’t think I’d be able to resist the temptation to say that I don’t know the answer to the question because my mother died when I was a kid, before she had a chance to give me any kind of input on my singing.

      1. OhNo*

        I was just thinking the same thing. What would my mother say? Nothing, I hope, given that she’s been dead for a while now.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Maybe the last person in this job insisted on constant show-tune performances, despite a voice even his mother told him was awful?

    2. Triangle Pose*

      What if you said “Actually my mother is deceased so I dont’ know what she would say about my singing.”

    3. Chaordic One*

      My mother would say that if I’m not the best, then I’m one of the best singers in the world. (She thinks I’m close to being perfect, although a bit inattentive to her.)

    4. nonegiven*

      My mom might tell me to just move my mouth and let the others carry the tune.

      Not sure what my son would say but when I tried to sing to him when he was little, he’d clap his hands over his ears.

  4. Girasol*

    “Which would you clean first: your office, your home, or your car?” I simply couldn’t imagine any logic that would tie that question to my fitness for the job. After the interview I wondered if I shouldn’t have said, “What an interesting question! Why do you ask?” to demonstrate my problem analysis ability. I did get the job but probably not because I said “office.”

    1. JamieS*

      I had a similar question once except they asked if I would clean my office or house first. I said that assuming they’re both dirty and need to be clean I clean the one I’m currently at or the one I’ll be at first if I’m currently somewhere else.

      1. oranges & lemons*

        Yeah, I would probably say “house” because that’s where I am first thing in the morning (hopefully). I always do my dishes before work if that counts!

      2. Alton*

        I don’t see how you can even define the meaning of “first” considering this depends so much on your work schedule and location. I’m not going to clean my whole house in the morning before going to work, but if my cat coughed up a hairball, I’m going to clean it up. And I’m not going to randomly go in to the office at 9 PM to clean. I’m going to do it when I’m there.

        I’d be tempted to answer that I try to keep up with cleaning so that I can do it in smaller regular steps instead of having to clean my entire house at once.

        1. JamieS*

          By first I just mean the literal definition of first. So if the next time I’d be home is before the next time I’d be at my office then I’d be home first and vice versa.

          1. Alton*

            Yeah, I mean the original question doesn’t make sense, not your answer. Asking which you’d clean first implies you have a greater degree of choice in the matter than you really do. Unless you work out of your home, you pretty much have to do it according to your schedule.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Coming up with scenarios where these questions actually become relevant is really rather fun. (Unlike answering them in situations where they are clearly not relevant.)

    2. Parenthetically*

      “My office, because it would take about 5 minutes, because I keep my desk very tidy.” But yes, what an odd question.

    3. Anxa*

      For me it would be car because I find tidy environments soothing and that’s most important in the car, despite only spending a small amount of time there because safety is most importnat to me.

      But I wouldn’t say that in an interview because I’d be admitting I like things tidy and most workplaces are not.

    4. Lolly*

      For a moment I thought the the third choice was ‘cat’.
      Wonder if anyone would prioritise the cat.

    5. SusanIvanova*

      If they want me to say “office”, then it’s not going to be a good fit – it may look like clutter but I know where everything is.

  5. MKinCA*

    From the other side, I once had a job CANDIDATE ask a bizarre question of the hiring team during her interview. At the end, as part of wrapping up, we asked her if she had any questions for us. And she asked: “what animal would you be and why?” and instead of laughing it off and standing up to walk her out, we all awkwardly answered. What were we thinking?! And then, as part of her thank-you note, she attached a document that analyzed our answers. So, the person who chose panda got to hear what that supposedly meant about her, etc. This happened years ago and we still giggle over it.

    1. Sara*

      Ha, I think I’ve taken that Buzzfeed quiz…! But definitely not as part of a job interview.

    2. Ell*

      That’s so odd and also hilarious. I wonder what was in her head when she put together that document.

      I once had a candidate ask me “what is your personal life mission statement?” Like, I don’t walk around with a personal mission statement sewn into my jacket. My answer was something like “I don’t think I have a mission statement, but I always strive to make sure the work I’m doing is for something that matters to the community (because it was at a nonprofit). She later removed herself from consideration because she didn’t feel “management” (me) had the right values. I sometimes still wonder what she wanted me to say.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I suppose “Get through the day without slapping annoying, pretentious gits” wouldn’t have been the answer she was looking for, either. But boy, would it have felt good!

      2. Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain*

        Was she a devotee of the FranklinCovey philosophy? They got almost cult like in the 90s (maybe still, but I definitely remember the Planner People of the 90s). “Live with purpose.”

        1. Parenthetically*

          “I have an answer: 42.” will forever be my answer to “Mrs. Parenthetically, I have a question.”

            1. Nic*

              I use this ALL. THE. TIME. Love it, and am glad there is someone else out there who uses it!

          1. KatiePie*

            This is what I think every time I see you post. Is that what your handle is from?

    3. NotTheSecretary*

      I once had a job candidate ask me how to get MY job. It was especially strange because she was interviewing for something entirely different.

        1. Amber T*

          Ugh yeah, I was told to ask this question by college career counselors. It’s supposed to convey – “I’m interested in this industry and moving up, tell me about your path to where you are so I can learn from your experience,” but if asked incorrectly, it can be adversarial (I want to kick you out of your job) or just unrelated (if you ask an HR person when applying for a non HR job, for example).

      1. call me lancelot*

        I’d bet that was a question some college career advisor or whatever told her to ask. It shows initiative!

      2. General Ginger*

        I recall getting advised to ask this at interviews by I think either my high school guidance counselor or else my college career center. Somehow, never ended up using that one.

        1. NotTheSecretary*

          It was bad advice. I stammered out that she would need to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree to be eligible for my job which ended up making me look snobby about my (really crappy) job. It made us both uncomfortable. Plus it made me think that she really didn’t want to do the job she was actually interviewing for.

          1. General Ginger*

            Oh, definitely bad advice; just saying it was definitely being given out.

      3. Rob aka Mediancat*

        “Around here we practice what TV Tropes calls Klingon Promotion. After this interview I have a . . . meeting with my boss, if you want to stick around and watch.”

        1. Tau*

          “And let me tell you, for us ‘weeding the candidate pool’ takes on a whole new meaning.”

    4. General Ginger*

      Wow. Come for the interview, stay for the completely uninvited personality assessment?

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      My all-time favorite example of a weird interviewee question (I am stealing this from another poster on a long-ago thread) was about the politics of their federal workplace. Specifically in the context that the candidate modeled himself on a fictional character who had murdered his way to the presidency.

  6. Gabriela*

    I have been asked in two interviews for separate (but similar) companies that asked, “what would you bring to the office potluck?” I’m not a great cook (nor do I enjoy it), so I answered truthfully both times that I would see what necessary “extras” were needed (plates, napkins, drinks, etc). I still can’t for the life of me figure out what they were getting at. I guess I could just take it at face value and figure that both places took their potlucks very seriously.

    1. k*

      I’m just imagining them deciding who to hire. “Jane comes highly recommended and has all the right skills for the job…but we already have potato salad covered. Fergus isn’t qualified and showed up to the interview in his pajamas, but I like the sound of cupcakes. This is a tough one.”

      1. Aunt Margie at Work*

        this reminds me of the quote Ken Kesey put at the beginning of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
        “It may not have happened, but it’s true.”

      2. hermit crab*

        Once we were doing a round of hiring for an entry-level position and we joked about choosing the candidate who’d had the “best” summer job when they were in school. Like, Alice worked at a bakery, so maybe she would bring us baked goods! But Bob worked at an ice cream parlor, so maybe he could hook us up with some ice cream! etc. But we were totally, 100% joking and this did not affect the actual hiring decision. I think the the candidate we ultimately chose had worked at a grocery store. :)

      3. Kathleen Adams*

        So you think my pie-making abilities would give me an edge? I really do make a fine pie.

    2. Mrs. Psmith*

      I was asked this during a job interview once (it was at the end of the interview) and I ultimately got the job. It wasn’t as lame a question as you would think, because this manager added before I answered,”we have a lot of potlucks.” I said I would probably bring a dessert because I love desserts, and she laughed and said “we do, too!”
      But the reason it wasn’t a lame question was because it have me a glimpse at the culture of the office (and that the manager didn’t take herself too seriously). They celebrated A LOT of occasions with parties and most of them were potlucks.

      1. Gabriela*

        Yeah, it was probably just a coincidence that I was asked that in two interviews (and that I didn’t get either job). I think I was taken aback because I was fresh out of grad school, single and had been subsisting on lean cuisines and coffee for the past few years. The idea that I would home-make something for multiple people was actually kind of jarring!

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Our pot-lucks at work always have some not home-made foods! Some people always get together to pay for a Chick-Fil-A nugget platter, one guy brought pizza, another guy brought a thing of mixed fruit from the store, one woman brought a cheesecake platter, and I brought Krispy Kreme donuts (although I did try to bake something first but failed lol).

      2. Marillenbaum*

        I could see myself getting into a hole here. My go-to was always homemade apple pie, but I don’t know if I’d want to make that many pies for my coworkers!

        1. Insert name here*

          Apple crumble! Or apple cobbler! Then you just throw everything into a pan but it’s just as delicious :)

    3. PB*

      I’m love cooking and office potlucks. Any place that’s hired me has been very happy to have my brownies. At a colleague’s going-away party, she told me she was most looking forward to whatever I brought for dessert, and it was her office baby shower!

      I would be seriously concerned about being asked that at an interview, however.

    4. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Hah, I was just joking about this with a coworker yesterday. I’m definitely the person who brings store-bought food, because I hate to cook and because my kitchen probably has more cat hair in it than some people would be willing to tolerate.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I bring store-bought food because there are stores right next to the office and it’s a hassle to carry stuff from home by bike or bus.

        It’s always people who drive to work who want to do a pot luck!

    5. Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain*

      It could be that they were looking to see if you are someone who contributes enthusiastically or gets by on the bare minimum (might be literally food-related or just in general — like does this person participate in groups/events/projects or just show up?)

    6. Blurgle*

      Boy, what an uncomfortable question for people with medical or religious dietary restrictions.

  7. vjs*

    I was asked once “If a flying saucer showed up now, would you get on it?” I said yes… also was asked in the same interview what my mother would say is my worst quality. Really? Thankfully, I didn’t get the job.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Given the way that interview sounds, I’m wondering if they get a lot of candidates saying yes to the flying saucer because they want out of their interviews so badly….

    2. Tomato Frog*

      My mother would say my worst quality is my willingness to get on a flying saucer and leave my family behind.

    3. AnonEMoose*

      “Does the TARDIS count? If so, which Doctor?” (Because if they’re going to ask that, they totally deserve to be exposed to my unrepentant nerdery!)

          1. Analysis Paralysis*

            Me too! And I definitely want to backward swan dive off of a high rise into it!

        1. The Expendable Redshirt*

          If the TARDIS shows up, I am gone! Not even going to log out of the computer. Hello Ten!

    4. Mike C.*

      “My mother would say I have no worst qualities because I’m her son you moron.”

  8. sitting with sad salad*

    “Would you rather be a mouse or a superhero?” is the weirdest I got. I was like, “what about Mighty Mouse?” and she was like “Just answer the question.”


      1. Willis*

        It had me laughing too. Plus, if someone takes this question seriously, then sad salad’s question is an extremely pertinent one. You can be both mouse and hero!

    1. seejay*

      I’m shocked they didn’t take your answer as a valid one cause I would have. O_O

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        I think it could be fun for a day. But otherwise yeah, even beyond the “I am a tiny prey animal with very little brain” bit I’d prefer to have a lifespan of more than 1-2 years.

    2. Tau*

      So as a kid, my brother and I had these little stuffed animal mice that were the Most Important Toys Ever. (Mine still has a spot of honour in my flat decades later.) We’d make up stories about them – also Very Important – and said stories contained a lot of heroics and also space travel. I’m pretty sure my parents still have a binder full of yellow mouse and purple mouse’s adventures on Mars somewhere.

      All of which goes to say that my first reaction to that question would absolutely be Are you saying mice can’t be superheroes because I will fight you on this.

      …at least it’d be a memorable interview?

    3. Delta Delta*

      I introduced myself as a superhero yesterday for no particular reason. So, I guess I know how I’d answer that one.

    4. nonegiven*

      “These creatures you call mice, you see, they are not quite as they appear. They are merely the protrusion into our dimension of vastly hyperintelligent pandimensional beings.”

      ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  9. all aboard the anon train*

    I’ve been asked some truly weird ones that I view as the Buzzfeed quiz of interview questions (what literary character would you be, what type of food are you, etc.). My weirdest one was the interviewer who said, “If you could only tell one person your deepest, darkest secret, who would it be and what would be the secret?” I was annoyed enough at the time and knew the job wasn’t a good fit so I said, “Well, you wouldn’t be the person I chose, so my secret is staying with me”. The interviewer was flustered by my answer and I never understood the point of the question or why anyone would feel the need to actually tell a job interview what they’re biggest secret was (not to mention, it seems like a recipe for disaster).

    1. Antilles*

      Asking that question seems like a way for an interviewer to really get themselves into trouble. Like what do you do if their “biggest secret” is committing fraud or kidnapping or something else that puts you in a moral/legal dilemma?

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Right. At the time my biggest secret was that I was questioning my sexuality, which is a whole other moral and legal dilemma, and not one I would ever bring up in an interview.

        It’s just a weird, prying question to ask, and I wonder to this day if anyone else they interviewed answered honestly.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            If I knew for sure I wasn’t going to take the job, I’d be so tempted to say, “I pick you,” and then start singing Bohemian Rhapsody. “Mamaaa…just killed a man…put a gun against his head… pulled my trigger; now he’s dead…”

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        “I murdered the last person who interviewed me but didn’t follow up with a job offer.”

    2. Bruce H.*

      I sent my bank info to the Nigerian bureaucrat’s widow and actually got the $19 million. Then I sent her half to her account in Switzerland. Unfortunately, I spent my half on hookers and blow, so that’s why I’m looking for a job again.

      1. Master Bean Counter*

        I think I need to quit eating lunch until I’ve read through every thing here. I just almost choked on my lunch.

    3. call me lancelot*

      I, weirdly, get this way during some party games and/or ice breakers. If I could time travel to any time or place, where would it be? Um, Imma have to make one up, because my actual desire for this is going to Spoil The Mood when I start crying about dead relatives who I want to hug.

  10. Libervermis*

    I’m obviously a bristlecone pine, and if you don’t understand why then this isn’t the right place for me.

  11. Office Manager*

    I got the tree question in an interview! Way back when the Big 5 Accounting firms still existed, and this was one of them. I was flustered and went with “um pine?” and “because that’s the tree I can see outside the window right now” and “why would you even has a question like that?” Needless to say, I did not get into the second round of interviews.

    1. CM*

      Haha, that’s awesome. The one time I was asked “what tree would you be” I couldn’t hide the look on my face and said in a WTF tone, “Um. An… oak.” Luckily they laughed and said they were kidding.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I wish someone would ask me this so I can answer with “The Larch”. Any Monty Python fans in the room would love it.

        1. Aiani*

          I almost wish someone would ask me this question as well because my name is a type of tree so I feel that I have a ready made answer.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I’ve been DYING to be asked this, so I could say “A mallorn tree.” If they knew what a mallorn tree was, I feel we’d get along just fine. So my answer is a test for them. :)

    2. Treecat*

      My last name is literally a type of tree so if I got this question I’d probably just tell the interviewer they had three guesses and the first two didn’t count.

    3. Nallomy*

      Well, I said, “Pine…because we both smell good” because I seriously could not think of any other type of tree.

      Did not get the job. Am not at all sorry that I don’t work for the guy who asked that question.

    4. Cassie*

      I would normally hate these kind of questions, but for the tree one, I would say a willow tree because it can bend and sway with the wind and survive. Unlike a more solid tree, like an oak, which may snap in half when a hurricane blows into town. At the same time, you do need to have some roots – you can’t be a piece of driftwood which just gets carried away by whatever comes along.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I once answered the question with “bristlecone pine, so I can outlive you all, MUAHAHA!” But it wasn’t a job interview….

  12. Amber Rose*

    I’ve only ever been asked what animal I would choose to be and why. I guess “bird, because flying looks fun” was not a winning answer. Though in that same interview, I was also asked to attempt to sink a golf ball into one of those little office golf things, which I failed at terribly and then awkwardly kept trying until he let me stop so maybe it was my office golf skills that knocked me out of the pool.

    It was for a part time job giving tours to prospective students at the university. I wasn’t too heart broken.

    1. NotTheSecretary*

      OMG. I’m blind in one eye so any kind of task requiring hand-eye coordination and depth perception as a struggle for me. Putt putt games with me always involve lots of me just picking up the ball and dropping it in the hole after everyone else already made it in. That would have been a nightmare for me!

      Maybe he was trying to see how “on” you would be while doing something “fun”? I could see that being a thing some interviewers might try for that kind of job.

    2. tink*

      If I ever have to try office golf at an interview, I’m just gonna shut it down there. I can’t even putt putt.

    3. Josie De Vivre*

      I got asked the animal question in a team building exercise. My answer of “a human” po’d one of my coworkers who tried to argue that humans aren’t animals. Sigh.

  13. NotTheSecretary*

    An interviewer once asked my favorite animal. It’s not that ridiculous but it was really pointless since my answer (cat) didn’t spark any kind of conversation or anything and surely isn’t unusual enough to tell them anything.

    With the job I have now, my interviewer (now my boss) did ask about my hobbies but it was the beginning of a pleasant, getting-to-know-you conversation that clearly had to do with establishing a personality fit between us. It worked, we get along great (though we have no hobbies in common).

  14. Kat M*

    The only remotely odd question I’ve ever been asked was “What is your favorite children’s book?” but that was for a teaching position, so I assume they wanted to make sure you at least had a remote interest in children’s literature.

    Then there was the interview where I was asked to write down a summary of my work experience. When I pointed out they had a copy of my resume, they insisted I write about it. With a pen. On unlined paper. That’s when I realized it was a written communication test, and they didn’t give a crap about the answer itself. But really, they could have asked me to write about something they didn’t already have on a piece of paper right in front of them.

    1. fposte*

      The children’s book question is our softball warmup, because that’s what we do. Now I’m thinking about whether there are workplaces where all these other questions would fit as real questions. Do zoos ask interviewees what their favorite animal is?

      1. Dealtwiththis*

        I work for a Zoo and yes, we do! It’s not so much because we care, it’s because we want to make sure that you at least have some remote interest in animals.

        1. Insert name here*

          Yeah that totally makes sense! Anyone who applies to work at a zoo has to love animals, because you guys work super hard. I would have a tough time choosing between panda bears and penguins though :P

        2. Elsajeni*

          Yeah, that makes sense! When I worked at a craft store, I recall that they asked in the interview what crafts I did and what crafts I was interested in — same deal, basically, “Do you have any actual interest in/knowledge about our products?”

      2. Mints*

        Ha! I was asked my favorite children’s song and group game when I worked summer camp

    2. Mongoose*

      We often ask candidates to tell us of the books they’ve read over the last year, what was their favorite and why. I think it’s a nice softball question and just a way to get to know more about the person. We work in communications for a university, so it’s not really relevant to your actual job. Only once has someone said, “I don’t read books very often”, so we asked instead if there were blogs or publications they read regularly and they had a quick answer. I don’t know how “I don’t read” would go over as an answer.

      1. NotTheSecretary*

        My answer would be, “I have a two year old. I’m lucky if I get enough time to shower much less read anything longer than a tweet.”

        But, really, if asked with intent to break the ice and get a little personality, these aren’t bad questions.

        1. NotTheSecretary*

          Actually, the more I think about it, I couldn’t comfortable truthfully answer this.

          I usually read fiction that is pretty odd, violent, or otherwise not something I’d want to talk about in a job interview. I can’t imagine trying to explain my love of Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, or Hunter S Thompson to a job interviewer. I guess I could squeak by with some Arthur Clark or Asimov or something but my answer is pretty much never going to be on Oprah’s reading list.

          1. miki*

            I don’t think anyone would appreciate my answer: I especially enjoyed reading “Sociopath next door” last year…. (to name just a one of the awkward but very informative ones I read)

            1. Josie De Vivre*

              You might like The Anatomy of Violence”. It is about the impact of brain injures and abnormalities on personality.

          2. vpc*

            Yeah, I have gone with the “well, I’m really into a sub-genre of self-published fiction online right now, so it’s a pretty small niche. But I recently read and liked it because…”

            …no, I’m not going into my fanfic preferences with an interviewer.

            1. vpc*

              huh. apparently when you use pointy brackets to mark text as ‘insert thing here’ (<) the text between them disappears. That's supposed to be "I recently read this other mainstream thing XXX and liked it because…"

        2. Mongoose*

          Ha. A a fellow parent to a 2 year old, that would also be my answer right now–which would be fine where I worked because that tells me a tiny bit about your life outside of your job and has got you talking. To me, that’s all these questions are for.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        I understand where this thought comes from, but I hate these softball questions. I’ve been in and heard about too many situations where supposed “softball” questions are used as anything but getting to know you questions. So you get people lying about reading Ulysses to seem smart when the last dozen books they read were romance novels.

        And even if you are using them to get to know someone, you run the risk of having an interviewer who thinks your classic lit books make you a snob or your romance novels make you shallow. I know my first thought with softball questions are “well, what do they want to hear?” If it’s not directly related to the job, I’m assuming it’s a trick question or it’s being used to test my thought process or whatever.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          I should add, in case I inadvertently offended anyone, that I don’t have anything against romance novels and don’t think someone isn’t smart for reading them. It was just the first comparison I could think of where someone might be embarrassed to admit the last thing they read.

          1. Mongoose*

            We really use this question to learn a bit more about the candidate, but we also offer up our favorites first so they have time to think and to realize that the question is not nefarious. If someone hates our reading choices and thinks we’re snobbish/uneducated therefore doesn’t want to work with us, then I don’t that’s the worst thing in the world–we probably wouldn’t want someone on the team that is so quick to judge based on one data point.

      3. Not Karen*

        I kind of want to be asked that question so I can reply, “All 64 of them?”

      4. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Maybe it’s just my anxiety disorder talking, but this question has always stressed me out (and I get it a decent amount). I read a lot – usually between 75 and 100 books a year – mostly genre fiction, including graphic novels and YA. There are definitely more than a few judgmental intellectual types in my profession, plus the sheer number often freaks people out. I’m sure I’m overthinking it, but I guess if you’re going for an ice-breaker, I’d prefer something more open-ended.

        1. Tomato Frog*

          Yeah, genre fiction/YA fiction/comic reader here. I hate “What are you reading?” questions. I’ve encountered too many otherwise intelligent people who think that genre is somehow beneath them (because they don’t like Star Wars or whatever) to hear that question as neutral. I imagine this is what country and rap fans feel when they get asked about what music they listen to.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            I also read this kind of fiction (as well as others). And I have an MA in literature, so I don’t think it’s beneath anyone. (My major author was Chaucer. And he definitely liked to cross his genres.)

      5. call me lancelot*

        I always freeze at this question, despite having A Prepared Answer Of An Acceptable Book. Because I read all the time… but I’m reading fanfiction. And the blogs I follow are almost entirely political blogs. Neither of those is getting brought up in an interview. ;)

        1. Mongoose*

          We actually did have someone bring up Harry Potter fanfic once. It was well received, but we’re a pretty liberal team. We also usually offer to go first, so the question is more of a “we always like to ask what people are reading, we’ll go first to give you some time to think”. I read a lot of YA fiction myself, but never feel I really have to sensor it. When I interviewed for this position I was reading Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series and happily offered that up without any consequence. BUT I could see how this could be somewhat stress inducing in other situations.

          1. shep*

            The Abhorsen series is one of my absolute childhood favorites. I met Garth Nix a few years ago and I made him sign pretty much all of the extant Abhorsen books in my possession at the time. (He was SUPER-nice about it, btw.)

          2. Alton*

            I think if you’re going to have icebreaker questions like these, having the interviewers share first is a good idea! That takes away some of the uncertainty about whether the interviewers are going to be people who only read management books and will be baffled by people giving different answers, at least.

          3. Anne (with an "e")*

            I am huge fanfic reader. However, I doubt I am going to reply that I have been rereading some of my favorite Snarry fics recently in a job interview.

      6. Alton*

        I don’t have a huge hatred for the question or anything, but it would give me pause and I would feel pressured to give a “safe” answer.

        For one thing, I’ve known/encountered too many people who were biased against things they weren’t interested in or found weird/immature. Sometimes people will ask questions like this expecting to find common ground, only to be caught off-guard when the answer isn’t super mainstream or relatable to them. I’ve had the same problem as a writer–someone will ask what I write, I’ll give them a brief description, and their face will just go blank and they’ll be like, “…Oh.”

        Also, I read a lot of things for different purposes, and I would feel obligated to give an answer related to my work, not just name a random novel I’d just finished. I might actually have a great answer that demonstrates interest in the field I’m interviewing in, but it’s definitely a calculated response and not just an icebreaker. If I haven’t read anything “work-friendly” in a while, I might not know what to say.

        1. Mongoose*

          It may help to explain that we always name our favorites first (there are usually 3-5 people in these interviews); it gives the candidates time to think and helps set up that answers are going to be a range of things. In a recent interview it was Me: 2017 O.Henry Prize stories, coworker 1: some book on dog training that saved her life with a new puppy and she went on about for awhile, coworker 2: MaddAddam series by Margaret Atwood, coworker 3: Currently rereading his entire Calvin and Hobbes collection.

      7. Gen*

        Hahaha I spend my leisure time writing/editing fanfiction so I’d get flustered and have to talk about technical manuals for work.

  15. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    The oddest question wasn’t the question itself, but the manager talking about it after I got the job. The question was what was the last book you read. It was a little off because why would they care? But then after she hired me, she told me that she wouldn’t have hired someone that didn’t read for fun. That I found strange. It wasn’t like I was applying to work at a library or bookstore or for something even remotely connected to reading.

    1. Kate*

      I’ve gotten this question too. I’m a data scientist, so I also wondered, “What does my taste in literature have to do with the job?” So it’s interesting to get that insight into the reasoning. I definitely would not have guessed that was the motivation. Instead I’m thinking, “Are they going to think I’m childish if I’m reading Harry Potter? Should I be reading something mathematical so they know I do professional development activities outside of work?” I hate left field questions.

    2. ESB*

      I once GOT a job because someone saw me reading. I was working in the billing department of a company and a position opened up in the closed captioning department. I would always read in the lunchroom, and the owner of the company would breeze through occasionally. When the position opened up, he recommended me to the head of the CC department by saying, “I always see her reading, she’s probably good with words.” Reading had, like, 20% to do with the job. It was more about being able to multitask and having a good sense of timing.

      1. curmudgeon*

        this is ironic – I was just wondering yesterday how someone got a job doing closed captioning!

    3. Catabodua*

      I had that question in an interview a few years ago, and it was the last question they asked.

      It’s such an odd thing to ask. I’m thinking most people don’t answer honestly anyway. What if the last book I read was one of the 50 Shades one? I would never say so in an interview.

    4. all aboard the anon train*

      Refusing to hire someone because they don’t have hobbies you approve of is…questionable. I know plenty of smart, engaging people who don’t read for fun.

      I mentioned it in a comment above, but I really dislike these questions. If it comes up naturally in conversation, fine, but my outside hobbies shouldn’t impact someone’s hiring decision and a “softball” question about my taste in TV or book or music is going to put me more on edge. I know interviewers probably think it’s an easy way to get to know a candidate or help them relax, but I’m jus wondering why they need to know this info, why they want to know, and how it’s going to impact my interview.

      That said, I’ve worked for fiction, non-fiction, and academic publishing houses and I’ve never been asked this question, which is a relief because I severely dislike interviews where a candidate only wants to talk about their favorite books and not the job. Passion for reading does not mean you’ll be a great fit for the industry.

      1. curmudgeon*

        sometimes managers just want to hear you talk. My staff worked in a small area, sharing a lot of space & would often have a stretch of time when the phone wasn’t ringing and nothing to do so they needed to be able to do more than just mutely stare out the window. We talk about just about everything.
        Because we worked in music, I always asked about the music they liked. One candidate said she liked everything except country and then realized I had country quietly playing in the background and realised her error. I hired her anyway!

      2. CM*

        I still remember an interview I had years ago with a wealthy white male law firm partner who kept insistently questioning me on my hobbies and REJECTING things I said that he didn’t like (as in, “That’s not a hobby.”) I remember thinking I should say sailing and golf, but it would come out too snarky so I kept trying different things until I found something acceptable to him. Then he told me all about how he loved to sail and spent all his free time sailing on his boat. >:(

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          I hate when people ask my hobbies. Ummm….watching netflix? Reading blogs (and occasionally an actual book, but not so much anymore).

          1. Dan*

            I used to interview law school students for summer clerkship gigs at a decent sized law firm. I asked them about their hobbies all the time. The right answer was literally just normal hobbies…Netflix would be a great answer honestly. Sometimes an interviewer is just trying to get a sense that the interviewee is normal and genuine.

      3. Anxa*

        I was a voracious reader as a child, but I can’t get comfortable reading these days. Probably a good way to weed out people who get restless, but there are better ways, I think.

        I prefer television these days as I have

      4. Tau*

        I generally cross my fingers no one will ask me about TV and movies. I’m on the spectrum and one of the more unusual side-effects is that I get seriously stressed out and over-stimulated by most video. So I have to go “actually, I… don’t watch TV. Or movies. Or anything,” and this is generally seen as Really Weird especially in combination with my other hobbies (which are pretty fannish). Talking about books can be frustrating because I never know if the other person is going to be snobbish about genre, but at least I’m not awkwardly trying to explain unusual behaviour caused by my disability without mentioning the disability.

        Which – in the spirit of “not everyone can eat sandwiches” – doesn’t mean that these questions shouldn’t be used, but people should be aware that they’re not going to be softball for everyone.

  16. Stephanie*

    I don’t mind brainteaser questions, but they can always feel a little silly. I think, too, the most common ones (e.g., “Why are manhole covers round?”) have easily searchable answers. I remember I answered one of those that had an easily Googled answer, which I gave. The interviewer was like “Oh, good. So…what else?”

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “What would you do if one afternoon all the manhole covers rose up and united against us?”

      1. Lalaith*

        Probably fall into a manhole :-P

        Actually, since one of the reasons that manhole covers are round is that they won’t fall into the holes, going down into the manhole would probably be a good way to escape the attacking covers :)

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      One of my teammates proudly told me she asked the manhole cover question to see if the candidate was savvy enough to know the ‘right’ answer. I said, ‘I can think of at least 7 answers to that, what do YOU expect to hear?’ She changed the subject. A week later she asked me what the 7 answers were, and I hit her with all of them and a couple more – I was on a roll. Not sure if she stopped asking it, but she stopped talking about it.

      I really hate that question, and anything interviewers ask because they think they’re clever and insightful.

      1. Bryce*

        Lessee… to keep them from falling through the hole, because drilling a circle is easier than cutting a square in the pavement, because it uses less material, I think curved cracks would function better in a freeze/thaw cycle than straight ones but I can’t back that up outside of a hunch… what are the other ones you’ve got?

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Freeze/thaw cycles are why airplane windows are rounded, so it’s a good answer! Manhole covers don’t have tight enough tolerances that the expansion/contraction would matter.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          My co-worker was looking for ‘they don’t fall through the hole,’ and was angry when I told her elliptical, square, and triangular covers don’t, either. In France, they’re triangular, and very pretty. And most manholes are reinforced with a resting ledge or lip, so they won’t fall through anyway. So much for that. Here’s what I can remember telling her:

          A circular hole is stronger against the Earth’s compression
          Round covers are easier to lathe
          They take less material, costing less to manufacture
          They self-align, or at least are much easier to align
          Round, curved edges are safer for workers – I did check that out, it’s iffy but valid
          They don’t tend to flip up or chitter under traffic’s aerodynamic drag – ellipticals can flip and dislodge
          They’re easier to move, a worker simply rolls them
          The human body’s cross section is roughly round – true nad barely relevant, but I was irritated with her and was on a roll
          It’s easy to dig a round hole…so manhole covers are round because manholes are round.

          I still think this is a pointless question on job interviews.

          1. Bryce*

            Agreed it’s pointless. I like thinking through puzzles like that just because there’s so much engineering that goes into things that we take for granted.

  17. Rebecca in HR*

    Shortly before I graduated I interviewed for an entry level HR role. One of the last interviewers of the day asked me “How would you describe your closet organization system?” I think I laughed and said “none”. She then went on to tell me that I would not be a good fit because they need someone with a high attention to detail. On the one hand, I was sad not to get the job. On the bright side, the eventual job I got made almost double the salary this job was offering. And I still have no real organization system to my closet.

    1. Baska*

      I might have answered that one along the lines of, “Let me tell you about my file organization system and the way I manage my workflow. I think that might give you a better insight into how work.” And then talk about that.

      Because while I *do* have a closet organization system, the way I organize / maintain my home is totally different from the way I organize / maintain my office.

      1. NotTheSecretary*

        Yes, this.

        If you looked at my home you would never guess that I work in a highly detailed field that requires a lot of organization. I’m very good at keeping a clean, orderly work space but terrible at keeping a neat home. All my energy for that kind of thing goes to my work. My home is somewhat controlled chaos.

      2. DecorativeCacti*

        Seriously. Part of my job is to be neat, organized, and always in control of stuff going in and out. Completely different mindset from home where there aren’t huge projects counting on my laundry getting put away.

    2. PB*

      “I shove things into wherever they fit.”

      This is a dumb question. I have excellent attention to detail, and my office is very organized. My closets at home are a mess, but nothing gets broken and I can find everything I need, so I call it a win.

    3. NotTheSecretary*

      Ha! What a stupid question.

      I’m a bookkeeper (among other things because us bookkeeping types never get just one hat). At work I am fastidious, detail-oriented, and highly organized. At home, though? Chaos. My closet is a mountain of laundry I never put away. My shoes are wherever I took them off. I have an app on my phone that lets me ring it from my watch otherwise I’d never find it.

    4. call me lancelot*

      Count me among those with impeccably managed files and terribly managed clothes ;)

    5. Lynne879*

      OMG I hate the “How clean is your closet/bedroom/house” questions. I GET why they ask, because the mindset is “Well a clean house = organized individual” but NO that isn’t always true.

      I’m personally pretty organized at work, but my bedroom is a complete disaster. It was like that when I was in school, too; I had a very neat binder, but my room and my house in general, was never neat or clean.

      What you do in your personal life does NOT always translate to the type of employee you can be.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I’ve heard geniuses are usually messy. And I’m going with that because my desk is a mess with papers…but I know where everything is.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        I agree with this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fairly clean, tidy person, but I also know that cleaning was (is) my favorite form of procrastination when I was in school and had a deadline. It’s seductive, doing well what doesn’t need doing at the moment, because you can convince yourself you’re being productive.

    6. SarahTheEntwife*

      Bzuh? I do have excellent attention to detail, and therefore I know where everything in my closet is without needing an organizational system. If I had more clothes, I would probably need a system. Let me tell you about the system I use *in my job, where it is needed*.

    7. Delta Delta*

      That’s awful. I’m a lawyer, and my files are very, very organized. My closet is more the “throw things in it and shut the door before everything falls out.” That’s because I hate doing laundry. This has nothing to do with how good I am at my job. If I got this question I’d make sweeping analogies to landfills, mostly for the laughs.

    8. Cedrus Libani*

      On the flip side, an orderly house doesn’t always mean an orderly employee. Organization is not my strong suit – I’m aware of this, and one way I compensate is by having as little stuff as possible. At work, if my boss gifts me some unwanted files, I can’t just thank them politely and then put the files on the “To Donate” shelf as soon as they leave.

  18. Nanc*

    Humans are animals.

    What kind of airplane? Will the pilot have to fit in? Does the space to be filled include the toilets? Wouldn’t ping pong balls be better since they would help the plane float in case it crashes into a large body of water?

    I’d be a petrified tree because I’m stone-cold sure I don’t want this job.

    I’d bring super-tart-no-sugar-added cabbage/zucchini/apple slaw for the potluck as inevitably there would be more for me. (fun fact–I love eating lemons just as they are!).

    If I were a musical instrument I’d be a trombone so I could make the Sad Trombone Wah Wahaaaaaa at this lame question . . .

  19. JJJJShabado*

    I do participate interviews, but I basically stay with technical questions. I would like to have “fun” with the interviewee, but an interview is not the place for it. Knowing from my interviewing experience, it’s already nerve-wracking enough to answer questions, so it’s not good to throw in “what game show do you most want to be on and what game show do you think you’d be the best at” or “Kelly Clarkson or Avril Lavigne” Questions like this don’t really have any useful, objective correct answers, so there’s no point.

    The question I debate asking in this regard but never do is the Monty Hall (*) principle. It’s a logic question (I interview for data programming, it’s tangentially related), but knowing the correct answer does not necessarily help you for this job.

    (*) You’re on a game show and there are 3 doors, 2 have goats, one has a car. You pick a door, host shows you one of the goats and offers you the chance to switch your choice. Do you? Answer is yes because 2 out of 3 times you switch and are correct. 1/3 of the time you are correct by not switching.

    1. Undine*

      The problem with that is either you’ve heard it or you haven’t. And it doesn’t tell you how they think through a longer project or problem and correct course when they realize there was information they didn’t have earlier.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq*

      I’d be curious what percentage of people know the correct answer not because they’ve reasoned it out for themselves, but because (like me) they’ve heard of the question.

      1. Amber T*

        I thank Mythbusters for explaining that one to me lol.

        To be honest though, I’d rather have a goat than a car (I have a perfectly good car right now, and goats are fun). So… can I keep the goat instead of the car? What does that say about me?

        1. Aspiring mathemagician*

          You are not the only one! I know there is an XKCD-comic about this and I know several people who agres with you.

      2. GermanGirl*

        Yes, I could totally reason it out for you but I know the answer so it is much easier for me than for the other guy who reasoned it out without knowing the answer beforehand. But I will get the job because my explanation went smoother (because I knew where I was going and he didn’t) even though he might be the better mathematician. That’s the problem with these kinds of questions.

    3. Alton*

      I’m not a good person to answer the Monty Hall question because whenever I come across it, I just want to know what happens if I get the goat. Do I get to keep it? What if I want the goat more than the car? I don’t like driving, but I like goats!

      1. call me lancelot*

        Do I have to buy goat insurance? Do I need to get licensed to own a goat that involves a written test? If not, sign me up for the goat!

  20. Sparky*

    A very large company here likes to ask, “What salad ingredient would you be?” and the only right answer is “lettuce”. Which I think is all kinds of stupid, as your sales people have a different temperament from your IT people, from your receptionists. Plus there are green salads, pasta salads, fruit salads, etc. Anyway, although I was given the answer by someone on the inside, I didn’t get an interview. I might have whispered,”arugula, aroooogula”. The truth is, if we’re talking about a green or fruit salad, I am the candied pecans on top. Fortunately, I’ve landed a better job where they don’t ask dumb interview questions, but they get the benefit of having my candied pecaness around. It worked out for the best.

    1. DecorativeCacti*

      If the only ingredient in your salad is lettuce, you have a very boring salad.

      I think I would say the dressing. It brings everything together and enhances the whole salad. One of those you don’t notice it when it’s there, but when it’s gone you’re scrambling type ingredients.

  21. michelenyc*

    A month ago I was interviewing for my current position and I was asked what I wanted my legacy to be. All I could think of to say is that I wanted to be remembered as being kind & compassionate. Not sure what made this question relevant since I work in fabric R&D. When I told the recruiter she laughed and said I forgot to you she was weird.

  22. Catabodua*

    I had one interviewer ask me the last book I read and what drew me to it.

    The only truly odd one I’ve had was when I was first interviewing out of college, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Our campus resume advisor told everyone to put something personal on their resume in order to stand out. So, if you were part of a club or participated in a sport or whatever. I guess the logic was that an interviewer who also liked baseball would think more favorably of you if they saw it on your resume.

    Anyway, I had WWF – the World Wildlife Fund – on my resume. The interviewer asked me if it was “a personal statement on world hunger.” I was so very confused and answered badly and talked too long about endangered species. No surprise that I never heard from them again.

    1. curmudgeon*

      teehee – I have WWF on my resume but to me it’s World Wrestling Federation…
      Which actually prompts an AAM question – how do you list a company on your resume when they have changed their company identity after you have left? WWF is now WWE . Do I identify it as WWF or WWE (formerly WWF)?

      1. Catabodua*

        I didn’t have a company change but the college I graduated from merged with another and the name changed.

        I usually do this:

        Current Name (diploma issued by Former Name)

        Most local folks interviewing me wouldn’t blink and eye at it because they know of the name change, but if I do get questioned it’s very easy to answer.

  23. call me lancelot*

    I recently had an interview where I got asked the same “interesting” question where I had to answer at length… by two different people. And had to give two different answers. The second person said outright “don’t tell me what you told Other Person”.

    I didn’t get the job.

  24. Hiring Well*

    We ask the “What animal would you be?” question, and we learn SO MUCH from it! We always preface the question (which is asked with a smile) by letting the candidate know that we are not looking for any particular answer (which is true), but we want to get to know them and to understand a little bit about how they think.

    What we are looking for when we ask this is: Can you think in analogies? Can you be introspective? Can you deal with a little bit of ambiguity? Are you willing to stretch yourself into a question that is maybe a little uncomfortable? A candidate who offers a tentative, “Maybe a raccoon?” will get follow up questions about how they are like a raccoon, what characteristics do they share, etc.

    Sometimes candidates start talking their way through an answer and then ask to change animals. Brilliant! This is someone who is prepared to second-guess, to re-evaluate. Sometimes they laugh. Brilliant! This is someone that can bring a little humor to something as stressful as an interview. A person who says they are like their dog may tell me about the quiet way they support others or their efficiency in always bringing back what is thrown to them or their dependability in keeping routines. I have hired monkeys who are industrious but also playful and sloths who take their time really thinking things through before they act and who like to stay in one place for a while. By the time people finish answering the question, they tend to sit proudly owning these good characteristics of themselves.

    This is only one question in an interview that is comprised of many typical behavioral questions. It is not a make-or-break question as far as the interview goes, but it does give us a window into how a person thinks. When presented with something out of the box (as often happens when you work in a public service environment like ours), we like to know that you will find a way to flow with it.

    So, if you were an animal, what animal would you be?

    1. fposte*

      You’re talking a lot about the interview process, which is interesting; can you talk more about how you find this correlates with performance? With an outlier question like this, do you check hires against responses to see whether it helped you predict the employee?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah — I’m willing to bet that it’s not actually predictive about how well an employee will do.

        Also, you have to remember what impression you’re giving them — personally, I’d probably write off an interviewer who asked me this because it’s so typically a hallmark of bad hiring. (I understand you’re using it differently than most people who use it do, but your candidates aren’t going to know that.)

        1. Hiring Well*

          Our goal is to create a learning environment where employees grow through the ability to self-reflect, where they evaluate their own thinking as they are thinking, where they can use something outside of themselves as a reference. We want an environment where people recognize differences and also look for similarities.

          At its most basic level, the question tells us if a person can handle being asked an unexpected question for which they do not have a ready answer, because you get those kinds of questions all the time on a public desk. Someone who struggles with this question may need to start in a more junior position where they are not left alone on the desk.

          The more interesting correlation we have noticed is that people who embrace this question – actually seem to enjoy the challenge and fun of it – turn out to indeed be good thinkers and good sharers. They show leadership potential. They tend to be more collaborative, and they are unlikely to create drama.

          My only evidence is anecdotal at this point, based on people we actually hired in a process that included this question (about a half dozen so far). And since a decision is never made based on this question alone, evidence will probably always be anecdotal. The question is working for us so far.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            You’re drawing some very strong conclusions from a rather limited data set.

            1. Hiring Well*

              I don’t think I am drawing conclusions at all. We have noticed a correlation. That is far from drawing conclusions; our data set will always be limited.

              Before adding the third phase of interviews we had several hires that did not work out. We decided to really focus on what we are trying to build, and we looked for new approaches to hiring. The third phase of interview (with this question as one small piece of it) is something fairly new, and so far it is working for us. I’m sharing it here because it might be useful to someone else and because it is a counterpoint to Alison’s assertion that these questions are “always just plain bad.” If it seems like eye-rolling shtick to you, that’s fine. We probably aren’t the right organization for you.

              Our interview process is something we continue to hone, in conjunction with the development of our employment policies, our review process, our budgeting for staff, our team organization. All of these are puzzle pieces that fit together to create the kind of workplace we think will foster the kind of public service we aspire to.

              It is my job as interviewer to build enough trust during the interview process that you will venture out to answer an odd question. So far no one has rolled eyes at me, but several have commented that they really enjoyed the conversation and this question in particular. Anecdotal, of course.

          2. all aboard the anon train*

            They may seem like they enjoy the “challenge and fun of it”, but I bet you anything at least one of them has been internally rolling their eyes at the inanity of having to sit through such a question, especially if they get asked follow up questions about it.

            And honestly, if you want them to think on the spot, why not just ask something work related? I’d be pretty put off by a company who wanted me to think on the spot about what animal I am versus what I would do in a potential on the spot work situation. It’s immature and would show me they’re more interested in mind-games than my actual skills.

            1. Us, Too*


              I’m out when you ask a question like this because
              1. You can come up with a question related to the job if you give it about 10 seconds of thought.
              2. There are a ton of great employers out there who ask relevant questions.

              I love what I do because it involves solving hard problems. Why not just ask me a hard question instead of some BS about animals? I’m not a vet. Yeesh.

            2. Hiring Well*

              We don’t ask about animals instead of other questions, for Heaven’s sake. It is one question from the third round of interviews. At this point we have already started to build a little bit of a relationship with the candidate. We have asked all about their experience, we have asked all about what they have done in this situation or that.

              Now I am looking to see if they can demonstrate some flexibility, some sideways thinking, some introspection. Skillfully asked, it does not come across as a mind game because it is not a mind game. It is prefaced with information about exactly what kind of question it is. It is in the mix with other “getting to know you better and how you think” kinds of questions.

              If, by the third round of getting to know each other, you don’t trust us enough to believe it’s not a mind game, then we are going to struggle with trust going forward, and that is not a recipe for success.

              1. all aboard the anon train*

                Except you’ve said repeatedly that how someone responds to the questions and how receptive they are to it colors your opinion of them, so not only are you tripping them up, but it is, in a sense, a mind game. You’re not using the question as a softball getting to know you question, you’re using it to gauge their compatibility with your company. That’s especially true if you’re asking it in the third interview instead of the first.

                1. Hiring Well*

                  I don’t think I have said that at all. I explicitly tell them I am interested in how they think. I invite them to think out loud about a question that has no right or wrong answer. I am interested in how they think. Can they compare themselves to something else? Can they identify any qualities in themselves that are like something else, in this case any animal in the entire world. Mythological animals even. Just something else that lives and breathes.

                  In the first round we look at resume/experience (phone interview). In the second we look at work behaviors (what would you do, what have you done). In the third we look at how well you will mesh with our team and our goals and our work culture. It’s not a question that rules people out (ok, if someone told me to stick it in my ear, probably that would rule them out). Instead it is a question that helps us find the strongest candidate amongst those who have made it to the third round.

                2. Insert name here*

                  exactly, it IS a mind game, you have to try and predict what answer will be “correct” or what answer the interviewer wants to hear. You can gauge how someone will fit into your company culture by asking behavior-related questions that are relevant to the job. I also like when my interview is with the manager AND people on the team I’ll be working with, it gives us a chance to meet each other and have at least an idea of if we’d mesh at work. I have had interviews before where it was clear I was not going to mesh with the team members even though the manager seemed fine.

              2. writelhd*

                See, as a scientist I would want to answer that this question is pointless as I am not like any animal, like all humans I am far more complex than what can be reduce to overly simplistic analogies to anthropomorphized stereotypes about various animals. I am quite introspective, can think in analogies, handle ambiguity daily, I can re-evaluate my thinking, use references outside of myself and deal with questions or other things that bring me outside of my comfort zone, sure, but I don’t know if you’d get that from my answer. Perhaps that question can elucidate some of those traits in candidates, but if so, in a way more prone to various biases and assumptions that can be picked apart by rigorous analysis than something more directly related to the job duties you’re hiring for would. I’d especially be wary of an assumption that somebody who struggles to answer it would struggle equally with oddball questions at a customer service desk–the type of question you’d get from a customer even at it’s most oddball, and the mindset the person would be in at the desk when working with them, are pretty different.

              3. Joie De Vivre*

                I didn’t like the animal question as a part of a team building exercise. I sure wouldn’t like it during an interview. I would be rolling my eyes at least on the inside.

            3. Insert name here*

              Yeah I would be super confused because I always get technical interviews since I have a technical job. Today I was asked to draw out a network (just a basic network or one I have worked on in the past) and explain how it worked, and then they were able to ask me follow up questions and I could refer back to my drawing. At first it was a little jarring because I DID have to think on the spot, but then I warmed up to it and it gave them quite a bit of insight into some of my skillset (hopefully good insight!) without having to answer unrelated questions.

              Once I was asked how many tennis balls could fit into a car and I just said “As many as you wanted until it toppled over from the weight, unless you want to drive, in which case leave enough room for the driver” and he laughed and said it was a good answer. I’m not sure if it was serious question or not though.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You can test that stuff by asking work-related questions though. Give them questions that actually simulate the sorts of unexpected questions they’ll need to field on the job.

            1. Alton*

              I think another benefit of using job-relevant examples is that it can help the candidate gauge their own comfort level with the position and what challenges they may run up against.

            2. Hiring Well*

              And we certainly do, always have, and always will. And yet we had several hires not work out in recent years, because practicing for interviews and learning to say what you think people want to hear is a skill, and we have been duped by this skill a number of times now to our detriment.

              So we began to look for what we could add to our interview process to help us get below the surface a little bit, to get beyond people telling us what they think we want to hear. Amongst 20 or so questions is this one that asks the candidate to trust us just a little bit, to answer a question that they haven’t prepared for, that there is no right answer for. We ask them to demonstrate the ability to reflect on their own qualities and compare those qualities to something else. Taken in conjunction with all the other questions, it gives us a fuller picture.

              All I can say is it is working for us so far, and we will continue developing in this direction until it stops working for us. We have hired some really great people who are team players, who show leadership potential, who bring a willingness to trust, who can self-reflect. If someone doesn’t like the question and chooses not to work for us because of it, I get that and I’m okay with it.

              1. call me lancelot*

                ” to answer a question that they haven’t prepared for, ”

                OK, but I just want to caution you about this assumption, because since it is such a stereotypical question, and such a well-known example of a random interview question, they may very well HAVE prepared for it.

    2. call me lancelot*

      The problem is, the animal called “human” tends to assume a question is posed in an interview because it has a correct answer, so what you’re going to be getting is either someone’s panicked guess at what answer is expected, or someone’s well-prepared and briefed answer on what a good animal is.

      Also, folks like me who don’t really like animals or have any real emphatic connection with any animal are just gonna be like “what was the last animal I saw? A pigeon? Great, I’ll be a pigeon then.” That’s not giving you much insight into the person.

      1. Hiring Well*

        They don’t assume it when I tell them right up front that I am not looking for a particular answer, but that I want to learn more about them and how they think. Whatever answer comes out of their mouth will be greeted with an encouraging response – tell me more about how you are like a pigeon. I tell them they can take their time. I offer gentle prodding questions if they seem stuck. The goal here isn’t to trip up the candidate, and I do make that clear.

        It’s a conversation which I have had at least a couple dozen times now, and never once have I failed to learn something interesting. And I have never had a candidate panic. These candidates are being asked to think on the spot – not just share another pre-prepared story about the time they did something. We have a LOT of on-the-spot thinking in our work in situations that can be ambiguous. It is good for me to see whether a candidate will throw out an answer with no thought or will pause to think before venturing in and will think out loud for me.

        Someone who struggles with this question as you describe might not be a good match for our work environment, but I certainly wouldn’t decide that based on the answer to just this one question.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Honestly, I am not going to believe you if you tell me there isn’t a right answer. At the very least, there’s clearly a type of creative thinking and analysis you’re looking for, specifically when it comes to analyzing their own personality which I would doubt comes up explicitly very often in work situations.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          If the job requires on-the-spot thinking with ambiguous situations, why not give them an actual hypothetical situation from the job you’re interviewing for instead?

          And, as far as learning about the candidates, there are plenty of ways to learn about candidates that don’t make the candidates roll their eyes. If I went through the situation you describe, my only response would be, “I hope that’s not the guy this position reports to.” You’d never know it from my answer though, because I wouldn’t want to burn bridges in an interview.

          1. Hiring Well*

            What I am emotionally invested in is finding questions that will get me the best hires. If I find better questions, I will change in a heartbeat. I am always looking. This thread has been a helpful tool for reflection, and I am really grateful for the comments.

            1. Leverage those Optics*

              If you are looking for questions without canned responses, this isn’t a good one. I have 3 canned responses to this question, that I whip out based on my impression of the interviewer

          2. Treecat*

            You all seem pretty emotionally invested in telling her she’s bad for doing it.

            1. neverjaunty*

              It’s not a useful interview question, and her rationale for thinking it leads to good hires is mistaken. I don’t understand where you leap from that to “she’s a bad person”.

        3. fposte*

          I can see this at something like a Southwest Airlines, where they’re looking for a very specific personality type involving performance and playfulness; if that’s you guys, then I can see it making sense.

          My concern in other workplaces is that you run the risk of hiring for monoculture of personality, and that that question helps signal that monoculture to applicants. And in my experience a diversity of personality types is actually a plus, and that you can get a lot of different kinds of people who can offer serious commitment to the mission. We tend to run to a certain personality type for one of our job streams, and it’s a great personality type and I enjoy it, but I’d have missed some amazing employees who made contributions that that personality type couldn’t if I had prioritized personality type over contribution.

          1. Hiring Well*

            That’s a really interesting response, and I really had to think about that. We have a fair diversity of skills and personalities on our staff – far from a monoculture. However we do require a strong positivity in our role with the public, so maybe there is a piece there for me to think about more.

            We ask many interview questions, of which this is just one. It is a question that combined with others will hopefully allow the candidate to demonstrate a degree of emotional intelligence. This question looks at flexible thinking and introspection. Other questions look at other traits.

            I would love to hear how other hiring managers look for emotional intelligence, because in my experience it is easily faked in an interview with traditional questions.

            1. fposte*

              I think you’re taking the question places that it doesn’t usually go, so I’m intrigued too. Can you give me a specific workplace example of a display of emotional intelligence so I can think about whether I look for it and how? (You’re not in a library, btw, are you?)

              1. Hiring Well*

                Thank you for indulging me!

                Flexible thinking. You want staff members who are open to change (because change is a constant), and this requires flexibility. So does working on teams where their idea might not be the one that gets picked. So does being able to suddenly change your focus because you thought you were going to be off-desk and now you are in charge of a program instead. So does understanding that just because you asked for a day off, it just might not be possible.

                Pretty much anyone who has prepped for an interview can give examples of change they led or were part of or supported or a time they were flexible or had to do something they didn’t want to do. They can tell you what they would do in a hypothetical situation where they don’t get what they want. Then you hire them and they aren’t actually flexible at all, they just told you what you wanted to hear because they practiced for the interview like they were supposed to.

                How can I actually see that you can be flexible when faced with something that is even just a slight bit outside your liking? I ask you an odd question, I even tell you it’s an odd question that has no right answer, and I give you lots of encouragement in answering it. I’m totally accepting of any animal or trait you come up with. I’m asking you to be flexible enough to indulge me in answering what is openly acknowledged as an odd question.

                This questions also looks at other traits, like self-reflection – I am not looking for what specific characteristics or animal you choose (though it’s interesting to learn in a get-to-know -you way), but are you prepared to reflect on your traits? Can you make a comparison to something else with the same traits? If I ask you to tell me about your greatest strengths, I get an answer you’ve prepared. But if I ask to compare yourself to any animal, I am asking you to do a brand new fresh reflection on any trait you possess to demonstrate that you can actually think about yourself in a new way, because work may ask that of you. Getting along with others may require that of you. Learning to be a manager or lead a project where you need to influence others will require it. Facing a customer who is convinced you are prejudiced against them when you are equally convinced you are not will require it. I want to hire people who are open to seeing themselves in a new way, who are open to seeing that their behavior could feel prejudiced to someone else, and that intention doesn’t discount action. Show me you can look at yourself anew.

                And yes, library!

                1. Browser*

                  That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of. It has zero to do with work, and has no relation to “thinking on your feet” or “demonstrating flexibility.” It shows that by the third interview you have run out of questions and are grasping at straws to fill unnecessarily wasted time. If you’ve asked everything work related by the third interview, then you don’t need a third interview.

        4. Humble Schoolmarm*

          My issue wouldn’t be trusting that you were or were not telling the truth, it would be spontaneously coming up with an answer that I could defend with some kind of profundity. My internal monologue would be something like “Pandas, because they’re cute… no, I can’t tell a potential employer to give me a job because I’m cute…bird? Birds can fly? Flying might be fun? ummm… rabbit, no, too much sex…stegosaurus because I like their plates…gah…that’s even worse than a panda…platypus is unique…nope, I don’t know anything about platypi… baby seal…too controversial…ummm horse, I guess, cause…reasons… (Please UFO abduct me now!)

          I’m sure you would think that I’m a poor fit for your needs, but being spontaneously creative is a huuuuge part of my job, and I’m also very introspective, so I’m not sure you’d be getting a completely accurate picture of my skills here.

        5. TL -*

          I’m great at thinking on my feet but I might struggle with this question in an interview because work mode me is thinking about science and tiny molecules (my work) not why I’m like an animal. It would be much better to ask me problem solve a work problem, which I’ve been asked before.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      This kind of shtick is going to induce eye-rolling from your best candidates for all the reasons Alison goes into. Is that really the impression you want to make?

    4. Parenthetically*

      I would be a human animal. I don’t really identify with or resonate with other animals and I quite enjoy having a consciousness, higher reasoning skills, complex language, and the ability to cook food.

      1. Hiring Well*

        Normally we ask for a non-human animal, but you do give compelling reasons and you made me laugh!

        1. Us, Too*

          I also worry that this is a biased question because it’s likely to draw you to candidates that amuse you (or push you away from those who don’t). It feels kind of “clubby”.

          1. Hiring Well*

            Parenthetically amused me. Having a sense of humor is actually considered an asset for us. Of course we don’t hire on the basis of one question. If you have three equally great candidates and one demonstrates a bit of humor, that’s a plus. If another demonstrates empathy, that’s a plus. If another demonstrates analytical skill that’s a plus. I don’t understand how it is clubby to appreciate a positive trait that might emerge from a question asked in interview.

            1. Blurgle*

              There is a difference between “has a sense of humour” and “can dredge up jokes”.

        2. Loz*

          Then I’d be the monkey on youtube that puts his finger in his butt, sniffs it and falls off the log in disgust.
          Have a think about that when we shake hands on the way out

          1. Loz*

            There was originally a smiley on the end of that btw. :) please take as humour not snark.

    5. fishy*

      This question might not be as unexpected as you think. It was actually on a list of “Common Interview Questions” that the job center I went to when I was unemployed recommended candidates prepare for!

      My answer that I am like a turtle did not please my job coach, who told me that saying that would make hiring managers think I was slow.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yep. This was on a list of questions I should prep for ten plus years ago, so I doubt it’s that much of a surprise.

        (Name notwithstanding I actually wasn’t a turtle!)

    6. N Twello*

      I worry that you will misinterpret the answer. For example, to you the dog answer might show that someone is dependable, but to them it might mean that they’re most comfortable in a submissive situation. Interviews create expectations about what the job should be – they’re almost an informal job contract – and including such vague components could create problems.
      I was once asked what animal I would be, and I answered that I was sorry but I had no answer. I didn’t express it, but I was offended that I was expected to play a silly and personal game in a serious business meeting. I was offered the job, but this question made me think twice about accepting it.

  25. Emma*

    I had the “if you were a cheese, what kind would it be?”. I still don’t know what the answer to that should be. I also got “what famous person, alive or dead, would you want to go to dinner with”, which at least I could vaguely answer by talking about work-related celebrities (think Supreme Court judges).
    My worst interview was with the guy who said “well, looking over your resume, it looks like your life so far has been so easy”. This was his segway into “describe a time when you overcame hardship”, but as it happens, my best friend had passed away from cancer a month before, and I basically couldn’t respond because I was so overcome with the desire to punch him in the face. It’s the only time I really told myself “even if they offer this job, I will not take it because I cannot work with this idiot”.

    1. Amber T*

      “Your life so far has been easy” based on your resume? What a frickin moron! I want to be more eloquent in my response and insults, but seriously, that guy was a complete ass. You can’t tell what someone’s life has been like based off a resume, just like you can’t tell if someone would be good at a job just based on that. Honestly, I want to punch that guy in the face for you.

    2. Parenthetically*

      I don’t hate the “what famous person” question in general (like… as an icebreaker on a date, or an essay prompt for the first day of school), but it continues to baffle me that people think questions like this are at all relevant to whether or not you’re a good fit for a particular job.

      1. babblemouth*

        Right, I’d love to have dinner with Jane Austen, but this is linking to a passion I have which is 0% linked to my job. So either I give the interviewer an answer that doesn’t give them much insight into my job-related abilities, or I lie to them.

    3. Rob aka Mediancat*

      At college, we played a game like this and called it the metaphysical game. We’d pick a person, either a fellow student or someone famous, and answer questions about them like this. ‘If they were a color/animal/Shakespeare play/branch of Christianity/famous battle . . . ” It was a lot of fun, but, it was a game and there was no judging going on.

    4. twig*

      Fresh out of college, I had someone looking over my resume commenting on how FUN each thing must have been.

      “Oh, you went to X university. that must have been… FUN. I see here that you went on foreign exchange*. that must have been… FUN.”

      Not in a “Yay that’s fun” tone, so much as a “what kind of spoiled brat are you?” tone. It made me wonder why I’d even been called in for an interview.

      *Just to clarify — the foreign exchange thing was on my resume for my first 1 or 2 job searches after college when I didn’t have much on my resume.

  26. Stop That Goat*

    I’ve gotten the question about manhole covers being round but that’s been the limit to ‘brain teaser’ type questions for me (luckily!). I’ve been more likely to get a technical quiz than any sort of brain teaser.

  27. o_O*

    I had a group interview once, for a travel agency, in which we were asked what kind of dog the other candidates would be and why. It was …awkward.

    (And left me spending way too much mental energy on questions like: is “Italian Greyhound” a compliment?)

  28. Parenthetically*

    I wish every employee at my school had to answer: How did/do you handle conflict with coworkers? Is/was there a complaint procedure available to you at your current/previous job? Did you ever circumvent that procedure? If so, why?

    I’d love to know the magic question formula for not hiring hypocrites who insist on rule-following when behavior is directed toward them (or their friends/”team”) but flagrantly violate rules, policies, and basic manners when interacting with people outside their clique. “What kind of animal are you” doesn’t really seem to grasp it. A cuckoo, who steals other birds’ nests and then kicks the other chicks to their deaths? A chimpanzee, who occasionally cannibalizes the tribe leader? A bottle-nose dolphin, who punches other sea creatures as practice?

  29. Bits and Bytes*

    They still love these brainteasers in tech interviews (boo, Google/MS/Apple, for setting this trend). Someone once asked me, “You have 5 machines that dispense same-weighted slugs. One dispenses slugs that are 0.1 gram too light. You have a scale, but can only use the scale once. How do you find the broken machine?”

    I said I’d start by firing the guy who thought buying single use scales made sense, then go buy a real one. Then I stopped talking.

    The interviewer let it hang a minute, then said, “You’re really not gonna try to answer that?”

    I said, “Nope. I think I’ve gotten what I need here. I can see we’re not going to be a good fit.” Then I thanked him for his time and hung up.

    They called me back a week later with an offer. I promptly declined.

    1. PhillyKate*

      I had that same question too, for a marketing firm! They weren’t happy with how I answered it either and kept making me come up with different scenarios until I came up with the correct one. I didn’t get hired due to my lack of “problem solving skills”

    2. Lolly*

      I actually love those kinds of brainteasers and do them for fun, although I think the version I read used ball bearings. But I wouldn’t want them in an interview and don’t know what they could possibly reveal about a candidate that would be helpful in selection.

    3. MicroManagered*

      Put all the slugs on it once. Record the total weight and then remove them one by one? Does that count as using more than once? That’s either not possible to answer or painfully obvious. I can’t decide.

  30. JamieS*

    I have to say I hate the airplane question or questions of a similar vein. There are just too many unknown variables. What type of plane is the interviewer referring to and how big is it? Are there seats? How big are the seats? Is there an assumption the plane is empty? If not how full is the plane?

    1. GermanGirl*

      I love the airplane question and similar ballpark estimate ones. Never mind all the unknowns, you can just make those up as you go.
      That said, I love them as questions to puzzle over with friends or colleagues, and I wouldn’t mind them in an interview but I don’t think they’d make good interview questions where you learn much about the candidate.

  31. Former Computer Professional*

    After giving a personal example, I used to ask, “Tell me about a time you made a big mistake.”

    I really didn’t care about what they messed up. What I wanted to hear about was what they did afterwards.

    The first time we did it we had three candidates. Candidate A just stared at me like I had seven heads. Candidate B insisted that he -never- made mistakes; once he learned how to do something he always did it perfectly!

    Candidate C told us the story of the time he accidentally set a car on fire. At the end of the story we were laughing so hard we were crying. He’s the one we wound up hiring — and he was fantastic.

    1. Triangle Pose*

      I think the asker of that question is also seeing if you understand what’s a mistake and what’s not. I think inexperienced interviewees might choose some slight “everyone makes these” type of error but that’s a missed opportunity. I’m looking for a candidate to have the sound judgment to know the difference between a typo and a real mistake and show me what she did after making the real mistake and what she learned from it. I’m not going to spoonfeed every one of those questions but I think it’s pretty clear.

      1. Gingerblue*

        I loathe questions like this. As someone who’s had a fairly straightforward, boring life, what am I supposed to say? I’ve never set my car on fire. I mean, I agree that it sounds like the guy was a great hire, but are you sure you’re not discarding candidates just because their lives lack drama, or it’s not drama they’re comfortable talking about to a random stranger?

        The academic variant tends to be “Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a student” and I don’t have any interesting stories to tell there. Student A complained about his grade, I went over the grading with him, and he went away? Because that’s all I’ve got.

    2. writelhd*

      I think this question is fine and useful, but I’d explicitly clarify that I mean in a work setting and want to know what the person did to recover from it/learn from it/make it right. I would think it’s a good insight into how self-aware someone is and how they process and learn from failure.

  32. Lolly*

    “How many babies do you think will be born in Australia next year?”

    It was probably my first proper interview (I was 18) and I had no idea on demographics, I asked how many babies were born in Australia this year but they didn’t know (or wouldn’t tell me). It’s a long time ago so I don’t remember my answer but I didn’t get the role (not sure if it’s just this question that was the problem) and I never got feedback so I guess I’ll never know the proper way to answer it.

    1. Darren*

      This is one of those, how you work it out questions that Google and what not use.

      They want to see you work it through.

      Basically you need to know the number of couples that exist, then you need the probability of them having a child in any given year from there you can get the approximate number.

      Number of eligible couples that exist (for having children):
      Approximate population of Australia (lets say 50 million)
      Child bearing age range (18-45) (27 years)
      Approximate amount of people in that age range that our in relationships they might have kids (again lets say about half)

      Probability of such a couple having a baby in any given year:
      Approximate population of child bearing age (lets say half)
      Approximate number of children per couple (best guess around 2.5)

      It’s all about the reasoning, not the specific numbers (you’d never have exact numbers for any of these).

      1. Samantha*

        Australia is wayyy smaller than that :) 50 million people? More like half that population – we basically only live on the East coast.

        FYI total births was 264,493 in 2015. Just as a fun fact for your.

  33. Maggie98765*

    In my prior job, I was asked “If you were a color, which one would you be?” I was so surprised I didn’t even think about it; I just said “blue” because that’s my favorite color. My interviewer (VP of the department) asked why and I said because I’m calm and quiet — at this point I have no idea how to answer or what she might be trying to find out. Later I thought that was a terrible answer because the job required relationship building and a lot of energy. It didn’t even faze her, though — I was offered the job and took it and it was horrible. Not only did the leadership not know what they wanted in a candidate, they didn’t know what they wanted from the whole team. No training, no direction, and lots of silly games in team meetings instead of discussion about issues or tasks. The bottom line is, Alison is 100% correct that these kinds of questions are red flags. I just wish I’d known that then.

  34. Vicky Austin*

    Once as a referee for someone, I was asking “if applicant was a car what type of car would she be.” I refrained from saying that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard and instead said “I don’t really know a lot about cars.” Turned out they asked the applicant the same thing. I’m not sure what they thought they would learn from my response.

    1. that guy*

      “None. People don’t magically transform into cars, trees, animals, etc. Next question please.”

  35. Mr. Frog*

    I will admit I do ask what some might call a weird question when I interview people.
    The question is: “you get stranded on a desert island but you get to bring 3 items with you, what are they and why”

    The answers you get fall into four categories:
    – Self-help survival: fishing pole, lighter etc…
    – Assisted-help survival: Sattelite phone, emergency beacon etc…
    – Combination of the first two
    – Bizarre: I had one guy who wanted to bring his wife and kids, another his M&M cards,

    I do this to find out more about the thought process, the jobs I hire are customer facing, with a requirement to fix problems. I want to hire the people that fall into category 3, they will try to fix the issues but are not afraid to ask for help.

    1. European*

      The problem is the question won’t help you to figure out who has the skills you need.

      BTW, I saw a similar question as a dating site.

      By asking the candidate a similar question to one you can find on a dating site you’re offending your own intelligence and harming your company’s reputation. Personally, I would probably give you an answer you expect but your question would make me question whether I ever want to work for your company.

      1. Mr. Frog*

        the question is one of many in the interview and it’s not meant to uncover skills, but to figure our their approach to problem-solving.

        There is no “right” answer to the question so you coming up with the “expected” answer would be difficult.
        Also if a single approach to problem-solving question makes you question working for the company, I can tell you it would not be a good fit both ways.

        1. European*

          You actually wrote in your first post that there is a right answer: “I want to hire the people that fall into category 3”.

          And yes, I’ve already “withdrawn my application” after job interviews that were especially silly. I’ve never been asked this specific question but it would be a possible reason for me to do the same. I just don’t want to work for a company that employs such bad HR people since it shows they lack judgement. I’m not looking for a date but for a job in which I’m treated as an adult person.

    2. Vertigo*

      Why don’t you just…ask them about an issue they had with a customer? Seems like a more accurate way to assess how they solve issues with customers. Wife and kids guy is actually a good example of why it’s a bad question; he may have had experience with handling customer complaints well, but all you learned from your question was that he loves his family and would enjoy living on an island.

      1. European*

        Or: have you ever worked with a difficult client? Why were they difficult and how did you deal with it?
        Working as a consultant, I’m asked this a lot.

        If that’s a person without experience in similar roles, I would ask about how they imagine a difficult client and how they would deal with a difficult client.

  36. MrAEMiller*

    I just outright refuse to answer. Fermi questions are just a reinvention of all those awful 70s 11+ brain teasers designed to keep the state school kids out cus they wouldnt know a simultaneous equation cus no one taught them. I don’t want to work for the kind of intellectual snob who thinks they can calculate my brain size by asking abstract questions to which the information to answer them correctly is not supplied. Often if the questions are insulting I will formally complain to the business after I leave asking in a sarcadtic tone what the questions hope to achieve. I never burn bridges but sometimes I dynamite them. To be fair some fermi questions are fun it depends on the spirit in which the questions are asked. I know when people are trying to get to know me and when they’re playing power games and looking down their nose at me. I’d rather take less money than hang out somewhere where I’m made to feel inferior.

  37. MrAEMiller*

    My favourite was “How would you explain the internet to your grandmother?”

    To which I replied “Difficult. They’re both dead.”

    Someone should really tell the NHS they’re not Google.

    1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I think that is a really good question for some jobs! Explaining complex concepts to people who know nothing about the topic is a skill, and it’s definitely needed in some jobs. Not least in health care.

      1. MrAEMiller*

        Perhaps but the phrasing is awful… Managing to be both ageist & sexist & personal at the same time. The question is tactless on a number of levels…

        They also asked who would win in a fight between a tiger & a lion. Okay it is biology job but actually there is no answer & you’re just being silly now…

      2. MrAEMiller*

        Other classic questions that made me raise an eyebrow:

        “Name a politician you admire”


        “What do you think of the EU referendum?”


        “If I gave you £1000 what would you spend it on?”

        Sadly it doesn’t seem illegal to ask any of these…

        My favourite interview question was the man who asked “Why did you leave company X?” when I said “I didnt it changed name because one of the directors died” something about my timeing made him laugh and then he felt ashamed for laughing and then I said “It’s okay” and then he laughed some more out of relief/nervousness & then he felt ashamed again & then his mate laughed at him & then his mate did the same thing & then I laughed and then they laughed &…

        …I didnt get the job but we all had a good laugh.

  38. N Twello*

    Back in the 80s I graduated with an MA in Economics and my first interview was with a prestigious investment firm. I was grilled for a full day by a bunch of VPs. Among the many questions were, “What country clubs do your parents belong to?” and “Where is your family cottage?” I had no answer to either question. I wasn’t offered a job.
    I have sometimes tried to work out a better answer than I gave (which I think was a lame-sounding admission that my parents had no club memberships or cottage).

    1. babblemouth*

      Wow. I guess at least stupid gimmicks are better than outright class discrimination…

  39. antigone*

    I used to ask a question when interviewing for internships that I now wonder if it fell under the bad category.
    Background: this was for a marketing internship, and it the job required to be able to sell something that they didn’t find very exciting, or sometimes downright boring. We did ask straight-forwardly for examples of situations when the interviewee was in a similar position, but they often could not give good examples, and when they could, it didn’t turn out to be a good selector.

    So instead, I started asking them to tell me about a book, or film, or any kind of entertainment they read/watched etc that they didn’t like at all, and to explain why. After they spent a couple minutes telling about this thing they hated, I asked them to try to convince me to read/watch it. It showed me if they were able to find an interesting angle to even the worst things possible.

    I found that I got much better insights into their ability to do the job after that. However, it does sound very gimmicky when I repeat it in my head…

    What do you think? (either way, this is academic as I don’t hire for these jobs anymore)

    1. amy*

      Well — I think it’d sort people for you. The thing is that a really good salesperson will tell you that they wouldn’t try to sell you on this thing. Because it wasn’t going to deliver, and if you’re in the business of making sales in things you don’t believe in, you’re going to leave a wide trail of people who see you coming and hide from the bullshit artist who probably doesn’t know what she’s talking about anyway.

      The best vendor salespeople I used to work with were also the most knowledgeable. I’ll give you an example, from my last major purchase: a used car. I get my car fixed at a place that’s half repair, half sales, and the repair side is highly-educated types working on imports — they’ve been my mechanics for 20 years and while they’re not cheap, they’ve never tried to screw me, always been happy to talk, educate, tell me when a repair’s not worth it, find cheap workarounds, etc. Sales, on the other hand, is Bubba. So I found a car I liked, and Bubba tried to shovel garbage at me about it. I said thanks, then went through the door to the repair side and talked to the owner there, asked him about the car. He asked me how much Bubba was asking, I told him, and he said, “That’s a lot of car for that money!” I bought the car, haven’t regretted it. He was right: it is a lot of car for the money.

      The thing about “boring”, as opposed to “bad” — which I guess is where your analogy falls apart — is that a boring product can be very useful. The printer on my desk is boring, but it’s just what I needed. A boring movie, though, is a bad movie.

  40. amy*

    Oh, man, did I get a weird one at my last interview.

    Guy asked me something tremendously large about what I live for. I had no idea what he was driving at, still don’t. After probing to try to figure out what he was after, I shrugged and said, “To make a beautiful thing.” This was not what he wanted to hear, though frankly I think that’s a marvelous thing to live for and it’s a pity he was so disappointed. So then he asked me what I put on my 1040, and in retrospect I realize that this was all part of the weird generational divide that kept cropping up in this interview — this guy was Soul of Tenured Boomer and I think he was all about the self-actualization (and money), and I’m not entirely sure he understands a world in which even non-Untermenschen are happy to have reasonably pleasant jobs that allow them to eat regular.

  41. Mr. G*

    I was asked a few months ago in an interview for an internal position, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

    I initially interpreted this as, “what are your long-term career goals?” and answered as though that were the question. The more I thought about it, though, the more I couldn’t help but think, “did she mean to imply that I, with over 10 years of experience in my career field and an in-progress master’s degree, am not, already, pretty grown up?”

    I’m still not sure if I should be offended. And I didn’t get the job.

    1. Brogrammer*

      I don’t think the question was intended to be offensive, though of course that’s hardly the best indicator of whether it actually is. But for what it’s worth, I was chatting with my mother (in her 60’s, has a master’s degree) about this recently and she said, “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” She was kind of joking but kind of not.

  42. John*

    Well, in recent interview, I was asked what kind of kitchen utensil I would be and why…. Why God, why?

    1. European*

      Given I don’t have any idea about cooking I would have extreme problems replying to that. My answer would probably be “a spoon”.

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