what to say if an interviewer asks about your favorite books or movies

I’m traveling to do some book promotion this week, so I’m running some reprints this week. This was originally published in 2014.

A reader writes:

I have a question about an interview that I’m pretty sure I bombed recently. Things were going fairly well until my interviewer asked me for my favorite book and favorite movie. I completely blanked and took way too long to answer, and I’m not even sure what I said for them (I think I said Little Women for the book). I spent so much time preparing to talk about my background and experiences and the job that I wasn’t prepared for more off-the-wall questions (my fault, I know).

My question is, what are interviewers looking for with these questions? I mean, obviously I guess they want someone who is intelligent, can think on their feet (which I did not do), and has varied interests, but how do you convey that with these types of answers? I can come up with an answer to the book question now (I’m planning to say I’ve been into Neil deGrasse Tyson’s books recently, because I have), but I’m stumped as far as movies in case I get asked this again. My movie tastes aren’t exactly sophisticated (Mean Girls? Boondock Saints? Fight Club? When Harry Met Sally?). Is this a question you find helpful or not?

I don’t ask these sorts of questions unless I’m really having trouble getting a sense of someone and am looking for ways to draw them out, and then I might – but some interviewers use them routinely. They’re mostly just looking to get a better sense of who you are — to flesh you out as a person who they’d be working with day in and day out rather than just as a resume and work history. Sometimes hearing that the guy who seemed shy and a little stiff actually loves Wes Anderson movies and Sarah Vowell can show a different side of him and make him more relatable.

Obviously, there still are bad answers. If you said Twilight, I’d wonder about your judgment for saying it in an interview — although it wouldn’t stop me from hiring you if you were otherwise great (but 50 Shades of Grey might). But generally answers to these questions fall in the “mildly interesting but not terribly important” category.

Say it with confidence and genuine enthusiasm, and you’re probably fine. People who are passionate about things are interesting.

That said, are there interviewers who have rigid ideas about what answers are okay here and which aren’t, and who will read all sorts of things into your response? Sure. But that’s true of most interview questions.

Personally, for movies I’d probably go with, “I’m not sure about a favorite, but I recently saw ____ and loved it. Have you seen it?” (Fill in the blank with something of reasonable quality.) And for books, I’d go with “I’m currently reading ___ and I just finished ___” or “I tend to read a lot of (fill in genre here) and recently finished ____.” Of course, some genres are safer than others — some people have weird biases against sci-fi, fantasy, and romance. But historic fiction, contemporary fiction, nonfiction, biographies, 18th century British novels, etc. are all fine.

Overall, though, I just wouldn’t read too much into the question or stress too much over your answer.

{ 625 comments… read them below }

  1. Ann O'Nemity

    I love the “I’m not sure about a favorite, but I recently saw ____ and loved it. Have you seen it?” approach. It’s hard for me to identify favorites for any category and I always feel awkwardly stumped when asked.

    1. Gabriela

      I’m glad I’m not the only one! I have a hard time coming up with favorite books, authors, tv shows, movies, etc even though I consume all voraciously. The worst question for me though, is ALWAYS music-related- favorite song, favorite band, even what kind of music do you like to listen to…make me anxious. People are just too judgemental about music preferences.

      1. Luna

        Me too! I cannot stand the music question, people are so weirdly judgmental about music.

        1. Strawmeatloaf

          Argh, the music/book question. There are some things I don’t like reading/listening to (ex: death metal) but I have such a wide range that it’s hard to say what my favorite type of music is. My favorite usually is “if I like it enough to buy it”. The answer would be Jim Gaffigan stand ups, but those aren’t music.

          Books are even trickier. Do I like mysteries? Boy do I! But only if they don’t have this, and this, and this and this… there’s a reason I don’t read Game of Thrones, half of my bookshelf is uncompleted series of manga, some comic collections, game guides, random mystery series, other book series I haven’t completed… Couldn’t even say what my favorite book is right now, because I would have to think of all of the ones I have and then decide which were my favorite out of those.

        2. krysb

          And some people like me are just weird. Like, the Beatles’s “Here Comes the Sun” is probably one of my favorite songs of all time. But my favorite Beatles song is “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” My favorite Beatles song ranks below one of my favorite songs that happens to be by the Beatles. Does this make sense to anyone but me?

          1. Kelly

            My favorite song of all time might not be my favorite on the album it is on. (Maybe. The thing is, I’m never decided on which other song I like better. I just really love that album.)

    2. epi

      I think I am like the OP in terms of movies, most of the ones I would say are not particularly sophisticated and I would need a minute to think about it.

      To me, my “favorite” book or movie is one I can return to over and over. So it’s often a sentimental favorite, something I got into a long time ago as a teen or young adult. I read and watch other, “better” stuff, but I would feel pretty silly claiming something I saw once, enjoyed, and moved on from was my favorite.

      1. Washi

        Yeah, this is where I am too. My “favorite”/most-read books say more about what I imprinted on as a 12-year-old and not what I think is the pinnacle of literature.

      2. Magee

        I’m with you. When I thought about this, I thought of the books and movies I will always want to read or watch again- pretty much The Harry Potter Series and a bunch of Disney movies. Based on Alison’s answer, that might come off a little weird as a 30-something and would probably make me seem immature. But they are truly my favorite.

        1. Jules the Third

          My fave movie is an obscure Gene Kelly / Judy Garland musical called _The Pirate_. It’s not the best movie. It’s not even the best Gene / Judy movie (Summerstock has better songs and a less…. tortuous plot), and by *far* not the best Gene movie (Singin’ is really a masterpiece). But I love the combination of humor and adventure, and a couple of the songs are good (Make ‘Em Laugh is a direct ripoff of Be A Clown, they had to go ask Cole if it was ok).

          I’d probably say this, and use it as a springboard for talking about how I can see both my emotional reaction and objective quality.

          1. Former Employee

            Not Gene/Judy, but Gene/Leslie: “An American in Paris”. All that Gershwin. The dancing, the singing, Paris…

            1. bonkerballs

              Oh no, it’s all about Gene/Cyd. The magic, the miracle, the bad Scottish accents. And who doesn’t want to go home with Bonnie Jean? Brigadoon for the win!

            1. Tinlizi

              Those shorts are amazing! I love that ballet and that movie. But, one of my favorite Gene Kelly movies is Cover Girl with Rita Hayworth. He dances with a reflection of himself.

          2. Hapless Bureaucrat

            Oh, now you’re speaking straight to my childhood soul. I love that movie, and Summerstock, and now I have to go watch them both again.

            It’s a good answer.

        2. Felicia

          If you gave those answers it would make me want to be your friend :) They’re my favourites too.

      3. Delphine

        Yep, favorites can be very personal. My favorites mostly live in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, which people tend to consider “immature” across the board.

        1. Iris Eyes

          People think Sci-Fi/Fantasy is “immature”? All but like 4 of the most thought provoking and attitude changing books I have read have been in the speculative fiction realm.

          If you want to look for an immature genre look no further than the latest political non-fiction.

      4. YoungTeach

        Yes this would be my dilemma too! My actual favorite book is probably Harry Potter, but how silly would that sound in an interview? I could answer a high school reading assignment but then if they know it too I’d have to actually remember it… And movies are the same, with my tastes leaning towards general scifi, super heros, and disney…

        1. Anna

          This is why it’s a crap question. Because they don’t really want to know your favorite and you can’t really share it. They’re only asking to decide if they can judge you. “La Peste by Albert Camus.” Oh! An intellectual! Ooooo! “I love all of the Harry Potter series, but probably my favorite is Prisoner of Azkaban.” “Hm…Aren’t those children’s books?” So even Alison’s reasoning that it might be a question to get to know you better is kind of a lie since you can’t answer honestly unless your favorite is within a very narrowly defined range of acceptable.

        2. MCMonkeyBean

          I don’t think it would be silly at all, and I think it’s all in how you say it. Something like “I know it’s cliche but Harry Potter–I spent so much time devouring it in middle school/high school/whenever and it’s been go-to when I want to read an old favorite ever since.”

      5. RUKiddingMe

        I always answer “Casablanca.” If pushed on it I point to the scene where the Germans are singing Die Wacht am Rhein then the French start singing La Marseillaise. The French drown out the Germans to the point that the Germans stop. Proving of course that “good will always triumph over evil.”

      6. Wintermute

        Then there’s the problem that a lot of what cinephiles would consider “high art” could easily be interpreted against you: A Clockwork Orange (indeed, most of Kubric’s oeuvre) , Requiem for a Dream, and Leon: The Professional all come to mind immediately. If you say a well-regarded movie from the golden era like Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind (Birth of a Nation used to be on this list until it became politically unpalatable), then you look like you’re trying too hard.

        My gambit would be to pick something fairly obscure, and highlight an interesting fact. For instance, I really enjoy Sidney Toler’s run as Charlie Chan, and while, being filmed 30s, they do have some unenlightened attitudes they were also quite inclusive for their day, with everyone except the title character played by an actor the same race as the character.

        They probably won’t know enough to judge me NEGATIVELY at least, as long as I disclaim the obvious “made before 1970, therefore probably has racism”

    3. AKchic

      I don’t have just *one* favorite book or movie. I have favorites within genres, subgenres, even within a series (!). I read a lot, and being in Alaska and not being able to be too mobile during the winter months and with insomnia, I tend to watch a *lot* of tv/movies in the winter (plus my family worked in the movie industry, so I got stuck watching a lot as a kid).

      I can talk books and movies for days. I’m a walking encyclopedia for the nerd/geek minutiae.

    4. Wannabe Disney Princess

      Same here. I have favorite authors that I can name in a heartbeat (Neil Gaiman, Michael Crichton, Stephen King). But when put on the spot for the others, I always freeze up and mumble something about my interests being varied.

    5. The New Wanderer

      This question was on my freshman orientation questionnaire, so all incoming freshmen could see what everyone else wrote. There were a LOT of Ayn Rand and Jane Austen fans my year (maybe every year?). I put “Jurassic Park” because it’s a really entertaining book.

      I think in an interview I would stick with my most recent movie/book/binge TV, although as a big sci-fi reader/watcher, that might be a hard sell to some audiences. Fortunately I work in tech; unfortunately people in tech may have Strong Opinions about certain sci-fi series or reboots or genres.

    6. Jadelyn

      For whatever reason, asking me what my favorite is (or even top 3 or 5 or something) in any category – book, movie, car, vacation destination, anything at all – immediately makes me go blank on that category. And then I’m like “…I *have* favorites, I’m sure I do, I just can’t think of anything right now…” and it comes out super awkward. I’d hate to be asked a favorite anything in a job interview.

      1. Tardigrade

        I’m especially bad about this regarding music. And I don’t have one favorite movie, but I have about a dozen that I will readily watch at any given time even if I watched it yesterday – and these are not movies I’d be proud to list in a job interview (The People Under the Stairs, Robin Hood Men in Tights, Clue, etc.).

        1. BeautifulVoid

          Clue is my favorite movie of all time (because it’s the best, really). But depending on who I’m with when asked, sometimes I’ll give my second favorite — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — to appear a little more sophisticated if necessary.

          (But Clue is still the best movie ever.)

          1. On Fire

            Yes to Clue! Followed by The Princess Bride. (I randomly quote both, frequently.)

            1. Tardigrade

              I wouldn’t be ashamed to list Princess Bride among my favorite movies, and I do.

          2. MusicWithRocksInIt

            Clue IS the best movie ever. So you are right. I would probably admit to it in an interview too, mostly because if you have heard of it you probably love it.

            1. MusicWithRocksInIt

              Also – am I the only one who finds it impossible not to say “Too Late” whenever anyone else says “To make a long story short”? Sometimes people at my work say it and I have to clamp my hand over my mouth and literally bite my tongue to keep if from coming out.

              1. MCMonkeyBean

                Always. And if someone is trying to count/add something I inevitably start murmuring “one plus two plus two plus one…”

              2. BeautifulVoid

                My husband says “long story short” all the time, and I always at least mutter “too late”, if not say it out loud. I don’t know if he’s caught on yet, or knows it’s a reference to the best movie ever.

    7. Annie Moose

      Me too! It’s especially bad for me with music. I like a wide variety of stuff and the only bands I really “follow” are pretty niche (Orden Ogan, anybody? No? Yeah.), so I always struggle when people ask what my favorite band is. “Whatever band I’m listening to” isn’t a sufficient answer for most music addicts!

      I usually go with “I listen to a lot of stuff, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of [specific genre].” And if I feel pressured to be more specific, to say that I really like/have lately been listening to [random band I like but not necessarily my “favorite”].

      Something which has helped me is the realization that people aren’t necessarily actually looking for your ABSOLUTE OF ALL TIME FAVORITE–they’re usually more interested in the general answer. So it’s okay to not answer their specific question by offering a more general answer.

      1. Kathleen_A

        We are having an all-employee “retreat” (which means a meeting that lasts all day even if we only have about a half-day’s worth of real things to do ::sigh::) in late June, and in preparation for this (I assume for some sort of ice-breaker?), we were all asked to pick out a favorite song.

        Oh, come on. How is that even possible? I came up with about 15 “favorites” in as many seconds.

        1. Anna

          It seriously depends on the day. Last week it was anything from Paul Simon or Billy Joel. This week I’m feeling Linda Ronstadt, and if you catch me later it’s going to be Jason Mraz. I love them all.

    8. Manatees are cool

      I would probably struggle with those sort of questions since whatever is my favourite depends on what mood I’m in. If Im in the mood for something emotional then I will choose A Monster Calls for a book and The Green Mile for a film, in a nostalgic mood I will choose the Harry Potter series for books and the Toby Maguire Spider-Man 2 for film and so on and so forth.

      1. Manatees are cool

        Sometimes I am in the mood for something completely trashy like the Top Coppers tv series which is awful yet addictive. I would not want to have a reputation of someone who watches utter garbage.

    9. chomps84

      Same! I read a lot, but my favorites are either things I really liked as a kid/young teen and sci-fi dystopian type stuff, which is kind of played out right now. Although in my defense I’ve been into my entire life!

      I’m also not “into” music. I like it, but I don’t listen to it a ton, don’t really have a favorite band, and don’t know enough about it talk about it.

    10. Competent Commenter

      As a writer I have to interview lots of people for articles (I’ve probably interviewed over 500 people) and I often need to draw out some of their more interesting experiences. I learned long ago to *never* ask people about the “best” experience they had in their role, or the *most* memorable, etc. Instead of hearing about that time they saved a child from a burning building, you get a stammering person who is hung up on picking the ultimate answer.

      So OP, don’t be too hard on yourself. That interviewer got about the answer they deserved.

    11. krysb

      This is almost me. I don’t have favorites. I like different things for different reasons and they aren’t very good to compare to one another.

    12. Iris Eyes

      Count me in the “I don’t really have favorites” crowd. I have preferred genres and authors I’ve read the whole body of work of, I have movies I have watched a lot but to settle on one favorite? That would be like having 12 kids and being forced to choose your favorite.

    13. Rana

      I haaaaaaaate the “what’s your favorite X” question. Absolutely hate it. I’m overly analytical and prone to wanting to give the right answer, so questions like this drive me bats. Favorite… today? Yesterday? Of all times? What does “favorite” mean? I’ve read literally thousands of books in my life, and you want me to figure out which one of them is THE BOOK? Right now? On the spot?

      Hell, I don’t even have a favorite color because it depends on my mood and what shade we’re talking about… and I don’t think most people would find “a deep peacock blue, if we’re talking clothing, but I’m also partial to the bright light green of new spring grass, and the deep orange of northern New Mexico soil is pretty nice too, and…” a useful answer.

      Well, I guess it would tell you something about me… but my experience has been that most people react badly to answers like this.

      1. Clumsy Ninja

        You and I could talk top ten lists all day, with all the caveats and disclaimers we need!

    14. MusicWithRocksInIt

      If I was asked to identify my favorite book I would probably just say Terry Pratchett was my favorite author and then ramble on about him until their eyes unfocused.

      1. TardyTardis

        You would be my new next friend. If THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN doesn’t make you cry, you’re not doing it right. If Horace the Cheese doesn’t make you laugh, ditto.

  2. Murphy

    I was at a conference and they had an icebreaker (every few minutes you had to get up and go to a different table where there was a new icebreaker question) and one of the questions was favorite movie. I don’t think I ever came up with an answer, because in the moment, I couldn’t think of any that were appropriate.

    1. Lady Phoenix

      Yeah. I can only imaginr asking a horror buff this and get something like “Hellraiser” or “Cannibal Holocaust”.

      (PS: Favorite horror is Nightmare of Elm Street 1,3,4,5)

      Or a metal fan and get Anal C*nt as an answer (they don’t censor the c-word btw).

      1. Lucky

        Oh my, Lady Phoenix, that certainly wasn’t ladylike. (PS Agree on Nightmare on Elm Street 2.)

        My most recent book would be I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. “It’s about the Golden State Killer, have you heard of him? 49 reported rapes, 12 known murders, was recently caught after a 40+ year search? OMG and they found out he WAS the Visalia Ransacker.”

        Yeah, not inserting my true crime vibe into a job interview.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          Oooh, I want to read that.

          But I feel you. I would never mention my obsession with Scientology & cults in an interview.

        2. jack

          I just finished A Stranger Beside Me – please, let’s talk about Ted Bundy for an hour or so

          1. VioletCrumble

            If you like True Crime – one my favorites is Shot in the Heart by Mikail Gilmore (Gary Gilmore’s brother.)

        3. Annie Moose

          I know this is off-topic, BUT ARE YOU NOT SO EXCITED ABOUT HIM BEING CAUGHT??? And definitive proof that he was VR?? Ahhh and I’m so intrigued by the use of familial DNA in the case too, although I know some people find it controversial–but nobody I know IRL is into this kind of stuff. T_T

          1. LCL

            I am so excited! The book store was all sold out the last time I looked. I was going to wait for the trade paperback but don’t think I can.

            Another local crime where two people were murdered was just solved using a similar method as was used to catch the Golden state killer.

        4. Lady Phoenix

          I don’t know or listen to the band, but I don’t think I would.

          Some metal music thinks that shrieking and blasting their instruments over 9000 is considered “music”, without any sort of rhythm or guitar awesomeness.

          1. ArtsNerd

            I have so many friends who are into drone music. What is drone? Art noise. It’s ambient, experimental, art noise. Some of it has melody… ish aspects. And y’know? I can totally get down with that in the background while I work, but there is no way in hell I’m going to a drone show. (Which is what I told my ex-partner when they started playing drone gigs.) When my band plays a show, it’s a party. It’s very political music and also we sing about death a lot –a LOT– but it’s catchy and fun to dance to. That’s important to me in a live performance.

            My point being that I’m glad there are a million weird niches in music and literature and other creative endeavors. If everyone liked the same thing, the repercussions would be much worse than just “bland movies.” I’m glad my drone friends like their weird pretentious stuff just as passionately as I like my own weird pretentious stuff. My sister and I occasionally wax nostalgic about the time before separate Netflix profiles, when her ballet documentaries went toe-to-toe with my “Because you watched Children of the Corn…”

            1. TardyTardis

              Try to explain to people about Rhapsody in Blue. “Gershwin was God, and Stanley Black was His Prophet”–it’d be my luck to come across someone who liked the Leonard Bernstein version better.

        5. Former Retail Manager

          I LOVE true crime and would totally mention it in an interview. I think it’s the solving of the crime, when applicable, and the ongoing search for truth that appeals to me. I simply must know the answer and there must be “an end” for lack of better phrasing. I’m utterly intrigued with missing persons cases as well…a la the TV show on ID called Disappeared. In our modern age of abundant technology in so many forms, I am still astonished that so many people just disappear off the face of the earth every single year with so few clues and the cases remain mostly unsolved.

          1. Jesca

            Yeah Disappeared is like the WORST! To me, it is literally the most depressing show on earth.

        6. Arya Snark

          OMG my people! I read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark recently and am just about done with A Stranger Beside me. I also have somewhat of an obsession with Scientology and cults.

          Not appropriate for interviews in the least but MY PEOPLE!

        7. Chalupa Batman

          At a work event recently, someone turned to me and asked out of the blue “are you a true crime buff?” Turns it was a segue into a conversation about a recently solved famous cold case, which we’d both been following for years. We had a good side conversation about how true crime is so popular anymore that conversation starters like that aren’t nearly as offputting as they may have been in the past, even if I hadn’t been receptive.

        8. Anna

          Am listening to it right now and found out my aunt dated him in high school. And it only gets weirder from there.

      2. Amber Rose

        I like metal. One of my favorite stress relief songs is an actually pretty ridiculous song called “Die Motherf***er Die.” Without the censoring. It’s very fun to sing at the top of my lungs alone in my car but probably… not all that appropriate to talk about in a work setting.

        And then there’s those weird grey areas, like how Disturbed did a cover of The Sound of Silence that I adore and have been listening to on repeat for a while. Can I talk about a band named Disturbed? Can I talk about David Bowie even if the only music I listen to of his is the Labyrinth soundtrack? Would it scare people if I said they remind me of the babe. (yes)

        1. LCL

          Ha. If you liked the Disturbed version of Sound of Silence, look up the one done by Boba Flexx. Makes Disturbed look like a pack of puppies.

        2. JeanB in NC

          My answer to “what’s your favorite movie” is always Labyrinth. I don’t care that it’s a 30-year-old movie aimed mostly at kids – I love it. I just went to see it again a couple weeks ago when Fathom brought it to the movie theater.

        3. Tafadhali

          Assuming there aren’t two songs of that title, that’s one of my favorite albums in general for when I’m moody or want to vent. It’s not very MATURE, but it’s definitely cathartic to sing along to!

          1. Amber Rose

            I think it’s a good bet that there’s just the one. =P
            Not mature in the slightest, but maturity is overrated anyway.

        4. Oxford Coma

          The first song you mention is on my FU playlist. I highly recommend said playlist for stress relief. Other tracks include easily-Googled songs by Cee Lo Green, Mandy Steckelberg (now Fabian), Lilly Allen, and Reel Big Fish.

          1. Amber Rose

            I have a playlist like that also, featuring Theory of a Dead Man, Mindless Self Indulgence and one song by Train.

        5. Lissa

          Oh man, I had a “true metal fan” go off on me for liking that Disturbed cover. It’s obvious and not hardcore enough, or something? I was just like, yup, I like farming apps too, so sue me, I’m never going to win those contests!

          1. Annie Moose

            ughhhhhh I hate self-proclaimed “true metal fans”. I love metal, and I unabashedly love the poppy stuff, the goth stuff, the stuff that oozes cheese… I don’t care if you think they’re “not real metal”, I still love Nightwish, you know?

        6. MusicWithRocksInIt

          I am so glad I am not the only person who counts herself a David Bowie fan based only on liking the Labyrinth soundtrack. To be fair I probably listen to a song from it on my ipod at least once a week.

      3. strawberries and raspberries

        True story: on my old team one of our spreadsheet’s formatting got messed up once and while trying to backtrack to fix it I said, “This is like the Lament Configuration from Hellraiser” and for better or worse, no one acknowledged my comment, and I was so upset because not only was it damn funny, but I was really hoping that my team had at least one other horror fan that wasn’t me.

        1. Amber Rose

          That’s awesome. I would have laughed.

          I’m not really a horror fan but I kind of liked the first movie anyway. It was interesting.

        2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

          I would have laughed.

          Horror fans have it rough. We’re looked down on by many other fandoms and assumed to be creepy people, when in reality most of the horror fans I’ve known have been a lot friendlier and nicer than those in other fandoms.

        3. straws

          I’m a huge Hellraiser fan and used character names from the movies in one of our interview assessments. Literally one person has ever recognized the names, but that person made me so happy! We did hire him, although not for that reason.

          1. strawberries and raspberries

            If I ever have to write a letter to Alison, I will also use Hellraiser names.

            (“My coworker ‘Julia’ feels really threatened by our new coworker ‘Kirsty’ because our manager ‘Frank’ keeps talking about how great Kirsty is…”)

            1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

              Back at this one job when I had to give examples using fake names, I would throw in lots of obscure references including Church of the Subgenius. Only one guy (the graphic designer) ever caught on.

    2. Anononon

      My favorite movie is Blazing Saddles. I would NEVER say that in an interview, lol.

      But, actually, I have considered including on older resumes “1980s comedy movies” as an interest. (I was in law school/a fresh law grad, so an interest section was within the norms.)

      1. feministbookworm

        my brother laughed so hard at Blazing Saddles when he saw it in theaters that he was eventually asked to leave for disrupting the experience for everyone else. Tells you something about our familial sense of humor.

      2. BenAdminGeek

        I only saw Blazing Saddles two years ago. I’d never understood why people referenced it as such a classic comedy film, and whenever people explained the movie to me, I just liked the idea of it less and less. Then I watched it, and it all made sense. Such a fun movie!

        1. LCL

          I’ve never seen it, because my parents went to see it and my mom told me it was awful and to save my money. And she gets humor and parody, she just said it wasn’t funny. I think I’m going to add that to my watch someday list.

    3. anon for the shame

      My favorite “Can’t think of anything better in the moment” stories:

      I was at a bar with coworkers, my first job, and I was the youngest person on my team, with a very “take the newbie under our wing” kind of vibe. And everyone was going around saying their favorite line from a movie. And, guys, my brain froze. Once I thought of this ONE quote, which I knew was inappropriate, I could not think of anything else. For an excruciating few minutes, I waited as they went around the circle, getting closer to me, my mind racing for anything, ANYTHING, other than the quote on my mind.

      And then it was my turn, and I had to shared the quote from Big Lebowski , when Walter destroys the car with the baseball bat: “That’s what happens you ** a stranger in the **”

      It was a huge hit–a very unexpected answer for the earnest girl with glasses–and I still wanted to die of shame. Haha.

      1. General Ginger

        When you find a stranger in the Alps? I don’t see anything shameful about that :)

    4. annakarina1

      One of my favorite movies is Leon/The Professional, but I know that the movie can be incredibly problematic, and there’s plenty of people who think the movie is messed-up, so I’d have to know my audience before I mention it. Generally people who like genre films, action movies, and darker films tend to like it, so I would feel safer bringing it up around them than other people who would be turned off by it.

    5. Kelly O

      Remember the episode of Friends where they played the game and one of the questions was – What does Rachel say her favorite movie is? Dangerous Liaisons. What is her actual favorite movie? Weekend at Bernie’s.

      I would feel very much in that spot and am glad I have not been asked. Not sure how well Office Space or Blazing Saddles would come across.

  3. hermit crab

    In addition to Alison’s advice, maybe also prep a segue/transition to get back to the topic at hand. I was recently in an interview where we derailed for just a bit too long onto a fun side conversation about hobbies. It ended up being fine (I made it to the next round, at least!) but afterwards I was sort of kicking myself for not steering the conversation back to a place where I could talk about my achievements/the job/etc. instead of taking up valuable time with other things.

  4. TeacherNerd

    The only time I’ve ever been asked about a favorite book, I got the impression that the teacher who was part of the interview was told to ask that question (“we’d like you to be involved with the interview process!”). It’s not an entirely unreasonable question to ask an English teacher, I suppose – if Fifty Shades of Grey is your jam, I guess that’s fine, but, rightly or wrongly, you might not necessarily want an English teacher who wants a job teaching literature at your school to admit that. (I’d happened to just finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and maybe that counted against me; I didn’t love the book, and at the time I didn’t have a favorite, so I did the, “Well, I just finished reading Wild, and thought many parts of it were interesting because…” thing.)

    1. Ray Gillette

      Did it count against you because they thought you might try to put gasoline in a stove?

      I like that book, but that one piece of it drives me insane. Like come on, Cheryl.

      1. TeacherNerd

        I have no idea – I wasn’t offered the job but perhaps it counted against me. I’ll try to slip in to a conversation with my boss how much I like 50 Shades of Grey, and see if I still have a job afterwards.

        (I liked the book overall but my goodness I thought she was whiny and immature and completely lacking in common sense. I get that divorce does a number on you – or, theoretically I understand that it can mess you up – but, as you say, “Come on, Cheryl.”

        1. Arya Snark

          Whiny, immature, impulsive, exceptionally poor at planning/preparation and (especially) whiny. Did I already say whiny?

          1. Ray Gillette

            Two more things about Wild that bothered me:
            – The heroin use came out of nowhere. I know it’s autobiographical, but when she starts the book in the middle of the hike and uses flashbacks we shouldn’t find out about that in the middle of the book.
            – At one point she lists off two or three things and says, “They were indescribable.” Cheryl. You are writing a book. You have to describe these things.

    2. Forking Great Username

      Current long term sub getting ready to start interviewing for English teacher spots, and I’m wondering your take on something – should you admit it if your favorite isn’t very, well, literary? My favorite books are mostly YA. My gut reaction is to be honest but spin it with the big plus of being up on what my students are reading so that I can engage with them on those topics and relate current popular texts to the classics we’re reading together. But is it safer to just choose my favorite classic piece of lit?

      If it’s matters, my picks are less Twilight and more Divergent, The Hate U Give, Simon vs, the Homosapien Agenda (aka Love Simon), and Eleanor and Park (though I wouldn’t list all of those in an interview!)

      1. TeacherNerd

        I like that spin. I think that, based on what many other readers are posting in the comments, having a single favorite book is rare (obviously a thing, though!). That said, my own stance would be to say something like, “I’ve been really enjoying John Boyne lately; he wrote two books that just staggered me [or whatever applies in your case], but I really enjoy reading YA lit also because I like keeping up-to-date with what my students read. Lately I’ve enjoyed X, Y, and Z.”

        I can’t speak to other English teachers, but only once have I ever been asked about my reading habits, and at this point I’m not 100% sure if I was asked about a favorite book or if I was asked what the most recent book I read (I think the latter but it’s been awhile).

        I know what you mean by “literary,” but really, that could mean anything ever written. I have a strong aversion to Shakespeare, and I think it’s a mistake to think that all English teachers read authors of that ilk all the time for fun. A good English teacher will read a variety of books.

      2. Clorinda

        An English teacher with a finger on the pulse of what teenagers are actually reading these days? That’s a strength! Go with it.

      3. HS Teacher

        I love mystery novels and am unashamed to admit it. Not all of them are great books, but I enjoy a good yarn. As an English teacher, I know that a lot of English teachers like mysteries, too, so I think it’s a safe answer. If pressed, I’d probably mention how sad I was Sue Grafton passed before finishing her Alphabet series and leave it at that.

        Like Alison said, as long as you stay away from answers that would make you look like you have questionable taste (even if they are things you like to read), it’s a fairly easy question to tackle in an interview.

  5. Sasha D Munro

    I literally only read sci-fi, fantasy and romance. My current favourite genre is paranormal gay romance. None of the genres Alison lists as “fine” hold any appeal whatsoever.

    Thankfully I’ve never been asked this in an interview.

      1. Nonnon

        I love that genre. Especially the slightly trashy/charmingly ****ed up variety.

        Not that I’d ever admit it to anyone.

        1. Not So Recently Diagnosed

          Look up (if you haven’t already) Ava March, Damon Suede, and Abigail Roux. I recently finished up C.S. Pacat’s trilogy, and wasn’t as impressed as most, but I liked it enough to read three books, so it was clearly alright!

    1. HannahS

      Yeah, I hate that it’s like, “…and obviously don’t say romance.” I know Alison’s not responsible for the bias against the only genre written almost entirely about women, for women, by women. It certainly exists, and it extends even to those 18th century British novels, if the authors are Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, and it can bias an interviewer. But, really, stories where a relationship is at the center aren’t intrinsically more shallow and flighty than any other kind of story. Like, yeah, mass market paperback romances are pretty formulaic, but so are mass market mystery novels.

      1. many bells down

        Yeah, I mean … I like murder mysteries, especially the locked-room variety. Reading romance seems a lot more friendly than realizing that I’ve learned 15 different ways to make a death look accidental.

        1. On Fire

          But the 15 ways to make death look accidental are so much more useful!

          (Problem solving skills, of course. Why would you think I meant anything else?)

          /backs out of the conversation muttering/

            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              Oh, dude, I am screwed if anyone ever looks at my browser history.

            2. TardyTardis

              This is why you always do that research at the library. Libraries deliberately do not keep records of who was on what computer. (in fact, one library actually threw out a Homeland Security official when he became too insistent on getting his hands on borrowing records. Please try to use your powers for good, though).

        2. Nonnon

          This is one thing I love about having studied creative writing at uni. You always have a plausible explanation for why you know all manner of disturbing things.

          (That bugged me when I read a story wherein someone had to pretend to be a recent uni graduate, and accidentally revealed that they knew something your average graduate would not know. Like, just say you did creative writing, for goodness’ sake!)

    2. Antilles

      Eh, I think there are still plenty of acceptable options even within the realm of sci-fi/fantasy. There’s enough sufficiently mainstream stuff that you could go with something like Star Wars, the Hobbit, Game of Thrones or other well known properties and probably be fine.
      You could also start with a short bit of spin to get it in the proper mindset “well, I’m a big fan of sci-fi books, I just love seeing the various predictions of the future. I’m currently reading ___ which is about ____”.

      1. smoke tree

        I think sci-fi/fantasy is becoming somewhat more socially acceptable, particularly with the advent of the Game of Thrones show. I’d be inclined to say Octavia Butler is one of my favourite authors, both because it’s true, and because there’s a low chance the interviewer would recognize her name anyway (but if they did we would be best friends forever).

        I wonder how narrow the literary taste spectrum goes on these questions–I’m guessing that if I said I was a fan of The Goldfinch that would score me some sophistication points, but could the same be said of The Secret History?

        1. Mr. Rogers

          Ah, that guess would probably be incorrect! If someone is sufficiently tuned in to literary fiction to judge you over it, then they would think The Goldfinch is a much less interesting choice because it became so widely popular, giving it that whiff of “commercial.” But most people don’t really know the difference between “serious literary fiction” and “bookclub fiction” anyway (which is fair, because the distinction really only matters to people looking for one or the other in a bookstore) so the chances of them judging you over your choice in specific books from one author are incredibly small.

          1. smoke tree

            I suppose I was assuming a relatively unpretentious interviewer there. If I were interviewing with a literary micropress I’d be sure to go with something more obscure and unintelligible. I mention this because The Secret History is actually one of my all-time favourite books but it’s pretty ridiculous and pulpy in its way, so I’m not sure what it would say about me to an interviewer.

      2. Tardigrade

        I studied Vonnegut, Bradbury, and Huxley in school. Several in the science fiction genre are considered as general classics.

    3. Myrin

      I mean, same (and additionally, I basically only read fanfiction nowadays anyway), but I do have some “safe” answers to this question just in case.
      (Although it’s pretty unlikely I ever will get asked about it, exactly because I’m literature-adjacent (I’m a literary medieval scholar) and people in my field don’t care and people outside of it assume I love medieval literature which they don’t know anything about.)

      1. TardyTardis

        Admittedly, I’ve always liked that bit in the Kalevala where the narrator has given out the trailer bits, and then explains that gosh, his throat is sooo dry, and maybe a little beer would help him keep going?

    4. JokersandRogues

      Completely on board with you. I do have The Odyssey by Homer that sits on my bed side table and on my Kindle all the time, and you could probably classify it as Fantasy….Favorite? Depends on the day.
      And my current favorite movie is the new Deadpool so…….

    5. spock

      I’ve only come across one author who does paranormal gay romance so I’m excited to find out there’s enough out there to be a whole genre!

      1. Sasha D Munro

        Oh, there are a lot out there! My favourites are KJ Charles (who also does historical queer romances that I love) and Jordan L Hawk.

        1. spock

          Haha, I was definitely thinking Jordan L Hawk. Not something I’d ever mention in a job interview but W&G are somehow the ultimate breezy reads.

      2. JokersandRogues

        Charlie Richards, Catherine Lievens but I get via Kindle only so I don’t know if they print or not.

          1. SarahKay

            Hmm…. *Trots off to Amazon to check out the recommendations*…my wish list just got a lot longer.

    6. annakarina1

      I mostly read sci-fi and other genre fictions, and can’t really get into literary fiction, especially if it’s about someone’s marriage problems or boring path of self-discovery, but those seem to be the most revered types of books with popular audiences. So if I was asked what I’m reading, it would likely be some sci-fi or fantasy book that isn’t part of a franchise (at least yet).

      1. many bells down

        I just recently finished a book that was billed as an interesting apocalypse-science-fiction novel but instead it was 80% this one guy’s unresolved issues with women and his long-lost daughter. We never did find out what the mysterious apocalypse even was. So frustrating.

      2. Iris Eyes

        I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of that has to do with people feeling superior for being able to make it through (kinda like natural birth vs c-section or something)

        I guess there are some people who are so enthralled by the literary devices used that the actual story is unimportant??

    7. Perse's Mom

      I’ve just started a re-read of the Malazan books and the thought of trying to briefly summarize those to a hiring panel is giving me nervous sweats.

      1. Manders

        Hah! I was a big fan of those books for a long time, and I don’t even know how I’d begin describing them.

        When I’m asked this question in interviews, I’m always up-front about the fact that I read SFF and write it for fun. It hasn’t held me back as far as I’m aware (but I also work in a field and a geographic area where a bit of nerdiness isn’t going to shock anyone–I might behave differently if I were in a really conservative industry).

    8. einahpets

      Yeah, I mostly read sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, although I do mix it up with some science non-fiction when I get a weird interest to sidetrack me (usually from a sci-fi novel).

      I’ve never been asked this question in an interview, but if I was, I’d probably not be able to name one book anyways (I have some favorites I return to, sure, but I am constantly amazed / enamored with whatever I’m reading, because why would I waste the time reading it if I wasn’t?). But I guess I would likely mention a few authors I like.

      I’m tired of the weird biases others have against genre fiction — well written science fiction / fantasy is writing about the improbable/impossible made probable, and I’d rather transport myself there than something more mundane, heh.

    9. Emily

      As someone who reads a lot of sci-fi and other speculative fiction, I think that it might be possible to cite more “literary” books within the genre with a short explanation of why I like them.

      E.g. “I recently finished reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It’s written from the perspective of a spaceship AI, which is interesting because it raises a lot of questions about consciousness, emotion, and what it means to be human.” Or “Parable of the Sower, a book about a near-future America that is falling apart, is really interesting because although it was written in the ’90s, some of the predictions, like fear leading to religious extremism and anti-science sentiment, feel very relevant to today’s divided political climate.”

      As a side note, Jo Walton is GREAT at this – I love reading her blog on Tor.com and have used her posts explaining why such-and-such book is good/interesting/unique to expand my own reading list and help frame the way I think about some of the things I read.

    10. sunshyne84

      Right, I’ve never been asked, but it seems pretty ridiculous that you’d have to lie or give a safe answer.

    11. Louise

      I actually think “queer literature” would be a toootally acceptable answer! (Depending on where you are in the country of course.)

    12. Tau

      This is almost where I fall. I’d probably answer with “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” simply because it is one of the very few things I read and enjoy that aren’t SFF or fanfic. Although I don’t think it counts as particularly high-brow.

      (Also, I am interested in your paranormal gay romance and would like to subscribe to your newsletter… too many books I’ve read recently have been bad about LGBT issues.)

    13. Anonym

      Seriously! I think employer should should be asking this question anyway, but it bums me out that the acceptable answers are all boring middle class white people things. Seems like a good way to introduce bias into your hiring.

    14. DrWombat

      May I rec Gail Carriger? If you like sort of steampunk settings involving werewolves, vampires, and intrigue ^^ She also just started a more modern-day werewolf series.

      Not technically romance, but still has plenty of paranormal and gay, is Seanan McGuire’s work – I highly recommend her to anyone of that nature.

      Honestly my favorite genre is SF/F, with some horror, and I’m a huge nerd, so I tend to get that up front in interviews because it’s gonna come out regardless and if they are going to judge me for that I’d be pretty miserable at that job. Also, I volunteer for a science fiction convention and it’s on my resume. But if asked, I do tend to go with the ‘well I’m a big fan of science fiction and fantasy in general, but recently I’ve liked _______”. And then I try to pick something recently I’ve liked that I can relate back somehow to the interview (like how Seanan McGuire’s background in biology makes her SF really shine for me because I love how much she’s thought out the fictional biology of gorgons)

  6. KL

    I had a phone interview a few weeks ago (a grand total of 7 minutes long!) and the last question was “What do you like to do for fun?”. Considering how disinterested my interviewer seemed the whole time, I decided to withdraw my application.

    1. Irene Adler

      That wasn’t an interview question.
      That was asked because the interviewer is looking for ideas. Can’t come up with any of her own.

      1. SarahKay

        May I suggest an ideal reply (assuming you don’t want the job) of “I go on phone interviews and answer every other question with a lie”.

  7. insert pun here

    An exception to this: if you are seeking a job that involves working with books in some way (or, I’m assuming, movies), you should have an answer about books (or movies) ready to go. Frankly, you should have several answers… a classic book, something recent, something that you liked but was maybe overlooked critically/commercially, etc.

    Otherwise, yeah, this is kind of a dumb question.

    1. Artemesia

      Dumb, but still a good idea to have on queued up because it is not that uncommon. So everyone should have a few cultural reference points ready to go that they are comfortable presenting as an image of themselves.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar

      Seconding. Worked for a film org once and a variation of this question was always the last thing they asked before the interview was over. (More often it was the “What’s a good film you’ve seen recently?” as opposed to favourite of all time, though.)

    3. all aboard the anon train

      Honestly, I work in publishing and avoid any questions like this because it’s lead to so many awkward situations. I want to know about your skills, not your favorite books. I’ve had one too many people list favorite books or authors we work with and I’m immediately struck by how they might fawn over the author instead of getting their work completed. I’ve never had this question asked in any of the publishing jobs I’ve interviewed for.

      Also, classic books can be really overrated and I know a lot of people in the industry who will roll their eyes if you say a safe classic book.

      1. smoke tree

        Yeah, I’ve only heard this question asked of prospective interns, just to make sure the candidate actually reads. (You would not believe how many people answer “Harry Potter.”) Once you get past entry level, no one cares what you read anymore.

        1. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend

          Ha, raise your hand if you would say Harry Potter! *raises hand*

          1. Marion Ravenwood

            *raises hand*

            Though to be fair, I think you could get away with that in certain jobs or companies, particularly ‘cool’/’trendy’ places (I’m envisioning something like a tech start-up perhaps) or where the workforce skews younger. But I personally wouldn’t risk it.

          2. smoke tree

            Not meant as a slam against Harry Potter! But this was an incredibly pretentious literary press, so, yeah, read the room.

      2. Publishing Anon

        I’ve had this question asked in all my publishing interviews, but it was always in positions where it was vital that my sense of taste and depth of knowledge about the genre would align with what my boss needed. Knowing how to file was all well and good, but being able to comment on an author’s new book in a somewhat informed and useful fashion was the much more rare find.

        1. insert pun here

          Same — I’ve always been asked some variant of this question: what have you read lately that impressed you, name some books that you think are good examples of what you’d like to publish, name a book you wish you had published and say why, etc. YMMV outside of the editorial department, of course.

        2. Olive Hornby

          Also in editorial, and this is my experience.

          When I’m interviewing entry-level candidates, I tend to prefer asking the “what have you read recently” question over “what’s your favorite book.” I find it very helpful as a way of gauging how the person talks about books and whether they are generally aware of the current publishing landscape, and whether they’re a good fit for the kinds of books we work on. If they’re mostly reading 19th century British novels when what we’re looking for is someone to work on business books, that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker, but it would give me pause and spur me to ask more questions about their knowledge of the genre.

        3. The Original K.

          Yeah, I worked in book publishing for years and you needed to be able to talk about books you were reading or had read in interviews. (Which was fine by me as I love talking about books!) We always asked candidates some version of that question. I worked in marketing, not editorial, FWIW. I’d guess if you work in production that question comes up less often.

    4. Anne of Green Gables

      I’m a librarian, so getting asked about books in an interview is pretty common. It’s more likely to be “what are you reading now” or “what type of books do you typically read” rather than favorites, but it’s come up in most of my interviews.

      I haven’t asked about books in too many interviews, but if I do, I care more about the fact that you *are* reading than *what* you are reading. I’m looking for the fact that you’re willing to talk about books (relevant to the job, at least in a public library) and maybe that you’re willing to read in more than one genre. And if you are interviewing for job to work with kids or teens in a public library, I want to know that you do not think kids lit or YA books are beneath you.

      1. fposte

        Yup, us too. It’s also a good warmup question that’s on the softball side without being pointless.

    5. aebhel

      Funnily enough, as a librarian, nearly everyone I work with has oddball and/or embarrassing taste in literature.

    6. Pathfinder Ryder

      The cinema my friend works at asks for your top three movies in your cover letter.

  8. Juney Junipero

    What are some examples of books with typically male audiences that would reflect poor judgment if cited in such an interview? Just curious because Twilight and 50SoG are hugely more likely to be read/enjoyed by women. Is there a disproportionately-male-readership analogue? Maybe Jack Reacher (too pulpy) or Tucker Max (too bro-y/rape culture-promoting)?

    1. Clorinda

      I think book judging is pretty heavily gendered in general, but maybe if a guy’s favorite books were all novelizations of science fiction series, that might count against him in some circles? Even so, I couldn’t name a book that would be met with anywhere near the immediate, automatic judgment of 50 Shades.

    2. Artemesia

      Like all things there is a huge double standard here. Jack Kennedy was just too adorable for loving James Bond but a woman who loves JD Robb will not be considered serious. I imagine Jack Reacher would be just fine for a guy.

    3. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)

      Hentai (in special its more controversial subgeneres) comes immediately to mind.

      1. Clorinda

        Yes, and maybe graphic novels (“comic books”) as a genre? I didn’t think of that!

      2. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)

        Graphic novels are fair game in my field, but Hentai is more problematic and toxic than regular porn so I doubt any man would talk openly about it.

    4. tink

      I’d probably raise an eye at something really violent and disturbing (think Kiss the Girls by James Patterson levels of disturbing), but ultimately reading’s such a personal thing that I try really hard not to judge people by their choices unless there’s a strong trend towards strongly violent or -ist materials.

    5. Dan

      For books? Probably not. But for videos, “Play boy’s College Girls of the Big 10” and other related genre are probably off limits.

      Back to books for a sec… I work in tech. Lots of tech geeks read tech books off the clock. It wouldn’t surprise me if some interviewers didn’t take kindly to those kinds of things when asked “what do you read for fun?” Well, right now, off the clock, I’m reading a book about the misapplication of big data models. Should I be reading “John Grisham” instead? What if the interviewer is specific and says, “What kind of fiction do you read?” and I don’t read fiction?

      AAM poses this line of questioning as being relatively harmless, but then says there are bad answers. Which means it’s one more question where you have to think about the “right” answer, and not necessarily the truth.

      1. Keyboard Cowboy

        You can’t win talking about books with techies IMO. Either you catch someone with similar interests to Dan, who is disappointed that you don’t spend your spare time reading O’Reilly, or you catch someone with similar interests to me or my TL who can’t relate at all that you read nonfiction for fun.

        Fairly frequently in interviews I’m asked how I got into coding. Imagine the look on my interviewer’s face when I said it was because as a teenager I read a novel by Cory Doctorow about a terrorist attack on the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the teenagers fighting back against the DHS in the aftermath… I’ve since toned down that answer!

        1. Annie Moose

          Ahhh, Little Brother! I have such fond memories of that book. I won’t say it got me into coding, but it definitely propelled me along the path.

          1. Keyboard Cowboy

            It hit me at the perfect age. I was just beginning to be a coffee snob and internet dweeb, and I had a deep desire to dye my hair, and it just spoke to me. I took the leap and installed Linux because of that book! :)

            When I tried to reread it, and when I read Homeland, it was way less good. So my personal advice is to keep the fond memories and don’t lift the veil ;)

            1. Annie Moose

              Ironically, I was considering rereading it awhile ago, and suspected I wouldn’t like it as much as an adult!

      2. Tau

        Whereas I’m someone working in tech who doesn’t read much tech stuff off the clock, and am worried admitting that I prefer reading fiction, playing video games, singing in my choir, going on cycle trips, writing fiction, etc. to honing my skills with tech books or open-source contributions will make me look like Not A Real Software Engineer. I think there is literally no winning this one.

        (That said, that book about the misapplication of big data models sounds really cool.)

        1. Keyboard Cowboy

          Right? What is with people expecting us to do more of our job outside of our job, or else there is no way that we’re competent? I’m tired of it too! So what if I’d rather go camping with my dog than deal with prickly upstream maintainers? :|

    6. Sarah

      I think a lot of sci-fi books, or Tucker Max, or even something by Hunter S. Thompson, which all skew male, would be discounted, because they’re seen as (respectively) too unintellectual, too much about sex, and too much about drugs.
      I agree that judging someone for liking Twilight could be in part a dismissal of something because it’s geared towards teenage girls in particular. But I think for a lot of workplaces, saying that your favorite book is 50 Shades of Grey is too close to mentioning sex in an interview. Even if someone enjoys it for other reasons, the sex is what it’s primarily known for. At my job interview for my current job, I was asked what I liked to do in my spare time, and mentioned watching Jane the Virgin, and the name of the show felt too close to talking about sex (but I guess it was fine).

      1. Jadelyn

        My bigger problem with 50SOG would be, not the sexual content of it – though I agree that’s not particularly appropriate for an interview context – but the fact that, if you strip away all the BDSM trappings, it’s straight up a romance novel about an abusive relationship. Whether it’s relevant to the job you’re a candidate for or not, I’m going to judge the hell out of you for having the poor judgment to tell me you love a romanticized portrayal of intimate partner abuse.

        1. Myrin

          Yeah, that’s my beef with it as well. I would’ve been stoked to see erotic fiction talked about and read more widely but then of all the erotica out there it had to be this?!

          1. Jadelyn

            I mourn for all the *good* erotic romances out there we could’ve had hit the big time but were outshone by 50SOG.

        2. Jules the Third

          meh – so many popular fictions are romanticized portrayals of intimate partner abuse that I wouldn’t look side-eyed at someone who hasn’t moved past the normalization. It’s a level of woke that is good at work, but not required in most fields.

          How many people still think the boom-box is cool, not stalkery? 50 Shades is questionable because of the ‘sex at work’ aspect.

          I actually don’t think sci-fi would be discounted. It’s also been heavily normalized. I think fantasy is still somewhat stigmatized (HP, LotR as juvenile, GoT as violent), but it’s getting pretty mainstream. Hunter Thompson’s gotten legitimization just because he’s been around so long. A lot of people might recognize the name without making the drug connection.

          That said, I’d want to be aware of how my choices could look – if I were going for a non-profit women’s services position, I’d admit my LotR love, but would want to talk about ‘while LotR’s relatively few female characters are frustrating, Eowyn was groundbreaking, with her desire not to be ‘trammeled’ in her bower.’

          Waaaaay more thinking than that question deserves, but a different way to answer it than ‘I’ve been reading x recently.’

          Because no one *really* wants to hear about Piketty’s _Capital in the Twenty-first Century_ in a job interview.

          1. Lissa

            Yeah, I think a lot of people are aware of the abuse stuff in 50 Shades because of how much it was discussed but there’s highly highly questionable stuff in SO much popular fiction that I wouldn’t actually think less of someone for not getting it, liking it because of it (hell I like questionable stuff myself!) I mean, the movie The Notebook basically has a guy threaten to kill himself if the girl he likes doesn’t agree to go on a date with him and it’s portrayed as funny/cute.

    7. DecorativeCacti

      I tend to roll my eyes at anyone who says their favorite book is Fight Club or something by Tom Clancy. I just can’t understand why you would read so many books about the military.

      But I don’t know if they have the same stigma as a romance. They’re certainly more commercially viable. How many Tom Clancy movies are there vs Danielle Steele?

      1. AnonforThis

        I have a family member who works in the submarine field so it would make a lot of sense for him to say “Hunt for Red October”, though.

        1. hermit crab

          Yeah, my #1 all-time favorite movie is Hunt for Red October (closely followed by anything in the broader “Will Smith Saves the World” genre) and I’m a woman and have have nothing whatsoever to do with submarines/the military. I probably wouldn’t say either of those in an interview, but in general I think people should be allowed to like what they like!

          1. Batshua

            OMG, I love Will Smith Saves the World! :D

            I can watch MIB or ID4 *any* day!

            (I watched MIB 2 days ago.)

      2. Cousin Itt

        This is me with any man who lists Fight Club, Taxi Driver, Leon or anything by Quentin Tarantino as their favourite film. (I did three years of Film Studies at uni and could count the exceptions on one hand – we once had to say our favourite actress for a women and Hollywood class and damn near every one of them said Helena Bonham Carter ’cause of Fight Club.)

        I don’t think it carries the same stigma as say a woman who only watches chick flicks though, it’s more unoriginal than low-brow/silly.

      3. RVA Cat

        Back in high school my English teacher told us to read a “trashy” book over winter break – “something with Fabio or a submarine on the cover.” (It was the 90s)

      4. Emily

        Yes, this. I would roll my eyes at certain stereotypical male picks, but I don’t think that society as a whole is as judgmental about them as it is about primarily-female genres!

    8. Falling Diphthong

      There are series that are the lit equivalent of your by the numbers hard-boiled action movie, with a square-jawed dude who doesn’t talk much and shoots stuff while women drape themselves at his feet.

      Or any comic or graphic novel.

      1. Jules the Third

        I was actually going to mention this / him or Puppies as a pick that would bug me, but I think we’re pretty niche. Most people, including many of my con-going / widely read friends, have no clue.

        OTOH, Octavia Butler would be a serious plus in the niche.

    9. Herbert_Pocket

      Maybe Heinlein? His portrayal of women is pretty widely recognized as problematic nowadays.

      Also I feel like a lot of works by Ayn Rand could get a negative response from a good proportion of people. Not sure about the gemder split for Rand readers though.

      1. Jules the Third

        I’m a die hard feminist, and I have a hard time getting past Heinlein’s Barbie Dolls (plastic perfection), but once you do, there’s a lot of interesting ideas going on. Non-traditional marriage structures that treat all involved as equal partners, individual vs collective rights, war (Starship Troopers was an anti-war book), cats. So I wouldn’t dismiss, though I might draw them into a conversation on it.

        Ayn Rand’s mostly a men’s thing, and in some circles it’s a plus and some it’s a minus. I think it would be pretty useful as a compatibility test, though. I would not be happy working in a place where Rand was a favorite read.

        1. Keyboard Cowboy

          I’m so torn on Heinlein. He’s my FAVORITE author. And, I wasn’t alive when he was writing, but it seems to me that of COURSE if you read his works today as though they were written today, it’s grossly inappropriate, but if you consider the time they were written, it’s a little more excusable (and even has some bonuses, thinking of some of the powerful women in the revolution in Moon as a Harsh Mistress, or the roles that women were given in Starship Troopers). And yes, what Jules said, about the other concepts he pushes on. I don’t know. I don’t have a strong leg to stand on – mostly I just think his books are insightful and a lot of fun, and it bums me to see them held up to the light of today, when society was in a pretty different place when they were written.

          1. Falling Diphthong

            Reading and re-reading Podkayne of Mars back in the 80s I registered that the heroine’s conclusion–don’t become a female pilot whom no company will ever hire, instead become a baby nurse so you’re in demand–was wack, but obviously Heinlein was super old–older than my dad, even–and wrote this in the ancient times of before I was born, so I merrily ignored any bits I didn’t like and enjoyed the parts I did.

            More interesting in a predict the future way was his portrait of babies born to couples in their 20s (biology in their favor) and frozen, defrosted, and raised by couples in their 40s (money and time in their favor). Which was half-prescient, except it’s with frozen eggs and sperm rather than baby. But he also had the defrostees often raised en masse in a creche by nurses until a given point, 5 months or so, get you through the not sleeping stage–because babies don’t have any idea who’s looking after them and not much happens before that point, which just seems bizarre now.

            I haven’t reread in a long time, and Friday and Number of the Beast I recall as pretty eye-rolly.

    10. epi

      I once dated someone who was super into The 48 Laws of Power. Once I found out what that was, we didn’t date much longer.

      I wouldn’t be interested in working with someone who said they liked that– it’s like saying you love The Prince or The Art of War, but even dumber.

      1. Keyboard Cowboy

        Not having to do with work, but I recently ended a relationship with a guy who repeatedly described his world view as Machiavellian. Now, I didn’t read The Prince, and didn’t read the synopsis on Wikipedia or CliffNotes, and frankly don’t have an interest in doing so, so I didn’t think anything of it. But now hearing you list it as a no-thanks for coworkers I’m wondering if I really should have, and if that was a big red flag that I didn’t recognize due to ignorance…

        PS, he also read a lot of Warhammer novels, noting the comment below this one!

        1. Jules the Third

          ok, so really, if he only read The Prince, and took it seriously, then he’s someone to dump.

          I’ve read a lot of Machiavelli – The Prince is… not representative of his actual theory of good governance. There’s a lot of theories why, from satire to job / favor seeking to undermine that enemy. But the right answer to anyone who like The Prince is ‘You should really read Machiavelli’s _Discourses on Livy_ and compare / contrast the two works. It’s very educational.’

          Warhammer’s not bad, just kinda bland genre stuff. Dan Brown is SUCH a bad writer. SOOOO BAD.

        2. zora

          Yes, that is a red flag, just for future reference. Whether or not it is technically accurate (see Jules the Third’s comment above), “Machiavellian” is widely used as short hand for “it is better to be feared than to be loved” view of leadership. And that the ends justify the means. I would definitely run immediately if any person said they were Machiavellian non-ironically.

    11. Audrey Puffins

      Dan Brown or Warhammer. No judgment if you enjoy them, but maybe not the best thing to bring up in an interview.

    12. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

      Maybe I’m showing my bias here, but I would think that any author/book that is generally considered more “young adult” than adult. I feel that way with the Twilight books — they’re fine for a 13-year-old. If a 40-year-old man admitted that his favorite book was one of the Percy Jackson series or the Maze Runner books I would have some concerns about his maturity. But similarly, if a 40-year-old woman picked Ramona Quimby Age 8 as her favorite book ever I’d be a bit surprised too. Not because there is anything wrong with any of those books themselves, just that they are geared for children and an adult should have progressed beyond them. But, that being said, if those novels really ARE an adult’s favorite, the follow up “because…” is really important. For example, “Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief is my all-time favorite book because it was the only common interest my brother and I shared growing up and now my child [nephew/niece/whomever] is at the age to read it …”

      1. Jules the Third

        Young Adult has matured a lot over the last 20 years. Percy Jackson’s still kinda immature, and Maze Runner’s not well written, but Maze Runner’s themes are similar to the adult sci fi of the 40s and 50s. Asimov did it *better*, but it’s a lot of the same ideas. And the things that happen to those kids! Kidnapping, parental deaths, wars, etc – Hunger Games or Lemony Snicket are a million times more adult than the YA stuff that was out when I was 13, and more adult than half the sci fi then too!

        I wouldn’t think twice about an under 30 who had a YA book as their fave, or someone over 40 who mentioned a YA book that was written in the last 20 years. I’ve started reading more YAs (and more ethnic spec fic), as the ‘adult’ spec fic gets more genre-bound and boring. I’m not a fan of Stross or Robert Charles Wilson, and Puppies, so my usual ‘read all the Hugo nominees’ has stopped working.
        Even Scalzi works better for me in short doses.

        Now, Captain Underpants I would look at sideways, but I’m hoping Little Jules grows out of that soon.

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

          Maybe. I stopped reading YA books decades ago, but I seem to recall that VC Andrews “Flowers in the Attic” et. al. was considered YA so I’m not sure that the genre has changed all that much. I read “My Sweet Audrina” when I was about 12 and I think I’m still slightly scarred from it.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            VC Andrews should *not* have been considered YA. My friends and I actually had a conversation about that recently. Like, wtf were our parents thinking letting us read that trash during our formative years.

            Though I suppose, it is a fair literary comparison to Twilight.

      2. Nan

        Hmm… I’d put the original Oz series by L Frank Baum up there in my favorites. They may be “kids” books, but they are really good. I’ve read them all a zillion times. The ones that came after he died, by authors trying to keep the story going were awful. They lost the magic.

        1. Annie Moose

          I love the Oz series so much! It’s appalling how few people know it’s a series.

          My favorite was always Ozma of Oz–my mom got chickens a couple years ago and I named one of them Billina in honor of that book! And I still think Princess Langwidere (with the interchangeable heads) is one of the neatest character concepts I’ve ever read.

      3. Iris Eyes

        Young adult simply means that the protagonist is in their teens and that it probably wouldn’t receive an R rating if it was a movie (although that’s not necessarily true.)

        Because it is an especially lucrative genre and publishing houses are the ones who decide largely what goes where a lot of things written for adults but that could be for kids has recently shown up on YA shelves.

        Also many people read for enjoyment or as an escape. So why wouldn’t they read something “easier.” Or they read to keep a finger on the pulse of what their children are reading.

      4. Empty Sky

        “My favorite book is The Hobbit because it’s the first real book I read on my own when I was young, and the first that really made me understand that books can be a gateway to another world.”

        Not strictly true any more, but it’s an answer I would be happy giving in an interview.

        I think as an interviewer, if you’re going to ask questions like this you would be well advised not to be too judgmental about the answers. It’s way too easy to jump to conclusions and make answers mean something they don’t. I’m with Alison that it would take something like 50 Shades to count as a bad answer for me. Even then I’d probably make a joke (perhaps compliment them on their frankness) and try to follow up a bit. If they showed some awareness that it maybe wasn’t the most appropriate choice for an interview, I’d cut them some slack. (On the other hand, if they transitioned into a story about their unfulfilling sex life and what they were doing about it then I wouldn’t be able to get them out the door fast enough).

        I agree on a lot of YA novels today having some very interesting themes. I really enjoyed the Hunger Games series. Mostly what tends to annoy me about them is the simplistic treatment of romance, but that really is an age difference thing (teenagers are immune to cliche mostly). For the older stuff my picks for YA stuff with literary value would be the Earthsea series by Le Guin (obviously) and most Diana Wynne Jones. Jones isn’t for the faint of heart either – she routinely wrote about children experiencing abuse of some form, for example. I also like Garth Nix, who is not without his flaws but is second to none when it comes to world building or setting a mood.

        I feel your pain on Captain Underpants. At least they throw the parents a bone once in a while. (‘”That sort of thing only happens in obnoxious children’s books!” said Mr. Sneedly. George coughed.’) I expect something else will come along to replace it sooner or later.

    13. smoke tree

      I think the sad fact is that male literature is the “default” literature. I can’t imagining anyone looking down on a book for being too masculine the same way they would look down on romance or even women’s fiction.

      Possibly something that skews geeky like comics or sci-fi/fantasy would count against a candidate. Obviously those aren’t exclusively male domains, but they both do have a tendency to be boys’ clubs. Even so, I don’t think the stigma has to do with masculinity so much as immaturity.

      1. Jules the Third

        mmm – I am certain there are places where Ayn Rand would get you a side eye.

        I know people, male and female, who look down on the ‘guns and girls’ series like Deathlands. But they’re pockets, not widespread, and usually only pockets of ex-bookstore employees, because most other people don’t even know they exist.

      2. Rhoda

        Who are these people who look down on people who read sci-fi and fantasy?
        Have they actually existed in the past 20 years?
        Fantasy and science-fiction are fairly popular these days.

    14. Emi.

      “Catcher in the Rye,” the universal signal for “I’m a self-absorbed male and haven’t read a book since high school.”

      1. Ray Gillette

        Confederacy of Dunces, meanwhile, is the universal signal for I took an English elective in college.

        See also: Infinite Jest.

      2. Batshua

        Also a good signal for “I might be a serial killer”. D:

        I know, correlation does not imply causation.

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt

        Oh – or “Animal Farm” if you haven’t read a book since middle school.

    15. FoodieNinja

      A mention of Battlefield Earth would give me pause. Not because of Scientology, but because the book is, in my opinion, poorly written and a horrible example of sci-fi.

      1. Jules the Third

        heh. No argument from me.

        I always felt sorry for Scientologists because they had to read lots of him…

    16. Rae

      Any book by a politician. If you say, for example, Dreams from my Father you could easily get yourself in hot water. Not just if the interviewer has a negative view on the author, but also showing a possible lack of judgement in bringing up a potentially divisive book.

      1. soon 2 be former fed

        Other than being written by Barack Obama, what makes this book divisive? I’m black, and I love books written by blacks (others too…I’m a reader), but this comment iswhy INwould not nameanyone blackin response to this question. Noteen Toni Morrison, who won a Pulitzer. Judgement is real. DOMF was excellent, btw.

        1. Genny

          I think the point is that it’s bringing politics into the workplace, which can be problematic and certainly not something you want to distract your interviewer with. I think autobiographies get some leeway, but I’d generally stay away from mentioning political or religious books in an interview. There’s no way you can say you just read a Bill O’Reilly book or Nancy Pelosi book without making it sound like you support their political views.

          1. JM60

            If an interviewer doesn’t want politics brought into the workplace, then they shouldn’t ask a question that might put someone in a position where they may either have to tell a white lie (say that another book is their favorite book when it isn’t) or have to bring up politics by naming a political book as their favorite. This is one of the reasons why I think questions like these are usually inappropriate for interviews.

        2. BenAdminGeek

          It’s the political thing for me- someone who doesn’t recognize that 50% of folks in the country vote the other way regardless of who you voted for, and you still have to work with them.

          I’d judge any strong political opinion book (eg an Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh) or book by a politician.

        3. Rae

          It’s written by Barack Obama. Doesn’t need anything else to be divisive. And yes, I agree it was a good book.

          1. Lissa

            Interestingly, as a Canadian, I would totally say Dreams as an answer if it were true, but I think Obama is a much less divisive figure here cause he’s not from here. I mean, I also live in a left-leaning area and would be surprised if that counted against me. I wonder if as an American it would be OK to give an answer of a biography or autobiography of a non-American politician?

    17. Lily Rowan

      I might very well say a Lee Child/Jack Reacher book if I got asked in an interview, and I feel like I could make a decent case for why.

      But I know I really don’t want to work for anyone who would DQ me for that.

    18. Nita

      Star Wars books? There’s an awful lot of them, and they’re not completely horrible, but it would probably not look great to call them your “favorite” books in an interview. Unless maybe you’re interviewing for script writer for the next Star Wars movie (there are getting to be an awful lot of them too…)

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt

        Ahhh – but the Star Wars books aren’t cannon anymore – so you shouldn’t bring them up for a script writer interview anyway. Yes I am a huge nerd.

    19. Louise

      Entirely my own bias but Bukowski would have me raising my eyebrows. Honestly Hemingway too, and anything else that falls into the pretentious sexism category.

      1. The Original K.

        I had a terrible relationship with a pretentious man who claimed to value women but … did not. His favorite author was Hemingway. In retrospect it should have been a clue.

        1. Jules the Third

          It would have me checking for sexism from other angles, especially from the references. Any ‘oh, that’s just how he is’ or ‘he’s such a joker’ would become a big ol’ red flag.

          And yeah, in a relationship, it’s a nope. I’ll give Mr. Jules Heinlein because he could see the sexist problem, but could also make a case for other valuable themes, but we had some discussions about it.

    20. many bells down

      The Gor novels. If you haven’t read them, they’re really terrible pulp fantasy about a world where men are men and women really love being sex slaves.

      1. Lissa

        HAHAHA, oh man, I was thinking that there was very little where it would actually count against them in an interview, because people have a lot of reasons for liking authors like Hemingway, Heinlein etc so I wouldn’t assume that person was a sexist, but you got me with Gor!! Yeah, anyone who gives that as their favourite in a job interview would be a hard no…

        1. many bells down

          I actually picked up one for the (assumed) smut value, only to find it took 2/3 of the book for the main character to even have sex. Mostly it was long-winded Sociology 101 ramblings.

    21. Sal

      Ayn Rand would get a serious side-eye (and probably be an auto-ding if I were hiring all by my lonesome, instead of just taking a first pass for my boss). I think my current job requires judgment and empathy; Ayn Rand fans tend to not see eye to eye with me on what those look like in practice. It’s not that it’s poor judgment in that it makes a candidate look unserious, but rather that it tells me there’s a substantive lack of fit (or at least, I use it as a heuristic for that).

      1. Jules the Third

        +1

        I wouldn’t want to work anyplace where Ayn Rand was my boss’s favorite book.

      2. BenAdminGeek

        Exactly- it’s the difference between someone who in a conversation mentions that they read it and found something interesting in what she had to say, and someone who lists it as their “favorite.”

      3. Empty Sky

        I’d probably give a young person a pass on Ayn Rand if they were otherwise good (albeit with a mental star next to their name saying “needs work”). Anyone older… well, it wouldn’t automatically disqualify them, but it would certainly guide the direction of my subsequent questions if it came up early in the interview.

        1. Empty Sky

          And it occurs to me that I’ve probably just admitted to age discrimination. So I’ll revise that and say that I would add ‘willingness to change their opinion in response to new evidence’ to the list of questions to be examined, in both cases.

      4. Gazebo Slayer

        Ayn Rand is one of the relatively few answers that would get real judgment from me. In fact, it’s one of the very few that would probably be an automatic disqualifier as far as I’m concerned.

      5. DrWombat

        Same – I work in a field that’s very oriented for the public good (or should be at least) and when I found out the IT guy was a huge Ayn Rand fan my opinion of him plummeted like a rock. From another scientist? Even more so.

    22. SystemsLady

      I’d avoid the self-help genre, but that probably goes for either gender. (mostly thinking of a recently released book that would play very poorly among those who know what it is and don’t buy into it)

      1. Louise

        Oh man if it’s who I think it is (author’s initials JP), I would probably end the interview there out of fear for my own safety!!

    23. Nacho

      Can’t think of a book, but I can tell you tons of movies, like Lesbian Vampire Slayers (actually a pretty good movie) that would reflect badly on a guy.

    24. Shadowing Lemma

      Piers Anthony. While I enjoyed some of his books, there is so much that is DEEPLY problematic about his portrayal of women–and little girls–that someone who cited him as a favorite would leave me wondering. And in my experience, he’s only ever mentioned as a favorite author by guys (probably for this very reason).

    25. Jotpe

      I remember there being a tweet or meme or something to the effect that whenever the author saw a guy who listed Catcher in the Rye on his dating profile as his favorite book, she knew he’d only ever read one book…

  9. aes_sidhe

    I read so much that it’s hard for me to pick a favorite book. For me, it’s like trying to pick your favorite kid. When I love a book, it’s for different reasons and can’t really compare that other books. Movies, in the other hand, are easier for me to choose though I break that down into genres and time period. If anyone asks me about a favorite movie, I always pick Lord of the Rings, because I do love it, and it’s fairly easy to remember (and I always point out that the book is much better since I’m still annoyed that Tom Bombadil was left out and Haldir was killednatvHelm’s Deep.)

    1. Jules the Third

      LotR is my fave book (except for maybe Pratchett / Gaiman’s Good Omens), and I love it passionately, but:

      Movies and books are different and have different needs and requirements. The Jackson LotR movies are the best execution of the source material possible in the ‘7 – 12 hour’ format. (Hobbit is NOT – should have been 2 movies, 5hrs, leave out the love story, jeeeeebus). I’m quite interested to see what they do with the longer format on Amazon, and how they handle the tonal shifts, from farce to drama. They totally screwed that up in Hobbit.

      The movies are the best execution reasons:
      – Tom B / Old Man Willow (OMW) / Barrow wights were important literary foreshadowing and world building (Angmar!), but would have slowed the movie down too much, and would have made it harder to establish a consistent tone. You can see the struggle in the first Hobbit movie. The Trolls are farce, Goblins more serious, but the farcical pieces interfere. Tom B / OMW is farce, and it’s a hard shift in the book to make to the barrow wights; that’s harder still to do on screen.
      – Giving Glorfindal’s role to Arwen makes her a *much* better character, actual competition for Eowyn.
      – The elves’ participation as a group was way better than the way they faded out in both 2 Towers and Return (books); at least in the movies they only disappeared in Return.
      – Haldir’s death gave serious weight to that fight, and helped foreshadow / step up to Theoden at Minas Tirith. Hama did not carry the same weight, we only just met him and he’s just a member of the ensemble in the movie. They’d have had to spend another 3 – 5 minutes building a relationship to get him to the same emotional impact, and then we’d be all ‘wait, why’s Hama their best bro all of a sudden?’

      OTOH – I hated how the forest didn’t come to Dunsinane / Helm’s Deep, I always loved the Scottish Play references in LotR. At least they kept the riddle death (not born of woman / no man), and I can see how they decided to downplay the ‘whole new class of moving trees’ to save time / complexity, but I still missed the Huorns.

      1. TardyTardis

        I can only reread LotR every five years, I’ve memorized too much (“Over the land there lies a long shadow….”Red fell the dew in Rammas Echor”).

  10. MuseumChick

    “If you said Twilight, I’d wonder about your judgment for saying it in an interview — although it wouldn’t stop me from hiring you if you were otherwise great (but 50 Shades of Grey might).”

    Ok, I almost died laughing when I read that line. Anyway, there are certain safe answers to these questions. Any big name classic author (Jane Austen for example) that are always safe to go with. Harry Potter is usually safe answer but you run the risk that the interviewer might be one of the people who opposes HP for religious reasons.

    Answer to avoid are books that could call into questions your judgement/boundaries. Twilight and 50 Shades are great example. I would also avoid mentioning any religious texts unless the job is of a religious nature.

    It also helps to know your audience. When I interviewing for grad programs in the History field I was asked about my favorite book multiple times. I went with what at the time was a current big name non-fiction book in the field and said a few sentence about why I like it so much.

    1. Adam V

      > the interviewer might be one of the people who opposes HP for religious reasons

      Better to learn that during the interview and self-select out, rather than end up working with someone whose beliefs fundamentally clash with mine.

      1. Kate 2

        Definitely. I used to think a job, any job was better than nothing, but I have come to realize, unless you are in real danger of being on the streets, you are better off getting a good fit (or just avoiding a really bad one) than lying and taking any job.

        Ex. If my interviewer is so extreme they will not hire me for liking Harry Potter, I am better off knowing now than trying to work with such a person.

        1. Wannabe Disney Princess

          I was thinking the same thing. If they are THAT religious, I will not be a good fit working there. And there are others who would! But it’t not an environment I would, personally, want to put myself in.

          1. Beatrice

            When the HP novels were still coming out, I worked for a religious boss who actually asked HR if she could bar me from bringing HP books to work and reading them on my breaks. Her office was the only non-customer-facing space we had, so it was also our break room and our space to store personal items, and she thought she might be able to stop me on the grounds that she did not want the books in her office. (They said no and told her to stop policing how I spent my unpaid breaks.)

      2. Kelsi

        I just learned recently that a coworker–who I get along great with, and whose (now adult) daughter is a huge anime nerd (which I know because I am a cosplayer and coworker and I often talk about the hobbies her daughter and I have in common)–would not let her kids read HP for religious reasons and still feels very strongly about that.

        On the other hand, she doesn’t disapprove of me liking it (although it’s def. off-limits as a conversational topic). So it probably wouldn’t have disqualified me in an interview with her.

    2. Kate

      I would consider Harry Potter among my favorite books (all of them!), but I still shy away from saying that in an interview, not because of religious objections, but because people might think they are childish. People who don’t read Harry Potter sometimes don’t get why adults would read a story about a boy wizard.

      1. MuseumChick

        That’s a fair point. I guess I feel like it’s such a huge cultural Thing at this point, even if you haven’t read them, you have a passing understanding of how passionate people can be about them.

        To add to my above books to avoid list, I have a deep interest in true crime. I recently finished the book “The Stranger Beside Me” about Ted Bundy. This is also a book/genre you should generally not bring up in an interview.

        1. Antilles

          I think biographies and/or studies of a real person in general are pretty dicey because that gets you into the realm of the interviewer judging you based on what they think about the person in question.
          As my personal example, I recently read George W. Bush’s memoir book (Decision Points). As someone who grew up in that era, it was incredibly interesting and I’d definitely recommend it even if you took issue with some of his policies and decisions (which I did and still do). But I’d *never* bring that up in an interview, because there’s still such strong feelings about him.

        2. Naptime Enthusiast

          All of my favorite book and movie genres are off limits! HP, sci-fi, fantasy, murder mystery… Hopefully nobody asks me about it during my next interview.

          1. Jules the Third

            No, they’re not! You just need to have a good *reason* for it, like ‘HP’s journey of self-discovery and growth still resonates with me’ or ‘Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian terraforming series is an interesting combination of hard science and social commentary’ or ‘Octavia Butler’s work explores belonging, and individual vs collective rights / ethics from a different point of view’.

            Or go with Alison’s, ‘I’m reading x right now, what are you reading?’ If x is sci-fi or fantasy, you probably won’t get a second glance. It’s really mainstream now.

            I would avoid the murder mysteries, they’re seen as ‘less than’ / feminine genre. Sez the woman who’s reading Georgette Heyer at the moment.

      2. smoke tree

        I also mentioned this upthread, but there are some specific contexts where mentioning something really mainstream like Harry Potter would count against you. In particular, if you’re applying for an internship with a prestigious literary press. Don’t do that.

        1. MuseumChick

          Yes, context really matters when answering this question. I mentioned down thread that if I were hiring for a position with a non-profit that focused on empowering women I would raise an eyebrow if someone answered Twilight or Hemingway.

        2. Cousin Itt

          I was gonna say HP seems like a bit of a cop out, because for a lot of people of a certain age HP being their favourite book is almost a default so it doesn’t really say much about you aside from ‘I grew up in the 2000s’ (and possibly ‘I haven’t read much since I was a teenager’)

          1. smoke tree

            Yeah, it’s kind of the literary equivalent of saying your favourite band is the Beatles.

          2. Lissa

            This was my first thought too. It might have a really deep, meaningful personal reason for you, in which case I think saying that could well work as suggested above. But on its own it’s kinda like…you and everyone else? It’s like getting a tattoo of a Canadian flag or a wolf – it’s possible there is a super powerful story behind it that sets you apart from all the other Canadian flag or wolf tattoos out there, but people who just see the tattoo on its own won’t intuit that.

    3. Emily

      When I was growing up, I had a friend who wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter series because her parents were, I guess, very conservative Christians.

      Now I’m of voting age, her dad is a district court judge, and I sure as heck never vote for him because I question *his* judgement. It goes both ways, I guess.

  11. Antilles

    One thing to avoid: Don’t just make up a fake answer that you think sounds impressive (“uh, well, I’ve recently started reading Einstein’s theory of special relativity”), because it becomes blatantly obvious you’re full of it once the interviewer starts asking follow-up questions.

    1. Cousin Itt

      My old teacher used to tell a (possibly apocryphal) story about a girl in her class who listed War & Peace as her favourite novel on her personal statement for university and then had to be given time off from school to actually read it before the interview.

      1. The New Wanderer

        I read W&P over the winter because I never bothered to before (I’m in my 40s). It was not what I expected at all, and I would have no idea how to talk about it in an interview. Afterwards I had to read the wikipedia entry (and related entries) to really ‘get’ it.

        I also read “The Sun Also Rises” because why not.

    2. Bostonian

      I actually was reading an “impressive-sounding” book when an interviewer asked me what I was reading once (Thinking Fast and Slow). The company was a start-up and I got an overall too-cool-for-school vibe from the office. The interviewer got wicked snarky about my book answer and said something about how “intellectual” sounding that was. Since I usually read 2 books at once, my immediate answer was, “I could tell you the other, ‘less-intellectual’ book I’m reading right now” (which happened to be a Tony Robbins book… I was curious what all the hoopla was). His reply, “No, that’s ok”, and changed the subject.

      I did not hear back from them, and I’m glad.

    3. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

      Uggghhhhh… This was almost 10 years ago, but I think I still blush/cringe when I think of it. I was interviewing with a guy I found really, really attractive – I was already awkward as is, but this added a whole extra level to it. I mentioned that I liked to read (true), he asked what I was currently reading, I said I was working my way through Kurt Vonnegut’s works (not true – I don’t know why I said that), then he asked which I was on and I completely blanked. I had read at least two Vonnegut novels at that time (just wasn’t currently reading them), and I’m familiar with at least another one or two by name – so I don’t know what happened. Then for some reason, my brain spit up Fahrenheit 451, which is definitely not written by Vonnegut, but it came out of my mouth.

      He looked kinda horrified (so he recognized my flub) but just moved on. I did not get called back in for a second interview.

      Learned my lesson there – and I’m slightly less awkward (particularly in interviews) these days – which is helpful.

      1. zora

        Awww! I feel sympathetic embarassment for you in that moment.

        But, I recently almost did the same thing because Fahrenheit 451 and Slaughterhouse 5 are weirdly similar titles (3-syllable word followed by number) and I’ve gotten them swapped in my head a couple of times. I hope that makes you feel better that that is a reasonable slip of the tongue when you’re in a high pressure situation!

    4. e

      I said “Capitalism and Freedom” once, and it was true, and we talked about it, but the interviewer’s immediate response was “No, what do you really read?” Now I always include Georgette Heyer when the question comes up.

      I honestly think how you talk about why you like the book is way more important than which book.

      1. Jules the Third

        Yes Georgette!

        I always tell my friends, ‘if you like Jane Austen’s humor, you’ll like Georgette Heyer.’ Except her historical novels. They are nothing like Austen.

    5. TardyTardis

      I did try reading A Brief History of Time, and still whack at it every once in a while, and seriously, Hawking is really trying to be accessible.

  12. Cary

    The last books I read were all Star Wars readers for my four year old with some Curious George thrown in for good measure. I’d definitely have to fudge that answer.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I think that actually works, though! I had a colleague who was re-reading the Lord of the Rings series with his son, and sharing that information reflected well on him. Same would go for if he had said Harry Potter or the Babysitters Club.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        But that gets into disclosing that you have kids, which could lead to other potential issues in an interview context.

    2. nonymous

      I’m surprised at this. In the vein of “get to know the whole you” conversation it seems like swapping titles of good kid books is a reasonable topic. I don’t have kids but my friends do – it’s definitely a different perspective to critique stories from a child-development perspective, but in an interview scenario would let a candidate suss out how family-friendly the place is, or if their are any extreme value systems that are at odds. Maybe it’s just my personal privilege speaking, but I’m getting to the tipping point of adulthood where I want to throttle orgs that promote work cultures which require sacrificing ones personal life completely. For example, the companies that pay staff peanuts but provide lifestyle perks of food, gym memberships, etc. Meanwhile “home life” for the staffer is an apartment share with 3 others and a semi-private bathroom well into their 30s.

      Of course it could be that you’re applying at workplaces that notoriously discriminate against staff with children. In that case, fudge away.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt

      I feel like I’ve been asked what the last book I read was more often than I’ve been asked what my favorite book was. Which can spend me into a spiraling panic of “Shit I’m reading Stephanie Plum right now, what was the last decent, non-trashy book I actually read?”

  13. Anon for this

    This is a question I ask in interviews, mainly because the jobs I’m hiring for will be doing a tremendous amount of reading. If someone doesn’t like to read, this is not the job for them. I generally don’t care what the answer is, however, 50 Shades is actually MORE likely to get you hired because we do see inappropriate material, and knowing it’s not likely to shock someone is a plus. I’m probably one of the very very few hiring managers to say that though.

    1. Also Anon

      I also ask candidates to tell me about a book they recently enjoyed and why since it’s relevant to the role. I work in publishing and I need to see if candidates can articulate why someone should read X book. Having an interest and knowledge of current books is also an asset.

      1. Jules the Third

        God, I wish someone would pay me to articulate why to read X book.

        OTOH, I’d be totally like, “Don’t read _Life of Pi_ unless you have tranquilizers on hand” so maybe that wouldn’t go over so well.

        1. Jennifer Thneed

          Okay, I just thought of an ice-breaker question that is probably actually not such a good idea: improving movie titles. My favorite for this is “The Interminable Lightness of Being”.

  14. Boo

    Urgh, I hate this sort of thing, it just seems so unnecessary and weirdly…invasive? It’s not really my employer’s business and it seems very unfair to be judged on, like why on earth should I be a weaker candidate because I reveal I like romance or science fiction? It has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of my work output, my work ethic or my interpersonal skills. I mean, intellectually I know Alison is right, and you will be judged for blurting out something that is a turn-off for the interviewer, but it really burns my cupcakes.

    Fwiw, I have never prepared for this sort of question before an interview, it’s just never occurred to me as a possible question. Thinking about it actually reminds me of a Ruth Rendell I read years ago, where the antagonist was obsessed with portraying the “right” image, and made a point of memorising the top 5 bestselling books/films/songs so he knew what to say when asked what his favourite book/film/song was.

    1. Amber T

      I agree – this is great water cooler talk, when I’m looking to get book recommendations, or talk about this great book I just read. But unless “awesome water cooler conversation” is a skillset, these questions just don’t belong. And I get that these questions sort of test the water for soft/people skills, but some people don’t like books or movies and spend their time doing other things – so what? Does that make them a less great teapot designer if they like video games in their spare time? It’s just silly.

    2. Artemesia

      Really depends on the field too; is there anyone in tech whose favorite novel is not sci fi?

        1. spock

          Same. I love fantasy though, often considered to be sci fi’s more childish cousin for some reason.

      1. Annie Moose

        Me, but only because my favorites are fantasy. :P

        Still have a pretty big list of favorite sci-fi novels, though! And games, and movies, and TV shows…

    3. The Other Dawn

      I feel the same way, Boo. When I read, I’m reading because it’s an interesting story. I don’t analyze it. I just want to take a break and enjoy the story. It shouldn’t matter if someone like young adult books, military, horror, romance, etc. Basically all the book I enjoy are murder mysteries or thrillers, and almost all of them feature the military, government, FBI/CIA/Secret Service, etc. There’s some Stephen King and some classics thrown in the mix, too. I’d hate to think someone is judging me because that’s what I enjoy reading.

    4. Marillenbaum

      Probably because you are a human working with other humans, and it’s nice to have one or two non-work related things to know about a potential coworker. Small talk is our grooming behavior, and a useful way to build up the small social trust that makes work interactions easier.

      1. Boo

        I absolutely appreciate the value of small talk, abut I guess I don’t feel it has any place in an interview setting. Interviews should be about competency based questions etc to help employer/candidate figure out if they’ll be a good fit for the job.

  15. Discordia Angel Jones

    I also read only fantasy, sci-fi, romance, paranormal romance, urban fantasy etc etc

    Back when I was young and stupid I actually put that my favourite fictional character was Elric of Melnibone for an answer and made up some crap about it.

    Now I have a stock answer of the only non-fantasy etc book I can reasonably speak of as being a favourite – Memoirs of a Geisha.

    Films would be very difficult as I’m not sure I can say “anything Marvel” as an answer LOL

    1. Anony McAnonface

      Be careful with Memoirs, depending on where you work. It’s considered to be culturally ignorant verging on racist these days.

        1. Anony McAnonface

          Yeah, I was pretty disappointed (but in retrospect not really that surprised) to find out.

        2. Cousin Itt

          I believe the woman it’s based on actually wrote her own memoirs later so you could look into that

          1. Ellie

            Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki – an excellent book and much better than memoirs!

    2. Thursday Next

      I’d be careful about leaning on Memoirs of a Geisha as a stock answer—the book has been criticized for its cultural appropriation and fetishization (a white man writing a novel from the perspective of a Japanese woman).

      But this is my field, so I treat questions and answers about books seriously. :=)

      1. Discordia Angel Jones

        I didn’t know that. I never regarded it as a true story either but just a true work of fiction.

        I think I will have to change my answer but no idea what to change it to!

        Not that I can remember the last time I was asked this question in an interview, it’s not that popular in the UK once you get past entry level, at least in my experience in my field.

        1. Jadelyn

          Specifically – in case you’re wondering – it’s not just that a white man wrote a novel from the perspective of a Japanese woman, though that’s definitely part of it. The bigger issue is that a major portion of his research for the book relied on his interviewing Mineko Iwasaki, a former geisha. She spoke to him on condition of anonymity, since she was sharing information with him that previously was strictly not shared outside of that subculture. He then named her and her contributions in the acknowledgments of his novel and in interviews and press events, which resulted in her receiving harassment. He also presented a sensationalized and hypersexualized version of geisha culture and life, because it made for a better story, despite her strenuous protests. He also refused to remove her name from the novel when she asked. That book is essentially an act of literary colonization – a white guy came in, took what he liked, used it however he wanted despite the protests of those it rightfully belonged to, and profited from it handsomely despite the harm it caused them.

          1. Environmental Compliance

            Well, that’s saddening. I really liked the book/movie. That’s pretty awful. I had always figured it had been sensationalized at least to a point because ‘story’, but had no idea about the rest. Ugh.

          2. Discordia Angel Jones

            Yeah I’ve looked it up now and see that. I shall strike it off the list.

            1. Jadelyn

              Sorry to ruin a favorite – I always hate to do that to people, but this one in particular I feel strongly about getting the truth out there.

              If you’re interested in hearing Mineko’s story in her own words, she released an actual memoir of her own after Memoirs of a Geisha came out. It’s called “Geisha, a Life” and it’s an interesting read, especially contrasted against the exoticized version in Memoirs.

    3. Marthooh

      Wait, you mean Elric of Melnibone didn’t work for you?

      “Uh, he’s the prince of this immortal realm, but his mean cousin beats him up. But then he gets a sentient vampire sword that makes him invincible, so ho goes back to his kingdom, but then his girlfriend keeps falling asleep… oh we’re done? Do I get the job?”

      1. LCL

        Come on, there’s a few Elric fans out here. I went through that phase, and have read every book in Moorcock’s eternal champion saga. Every one. I may or may not have used F Cornelius as a fake online name.
        Interesting bit-Michael Moorcock was at Norwescon one year. In his talk he said he conceived Elric as the opposite of the cool, James Bond hero popular at the time. Where everything James Bond touched turns to gold, everything Elric touches turns to sh().
        ‘I just wanna be a lover, not a red eyed screamin’ ghoul’…

        1. Discordia Angel Jones

          I have also read all of the Eternal Champion novels, and Elric was just my clear favourite. Maybe because he was albino, maybe because his sword was called Stormbringer, maybe because I just got sucked in to his story way more as a teenager than the others.

          I have a first edition “Elric of Melnibone”, signed and everything.

          Might be time for a re-read of the series, but I have a to be read list a mile and a half long and I have a sneaking suspicion that if I re-read the series it will show its age a bit…

      2. Discordia Angel Jones

        I know right?

        His sword was even called Stormbringer. How can that NOT be cool enough to get me a job??

        1. LCL

          And Blue Oyster Cult did a song about it! If I was interviewing someone and they managed to drop a reference to Elric and Blue Oyster Cult I would swoon.
          I’m still on the fence about rereading the Eternal Champion saga. I’m not quite so gloom and doom these days, and if I didn’t like the books I would be sad. Besides, ex took them all when I kicked him out. And my RHPS T shirt with Frank on the front and GAVE IT TO HIS GIRLFRIEND. Not that I’m still mad or anything.

    4. Pam

      Hey, I would be impressed with someone mentioning Elric. Of course, I also own a copy of Conan Meets the Academy, about Howard studies.

      1. TardyTardis

        Would a hiring manager in love with fantasy be upset if the applicant gently mentioned her four novels (one romance, three fantasy) for sale on Amazon?

  16. Kate

    Even as someone who loves to both read and watch movies, I can’t identify a favorite. There is too much variation when you start considering different genres. Different things have different value. The one time I was asked about my favorite book, I felt like the interviewer has just Googled, “Questions to ask at an interview”. I did end up going the route of, “I’m not sure I could pick a favorite, but the book I’m reading now is…”

  17. Anony McAnonface

    Fun story: I worked in publishing at an extremely prestigious, literary imprint, and one of our interns GOT the job when we asked her to name three influential books in her life and she named Twilight.

    She hadn’t been a big reader before that and despite it being a bit of a garbage book, it got her into reading, which led to her pursuing a career in publishing and then getting an internship at one of the best companies in the country. So…I would argue that you can say anything, so long as you back it up with good reasoning.

    1. MuseumChick

      In a very weird way, this reminds me of a comment I read somewhere on this site where the applicant had been a stripper and spun the experience into talking about working with difficult customers etc.

      Just goes to show, what at first glance seems like something that would take you out of the running, if spun correctly, can land you the job.

    2. tink

      I love this. I worked in an elementary library when the Captain Underpants books were really becoming popular, and that series turned SO MANY of our reluctant readers into kids hungry to read more. One of my sisters got into reading because of the Anita Blake series, and now she probably reads as much as I do, if not more.

    3. Falling Diphthong

      There was an Arthur book with this theme, too. Clearly based on kids who got hooked on reading through RL Stine books.

    4. Audrey Puffins

      Yes, this! I’d argue it matters less what your choice is, and more why you’ve chosen it and how you articulate that.

    5. epi

      That is a good story.

      In middle school my English class actually had a whole unit on detective stories. We learned about the history of the genre and read short stories from many of the well known authors in different styles. Now it strikes me as a good way to encourage us to be people who read for fun as adults, by introducing us to a genre many people love once no one is making them read. (I am a big Ellery Queen fan as a result.)

      Whenever I haven’t had time to read for a while, I always build the habit back up with thrillers or other genre fiction. You need something easy, fun, and compelling to help you make time for it in your day again. Once the habit is back you can go on to things that require more patience and focus.

      1. tangerineRose

        I love to read, but in school, usually the books they wanted me to read were kind of depressing. I agree that school in K-12 should try to include some fun books.

  18. animaniactoo

    If you asked me for my favorite book, I’d have to say that I don’t have a favorite book, but I have favorite authors and series. Stephen R Donaldson wrote both the best series I’ve ever read and the worst. I love the complexity of Michelle West’s Sun Sword Saga and how it thoroughly explores how a woman in a society that doesn’t allow women authority gathers power and uses it. Set against the comparison of a society where women DO hold authority and use it and the issues created when those two societies interact and how they’re resolved.

    At this point, I’d have to say “I’m avid reader, if you don’t stop me, I can keep going for hours. How much more would you like to know?”

    Movies “I don’t have a particular favorite. Maybe The Princess Bride or My Cousin Vinny, but really I like things that are fun without playing to “dumb” and I like things that make you think like Shawshank Redemption and The Usual Suspects.”

    In that situation, I wouldn’t just want to give my favorite “whatever” – I also want them to understand why it is rather than letting them draw their own conclusions about it. Conclusions that might be really off based and lean towards their own preferences rather than what I see in it.

    1. animaniactoo

      (I also got my dad to understand the appeal of sci-fi/fantasy which is my preference like this for the first time ever in his life. By explaining that this is what sci-fi and fantasy writers do – they don’t just theorize and create the world, they figure out how society develops and reacts when certain things are or aren’t possible or part of their lives. So… just saying, even if your real answer is Sci-Fi, giving this kind of explanation could help rather than hinder if you go with it.)

    2. AnonforThis

      The Princess Bride is actually one of my favorite books, but it is extremely difficult to explain the book, so.I guess I wouldn’t say it in an interview.

      1. Annie Moose

        “Look, it’s a story about a guy reading a beloved book to his kid, except it turns out the book is actually a boring political satire, so the guy makes up an abridged version of the book that skips all the satirical bits, and–you know what, let’s just go with ‘humorous fantasy’.”

        1. smoke tree

          This makes me tempted to say my favourite book is House of Leaves, just in case they asked me to summarize it.

          1. Tardigrade

            I managed to reference House of Leaves in a college essay one time. I don’t remember what it was about, but boy did I think I was smart for drawing the connection from whatever classic lit we were reading.

      2. Person of Interest

        Hah! I was recently asked in an interview what was the last book I read, and it happened to be The Princess Bride (for the hundredth time) and of course I just blurted that out without thinking about it! Didn’t get the job, but I don’t think that was the reason :)

        1. tangerineRose

          I read “As you wish” by Cary Elwes about the movie The Princess Bride. I wonder if that gets more or less brownie points :) It was a fun book.

    3. Amber Rose

      Someone else who knows Stephen R Donaldson! Man, I haven’t met another person who knew that author since my cousin got me into his books ages ago.

        1. Jules the Third

          I hated those so much. The abusive relationship for no particular reason was bad enough, but the ‘we’re going to end this book in the middle of a scene and make you wait a year for the next one to come out’ drove me absolutely batsh*.

          Those books, and Wheel of Time, are why I will no longer start a series that’s meant to be read as a series if the final book in the series isn’t out yet. McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan or Butcher’s Wizard books, ok, but not her current trilogy or his high fantasy stuff.

          1. TardyTardis

            Mmm…the Penric’s Demon series has a fourth one out. I know what you mean, though. And Bujold has a Vorkosigan e-novelette called “The Flowers of Vashnoi” which I inhaled the first night I got it.

      1. SarahKay

        *Waves*
        Discovered the First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant when doing work experience at the local library, aged 15. The beautiful cover of the UK edition of The Illearth War caught my eye, and from there I was hooked.

      2. Empty Sky

        I have a love/hate relationship with Donaldson. I think he comes up with great plots and he’s incredibly imaginative, but his characters sometimes…

    4. MtnLaurel

      Just curious… Was Shawshank Redemption ever a recommendation for a good favorite movie? I was in a mass interview situation about 10 years ago and it was far and away the most common answer (as in, only one or two did NOT state it…out of about 50) to that question. It’s not a bad movie or answer; it was just odd that it was so commonly mentioned.

      1. Jules the Third

        No, it’s just a really good movie. Pretty much every list has it in the top 10; IMDB’s got it at #2. It’s not my favorite, but it’s definitely one that I will sit and watch with Mr. Jules anytime he wants to see it again.

        Godfather, Casablanca and ‘some Hitchcock’ are other very common answers.

    5. Bostonian

      Me too! I generally give favorite authors and directors instead of favorite books or movies. Or I mention something recent I’ve read/seen and say I really liked it… especially since, as time goes by, your favorite from 5 years ago might not resonate the same way now as it did then.

    6. Anonym

      The Suns Sword Saga is one of my favorites and I’ve never encountered another human who’s read those books.

  19. Lynca

    I have never had that question but I kind of want to get it so I can just answer “Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park.” Would that be too weird to love both the book and the movie, though?

    1. Anony McAnonface

      I would hire you in a second. Jurassic World II (or whatever it’s called) is coming out on my birthday and I am SO FREAKING STOKED. I am making all my friends come with me. I am in my 30s. True love for dinosaurs never dies.

      1. Perse's Mom

        It is tradition for my brother and I to see the newest Jurassic Whatever together! I need to remind him this is coming out next month.

      2. AnonforThis

        It is funny because I loved Jurassic Park (book and movie) but hated hated hated Jurassic World.

        1. Anony McAnonface

          I didn’t love Pratt, or whatsherface, or really care about any of the people stuff, but boy did I love those raptors. I’m so stoked for my girl Blue to be back.

        2. tangerineRose

          We’re all different. I enjoyed the Jurassic Park movie but didn’t like the book – sadder stuff happened in the book, and scary things were more fully explained whereas in the movie, if you blinked, you’d miss some of the scary stuff :)

      3. Lynca

        I found out recently that Funko Pop has figures for Jurassic Park. The Velociraptor has a place of honor on the shelf now.

    2. Lauren

      I LOVE both the movie and the book! I’ve read the book (and it’s sequel) multiple times and seen the movie(s) tons!

  20. ExcelJedi

    I only got this question once, and I was reading “The Lady Tasting Tea” by David Salsburg at the time (which recounts the development of modern statistics in a very engaging, journalistic way – I recommend it). I was interviewing for a marketing analyst role, so I thought it was safe. It definitely lost me points with the HR screener, who blatantly told me she wasn’t expecting something like that and quickly moved on to something else.

    It was a weird interview overall, and I was glad not to get the job.

      1. MK

        Probably. The title doesn’t really suggest a non-fiction boo at all, more like a “light” novel.

        1. ExcelJedi

          I explained the synopsis in the same sentence, so even if she didn’t know it, it was weird that she was so put off by it.

    1. SoCalHR

      Did you explain the book to the HR person? Because maybe the title is what seemed incongruous to her? You got to admit its an interesting title for a statistics book.
      (although *this* HR person is now intrigued by the book and may check it out)

      1. ExcelJedi

        I did – that’s why it was so weird to get that reaction. I thought science/science history was a pretty respectable genre, even if you’re not into it yourself.

        1. SoCalHR

          Maybe her brain got distracted by the title and then didn’t really hear your explanation of the book. That’s the only thing I can think of.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale

      “I wasn’t expecting that answer… to my very broad, non-specific, and quite personal [though not capital-p-Personal] question.” People, man.

  21. TechServLib

    Admin has “What is your favorite book?” as a standard question we’re supposed to ask at the beginning of the interview as an icebreaker. We’re a library, so it’s not totally off the wall, but we’re an academic library, so it’s a little weird. Your deep love for Brandon Sanderson is great, but it doesn’t really help us know how you’d perform in a certain position. Search committees have started changing the question to be more work related, asking things like “What’s something you’ve read that’s contributed to your philosophy of librarianship?” or “What subject areas do you enjoy reading about?” Unfortunately, if admin is in the room for an interview, we have to ask it straight.

    1. Bostonian

      Yeah, we sometimes ask people what they’re currently reading because people in our line of work tend to read a lot. It’s a way to establish rapport/break the ice, and observe their demeanor when they talk about something they’re genuinely interested in.

  22. MsMaryMary

    I used to work with a woman who would ask candidates about the last book they read and heavily judge anyone who wasn’t reading something related to their career or our industry. You might be able to spin a biography or nonfiction if you could link it to your career, or maybe pull off talking about the right kind of self help book, but you lost points for talking about the latest bestseller or a nice beach read. And heaven forbid if you weren’t much of a reader.

    But that’s her weird quirk, much the same as an interviewer who asks what kind of vegetable you’re most like. It backfired on her for internal candidates, since we all warned each other. After a while, every internal candidate was claiming to have just finished Lean In or pretending to have found new revelations in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

      1. MsMaryMary

        Nothing, really. The only decent arguement I’ve ever heard for those kinds of questions is to see how well a candidate thinks on their feet, but I still think it’s not great.

    1. Dr. Doll

      I once was on a search committee where one of the faculty dismissed a finalist candidate because her bedside reading was philosophy and poetry instead of [science discipline], because that just went to show she wasn’t dedicated enough to [science].

      The search committee guy was a total dick in many, many other ways.

      1. The New Wanderer

        That’s so irritating – I regularly burned out on reading stuff in my discipline, which is why (when I had any energy to read for fun at all) I was way into light fiction of all genres. Just going into academia is Dedicated Enough.

        1. SarahTheEntwife

          Exactly! I like a good chewy piece of literature or thought-provoking professional essay as much as the next person, but since I work in a very cerebral profession, sometimes when I get home I want to read a fun, well-written story that doesn’t make me think all that much.

    2. Louise

      That’s so ridiculous. Reading about things outside your field is a great way to spark creativity and new ways of thinking!

    3. tangerineRose

      That’s frustrating unless you know about it. Currently, I’m reading a book about a computer language I’m learning, and I’m reading a fun mystery story. Normally, if someone asked me what I was reading, I’d go with the mystery story.

  23. Jamey

    If someone wanted to take me out of the running for liking science fiction, I can’t imagine that would be a place I’d want to work anyway.

  24. MK

    If this was asked in my field, I would be tempted to find the least known Nobel laureate of literature and name them. Or an obscure minor work of a famous writer.

    1. Kate

      Do you mean, to make yourself seem better read? Or to stop any further questions? Either way, it seems like it could backfire. Maybe they adore The Trumpet-Major and sleep with it under their pillow. Maybe they wrote their undergrad dissertation on Halldor Laxness. Obscure is very subjective.

  25. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    On the book question, I agree that it helps to self-edit and come up with at least one book idea ahead of time. A former boss used to ask this question to see if people had interests/hobbies outside of work (he was worried about work-life balance). Or, if books aren’t your thing, long-form essays can be a useful substitute.

    1. Kelsi

      I gotta say, I think that’s kind of an ineffective way to find out if they have interests outside of work…I have lots of them, which is why I rarely have time to read books or watch movies anymore! The fact that I read Crooked Kingdom, idk, sometime last year doesn’t tell you that I’m an avid seamstress and a hobby writer. If he wants to know, he could just ask the actual question.

  26. Hiring Mgr

    I don’t like these questions, because if you have to self-censor to such a degree, what’s the point in the first place? If the object of asking these is to somehow get to know someone more than the standard stuff, it seems useless if the candidate may not be able to give their true opinion…

    1. Dan

      That’s where I’m at. I mentioned above that while AAM posits that this is a relatively harmless question, she also says that there are “wrong” answers. Which means it’s one more question that I now have to try and game. If flat out lie to this question, what did you learn about me? And if you know I might have to flat out lie about this question, then what’s the point of asking it?

      1. Jady

        This may be a pretty negative outlook, but to me interviews are mostly a game of lies anyway.

        From a comic “If Job Interviews Were Honest”

        What is your greatest strength as an employee? I am willing to perform services in exchange for currency.

        What is your greatest weakness? I require shelter and calories to maintain existence, and thus, I must perform services in exchange for currency.”

        Why are you interested in working at this company in particular? This company pays currency in exchange for the performance of services.

        Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Performing comparable services in exchange for more currency.

        1. Dan

          Honestly, right after I hit “submit”, I was waiting for someone to say, “and how is this different than any other interview question?”

          New answer to the greatest weakness question, which is just a summary of what you wrote: “I’m human.”

          Why are you looking to leave your current job? “Boss is an ass and I want more money.”

      2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

        I don’t think this kind of questions are harmless. I could definitely mention a favorite book that is OK to say in an interview and would also give a positive impression about me. But my favorite songs are pretty much all religious, and the reasons I like them have a lot to do with the themes of the lyrics. That’s definitely not stuff I’d like to tell an interviewer!

    2. Kyubey

      I have a lot of favorite movies/show that aren’t exactly ideal to name in interviews (anime comes to mind as one) and I try to name things that aren’t seen as immature or childish. I like other things but they aren’t technically my actual favorites- so it feels like I’m lying or partially lying. My favorite show is Puella Magi Madoka Magica (hence my name) but I would feel ridiculous saying that in an interview.

  27. Sara (a Lurker)

    In my most recent interview I was asked what I do in my spare time. It was definitely a getting-to-know-you question but I was not prepared for it–and, to be honest, at that moment I didn’t feel that I had a lot of spare time or energy to enjoy it, which is one of the reasons I was looking for a new job! I just reiterated a couple of things we’d talked about earlier in the conversation (cooking, reading) and added going to the movies or some such. I did not mention that I love playing video games or that I’d recently started taking ballet because I didn’t feel like fielding any followup questions. I’m still haunted by my boring response… but they hired me anyway, so *shrug emoji*.

    1. SoCalHR

      I think the ballet answer would have been incredibly interesting. Partly because I’ve always been enthralled by it, but also because its not something that adults usually START doing (nor something a ton of adults do period) so I think that bumps up the interesting-factor. Anyway, congrats on getting the job!

      1. Sara (a Lurker)

        That’s exactly why I didn’t want to mention it–I truly enjoy ballet, but I do it because it’s one of the few fitness classes I can enjoy with chronic joint pain. (PSA for other autoimmune disease-havers: beginner ballet is very protective of the joints!) Caught off guard, I couldn’t immediately see a way to discuss it without getting more personal than I wanted to be.

        I guess the lesson I learned is that, in what I hope is the far distant event of jobseeking again, I should prepare some answers to questions about my life and hobbies–but also that it probably won’t be a dealbreaker if those don’t sound interesting.

        1. Batshua

          I keep forgetting that I want to get back to ballet! It’s one of the few places where EDS is actually an asset!

  28. Kittymommy

    Lol, I dont really have a favorite book, but my movie is a c ir b movie called Six Pack staring Kenny Roger’s. It is not good. But I love it.

  29. Christmas

    Fifty Shades, Twilight. & Memoirs of a Geisha are all currently in the running for Americas Favorite Novel as part of PBS “The Great American Read”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      Well, if that doesn’t about sum up the level of intellectual discourse currently present in our country, I don’t know what does.

    2. Christmas Carol

      Oops, hit enter too soon, along with 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Tom Sawyer. Please Log in and vote, for good taste’s sake.

      1. chocolate lover

        I didn’t even have to go past Prayer for Owen Meany, cause that’s totally the book I would mention as my favorite. Americanah would be pretty high up there for me, too.

        1. Christmas Carol

          Lots of foreign authors are on the list. I think its more books America likes, whoever wrote them.

          From the web site: “The top 100 book list released today is based on a public opinion poll, conducted by YouGov on behalf of PBS for THE GREAT AMERICAN READ, that asked respondents to name their favorite novel. An advisory panel of book industry professionals compiled the results. Each author was represented only once, and series such as the Alex Cross Mysteries were included as one entry.

          The chosen books span five centuries, from Don Quixote (1603) to Ghost (2016). Authors from 15 different countries are represented, with genres ranging from beloved children’s classics such as Charlotte’s Web to modern best-sellers such as Twilight.

          I find it quite fascinating, and am seriously thinking of going through the list and checking out some of the titles I’m unfamiliar with. Need some new
          beach reading material anyways.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        I can’t figure out where to vote!

        I am, however, going to print that list off and try to read more of the books on it.

        1. Jules the Third

          Don’t do it! People’s favorites are often Very Not Good. Especially – avoid Dan Brown. He’s a bad writer, with unoriginal ideas. Hunt up _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_ or Kathryn Kurtz’s Adept series instead.

          1. Jules the Third

            Also – _The Martian_ is ok, but they do it better in the movie. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is a better read.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago

            Oh, yeah, I read a couple of Dan Brown when I was younger. There are definitely some on the list that I have no intention of ever reading (GoT, Wheel of Time), but some look interesting.

    3. ANon.

      To be fair, there are far more, er, intellectual books than those of the Twilight and 50 Shades variety. I was all set to pick The Handmaid’s Tale and then I saw Their Eyes Were Watching God and Beloved and had to rethink my choice!

      1. Emi.

        I dunno if I would say I *like* “Beloved,” but I don’t think you should be allowed to graduate highschool in this country without having read it.

      2. Ray Gillette

        I feel like I would be an overly pretentious Margaret Atwood hipster if someone told me Handmaid’s Tale.

        “Oh yeah? When did you read it?”

        1. smoke tree

          If you’re Canadian, the answer would be “in every high school English class”

            1. smoke tree

              It’s more the obligatory Canadian book in the midst of an otherwise all American or British curriculum because patriotism or something.

              1. smoke tree

                Similarly, I imagine that the current generation of Canadian high school students has to spend 5 minutes a day gazing upon shirtless photos of the prime minister riding a moose. Then they can go back to studying British history.

  30. Mockingjay

    And what if you don’t like to read or go to movies?

    I am a bookworm, but Mr. Mockingjay is a very active guy. He only sits still to nap. In his case, I guess he would have to come up with a fake book or movie? (He’s close to retirement, so he won’t be interviewing anytime soon, fortunately.)

    Are these kinds of questions more prevalent in certain industries? (Interestingly, as a technical writer, I have never been asked for my favorite book in an interview.)

    1. mrs_helm

      There are lots of people who do.not.read. My hubby is one (I’m not).
      I think a safe way for a non-reader to answer is honestly, like “I don’t make much time for reading, because I like to do x,y, and z.” If the interviewer pushes, then maybe “the last time I did serious reading was in school, but I did like Lord of the Flies…”

      Similarly for movies, a lot of people could answer “I don’t have a favorite, but we always have to watch x over the holidays”.

      Bonus points for returning this question right back to the interviewer!

    2. Jennifer Thneed

      These days, I hardly read books with my eyes (and I miss it), but I listen to many books! And people have Opinions about that.

      I’d probably go with something like Salt. Non-fiction, so there’s history and sociology and stuff. But low-key, because it’s not aimed at specialists. Lots of food history there, and early economics. (Also Cod, by the same author.)

  31. all aboard the anon train

    I really loathe these questions. They have very little to do with how well you’d perform in a job, and they run the risk of judging candidates on their answers. I think it’s silly to judge someone who genuinely loves Twilight – and moreover, it perpetuates the messages that books written for a female audience are seen as less intelligent. Just like I think it’s stupid to hold up someone who says Hemingway is their favorite author. People get enjoyment out of different things, and the Hemingway lover might be a horrible employee compared to the Twilight lover.

    You also run the risk of awkward situations if someone says they just read a book about queer characters or culture, or minority culture, or anything that isn’t a safe answer – aka “classic lit”. I say this as someone in publishing who honestly hates that there needs to be “safe” answers about books.

    I don’t understand interviewers who want to know about favorite books or movies to see if they connect with you on a personal level. I’m there for a job, not to be your best friend to geek out with over books and movies. If we find out we like the same things by accident, that’s cool, but I’m going to get annoyed if I’m repeatedly asked it in an interview. You can learn a lot more about my personality and ability to do a job by asking questions relevant to situations I’ve dealt with at work, not about my favorite book.

    1. Oilpress

      I actually like these questions. I am generally not trying to find common ground. What I am looking for is someone who can have a conversation. If I give them a gimme topic such as, “Tell me about your favourite ___!” and they can’t speak for more than a few seconds then I can guess they aren’t going to be the best in impromptu meetings or networking situations.

      1. Luna

        But it’s not really a conversation. It’s often a semi-prepared answer to a random question that can come out of left field, is not related to the topic at hand (the job), and interrupts the ongoing conversation about the job, company, and candidate’s work experience.

    2. MuseumChick

      I have to disagree that it seeing Twilight and 50 Shades as poorly written, poorly constructed stories with dangerous messages, as sending “the messages that books written for a female audience are seen as less intelligent.” They are subject to the same criticism as male authors who put out garbage work. Just because an book is written by a woman does not mean it should exempt from critical analysis. Plus, there are some many great female authors out there: JK Rowling, Jane Austen, Margret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Mary Shelly, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Agatha Christie, the Bronte sisters, etc, I think women have more then proved that they can be great authors.

      1. Lissa

        True – but some people like light reads, and/or reserve their entertainment quota for mindless/easy stuff. I don’t really think it says much about them as a person overall, any more than preferring Justin Bieber to Radiohead.

        I mean, personally I felt Twilight was mediocre and 50 shades was awful but I know plenty of intelligent, cool people who liked both of them. They really aren’t that much worse than anything else in those genres that doesn’t get all the attention they did. I think having it as a favourite would say the person probably didn’t read much, but some people don’t, and have other ways they get entertainment.

  32. Detective Amy Santiago

    So obviously the only right answer to the “What’s your favorite book?” question now is “the Ask a Manager book.”

    1. SoCalHR

      I fully expected Alison to at least throw that in there as a joke/caveat in her response!

        1. SoCalHR

          oh right… but she still could have throw it in there for good measure ;-) (although I’m sure cheeky self-promotion is not on the top of her priority list right now)

    2. fnom

      I’m reading through it in my (painfully limited) spare time but it is indeed quickly becoming a favorite. Definitely not a bad one to mention at an interview.

  33. Snark

    OP, you didn’t bomb that. THIS is bombing:

    “Rampage or Bloodrayne are my favorite movie, by far. Boll is such an auteur. And I devour anything by Chuck Tingle.”

    1. ExcelJedi

      It would not get them the job, but I might give points for anyone bold enough to say Chuck Tingle.

    2. Emily

      You know…if someone actually mentioned Chuck Tingle in an interview and seemed to be otherwise self-aware/socially competent, I would probably think it was funny and not count it against them.

      1. Snark

        Yeah, if it was delivered as a joke, I’d probably shoot them some fingerguns and laugh my ass off. HEYOOO

  34. Folklorist

    On the topic of off-the-wall interview questions, I recently got a fun part-time job as an axe-throwing coach. They really needed experienced people, so they brought me in for an in-person audition without a phone interview (I had already been throwing axes for a while). But for some other potential coaches they were interviewing, they had phone interviews at first–and my boss told me he asked the new interviewees, “If you were on a ‘Wanted’ poster in Victorian England, what crime would you be guilty of?”

    I told my boss that, if he had asked me that in an interview, I probably would have questioned his judgement as a manager and turned the job down. HR activities have since been turned over to a sane person.

  35. Relentlessly Socratic

    We’ve been interviewing for new hires, and the list of things to ABSOLUTELY NOT ASK a candidate includes: Books you like to read, movies you like to watch (I want to say favorite foods was also on that list).

    My job does require a lot of reading (all technical). While it’s not something I would ask if the interview were going well, it might have been something I would have asked to establish rapport.

    The last candidate I interviewed was very junior and clearly nervous; I would have liked to have had a nice softball question to ask to help get him settled.

  36. Amber Rose

    I have all kinds of appropriate music, movies and books that I love that I could talk about, that I would almost certainly forget if put on the spot. Also I almost solely watch cartoons these days, and I’m not sure if it’s OK to talk about that or not. Not all cartoons are for kids, but there’s still a large enough group of adults who believe so that young children are still being traumatized with Watership Down because it’s “about cute li’l bunnies.”

    Alternatively, I run the risk of talking TOO MUCH about my favorite books and movies, since I’m a huge nerd for well-told stories and believably developed characters. I’m usually good at controlling that but even I’m prone to getting carried away.

  37. What's with today, today?

    My favorite movie is Empire Records. And if ever asked in an interview, I’m telling the truth. Damn the man! Save the Empire!

  38. chocolate lover

    Book would be easy for me – Prayer for Owen Meany. I haven’t reread it in a while (I usually do every few years), but I remember thinking how socially and politically insightful it was in a variety of ways. I’d have to reread it to come up with specifics. I did recently read Alison’s new book, so if they wanted a recent career-related book, I could use that. Or Devora Zack’s Networking for People who Hate Networking: A field guide for introverts, the overwhelmed, and the underconnected (even if I read it years ago, not recently.)

    Harry Potter would be my first response for movie, though I share some of the concerns already mentioned that it would be perceived as childish, so I might find another choice.

    1. MtnLaurel

      I usually reread A Prayer for Owen Meany once every few years at Christmastime. I adore it.

    2. Kate

      A Prayer for Owen Meany is the book that made me love reading. I always considered myself a poor reader because I struggled to keep up with the reading schedules assigned by my English teachers, but Owen Meany made me realize I was just bored with a lot of our book choices. I couldn’t put it down, and strangely, it even inspired me to go back and re-read some of the books we were assigned in class on my own time, which allowed me to appreciate them more. I’ve been recently compiling a list of books to re-read because I feel like your perspective changes as you get older and have more life experience, and Owen Meany is on the list.

  39. Bee Eye LL

    “Star Wars or Star Trek?”

    I asked that during our last batch of interviews for an IT job. Why? To help break the ice a little since I know interviews can put people on edge, but also to give the person a chance to express their personality. It is a bit of a curveball question, but it is kind of a fun one. You can also tell a good bit about a person by which one they prefer. Also, with our group, we’re all die-hard nerds who love both so if you aren’t into either you may not be a good fit. Lots of reasons to ask stuff like this as long as you don’t turn it into a debate.

    1. jack

      idk, I’m a ‘die-hard nerd’ and I don’t have strong feelings about either. Y’all really wouldn’t give me a job for that?

    2. The New Wanderer

      I like both for many reasons and can happily geek out on either topic, but I wouldn’t want to be forced to choose. I get it as an ice breaker and I myself would treat it as just small talk. But if you’re really trying to use it as insight into my personality… well, I’m not sure what it tells you about me if I did have a preference, or what it tells you that I don’t have a preference.

    3. Workerbee

      I’d be a “both” respondee too.

      So I’m curious! What CAN you tell about someone based on a franchise movie?

      1. Workerbee

        Actually I’d be more likely to respond, “Doctor Who” and quote from Harlan Ellison’s introduction to the Target books, but as I do like both Stars (and Stargate, etc), I’d be a bit tongue-in-cheek. :)

    4. J.B.

      So as an icebreaker that’s fine, but please try not to get too serious about that as a “cultural fit” type question. Being asked to prove your geek bona fides just because you are a woman gets old.

      1. Louise

        UGH this is so true. I recently got a “you don’t look like someone who plays video games, but when I heard you convinced colleague to finally play [incredibly nerdy jrpg], I believed it.” Like bro, I know you think you’re giving me a compliment but come on.

          1. Louise

            YES! Persona 5 (literally one of the best games I’ve ever played, regardless of genre)

            1. Jake

              Yes! Persona 5 is my favorite game ever!

              My only complaint being the way they handled Ann. With a track record of handling female characters with a certain level of depth and grace, I felt like they really missed the mark on her. After the first act it felt like she was there as fan service, which is disappointing considering Yukari and Mitsuru were able to stay relevant and interesting throughout persona 3 without becoming sex objects.

              1. Louise

                I came to games late in life (while I was in college — even more reason I feel like I have to defend my nerddom to gatekeepers) so it’s the only persona game I’ve played, but strong agree on Ann.

                As someone who has suffered from depression since I was a teen, Futaba’s storyline makes me sob big blubbery baby tears, so that sort of made up for it for me.

                1. Jake

                  Persona 3 has the better story and characters, but frankly the gameplay hasn’t aged super well.

    5. Jadelyn

      “You can also tell a good bit about a person by which one they prefer.” …like what, exactly? Honestly curious how you interpret that.

      And be careful with using that as a culture fit check – that’s how you wind up selecting for a reeeeally homogenous workforce, by hanging “fit” on cultural markers rather than work styles and personalities.

      1. Bee Eye LL

        There have been a bunch of articles written about the psychology of the fanbase. For example, Star Trek fans tends to be more liberal than Star Wars fans. Star Trek fans tend to more into Sci-Fi in general, whereas many Star Wars fans just like Star Wars.

        It gives the person a chance to talk about something they might really like. You may get lucky and see some enthusiasm jump out there. It’s not going to be a make or break hiring question, though.

        1. Louise

          Yeah but there’s a BIG difference between looking at fan bases on the macro versus applying trends to an individual person — especially if you’re using bay information to hire!

          Finding a way to tap into someone’s passions during an interview is great, but I really hope you read these comments and reconsider/find a more inclusive way to go about this.

          Cuz honestly my answer would be “Ursula Le Guin,” with an internal “does this dude really not know any female-created/led scifi?” And then I would eye roll forever and not work for you because people who use what they define as “true nerd culture” to gatekeep are not people I’d want to work with.

          1. Workerbee

            +1 to inclusion.

            And there are many pitfalls to hiring only reflections of yourselves.

    6. LCL

      But the two universes are so totally different, how can anyone choose? That’s like asking if you prefer bourbon drinks or Chinese food.

    7. Jennifer Thneed

      I couldn’t pick. I grew up on Star Trek. Star Wars didn’t hit the theaters until I was 14, and I didn’t see it until a full year later. Oh shite! I just told you how old I am. Yeah, I can see problems with this line of conversation.

      1. Clumsy Ninja

        Which one? I loved some of the characters in the original series, but thought Atlantis was overall a more entertaining series. Also never saw the movie.

    8. MusicWithRocksInIt

      On my god I just realized I don’t know anymore. I used to be Star Wars but the new movies have done nothing for me at all and I don’t know why. If someone asked me that in an interview I would have an extensional crisis. Can I answer Firefly?

  40. That Would Be a Good Band Name

    I had an interviewer ask me what the last book I had read was and later told me that she wouldn’t have hired someone that didn’t have an answer. I thought that was pretty weird. Thankfully, she didn’t ask me what my favorite book was because I’m not sure what I would have said. I’m a huge Stephen King fan and my favorite of his is one that is probably lesser known (Gerald’s Game) but it’s not interview appropriate.

    1. Anna

      People have ideas about people that don’t read at all. I can’t say they’re wrong. :P

      1. Oxford Coma

        I think they are wrong, if their criteria is “book”. My spouse is a scientist who sees no point in fiction, but avidly devours research journals, Nat Geo, and so on.

      1. JeanB in NC

        To me it’s one of his most frightening books. I will never re-read that one, unlike most of his other stuff.

    2. SoCalHR

      Have you seen the movie they made of it… super creepy/disturbing (but probably less so than the book)

    3. anon4now

      It was just made into a movie by Netflix (bc all the other popularized King novels/short stories have already been made into movies/mini-series, etc.) so it’s mainstream now.
      IMO, King isn’t as strong in writing female leads (or gay men or any characters that aren’t cisgender males), but I thought the tie-in with the eclipse to his other (very popular) books was interesting.

      1. TardyTardis

        Dolores Claiborne could have been my grandmother’s life (yes, my grandfather died of a stroke, but we always wanted to ask ‘a stroke of *what*–bullet, knife, axe? Inquiring minds want to know. Coroners are still fairly liberal with ’cause of death’ in some places where the decedent was known to be a no-good).

  41. Kat Em

    When I worked in early childhood, “What’s your favorite children’s book?” was a regular interview question. It didn’t really matter what you answered, just that you had an answer. If you couldn’t think of anything at all, it seemed like you didn’t pay much attention to reading with children, which was a bit concerning.

    I could see this making sense in a few book-, education-, and literacy-related roles, and maybe in sales where you should be able to rave about a product at the drop of a hat, but otherwise it just seems kind of silly.

  42. Anonymous Educator

    I don’t think it’s a particularly useful question in terms of the actual answer you get back and what that would tell you about that person as a worker, but I do think sometimes making small talk can give you a sense of “Can this candidate actually loosen a bit and not just give me the super-professional wall?”

    Whenever I’ve done interviews (either for high school applicants or for job candidates), I accept that an interviewee is nervous and trying to sound as professional as possible, but then I try to make her feel as comfortable as possible and hope at some point she’ll let her guard down and be a little more real with me.

    Now, of course, if someone seems flustered by a question like this, I’d probably just tell her to forget it and try to ask something else, to reassure her it’s not about the actual question.

    1. Oilpress

      Exactly. The question might as well be, “Talk about something you like…” Just give me something that isn’t rehearsed, so I can see that you are human and can hold a conversation.

  43. Storie

    I work in entertainment, so this question is standard for interviews. And yet…I often blanked out completely in the past. Now, to prepare for any meeting I have 2 or 3 examples ready that are chosen (from my real favorites) based on what type of company it is. I’m not going to list all quirky indie movies for a company that does family films, for example. That said, I’ve interviewed many people myself who are clearly trying too hard, saying lofty titles just because they think they sound good. Always best to be yourself. Side note: my best friend of 30 years tells anyone and everyone her favorite all-time movie is The Cutting Edge. Man, I love her for that!

    1. Argh!

      I have been amazed at how many celebrities say their favorite book is Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I couldn’t get past the first page. ;-)

    2. Silver

      Agreed, one place you should expect this question and be able to talk at some length is for jobs in the entertainment industry. I’ve worked in TV and content distribution for over 10 years and have always been asked about what content I consumed. If you can’t answer with at least one product from the company you’re interviewing with it might hurt your candidacy. But this is an outlier and probably the only industry where this question is asked regularly because it’s a part of your day to day work.

  44. Bookworm

    I agree with Alison’s take that it’s more about drawing you out and/or get a sense of who you are. “What do you do for fun” is something I assume is similar and it might help if you have a similar interest as the interviewer. In my last job I mentioned I was watching/re-watching a tv series just “for fun” (as that’s what the interviewer asked) and that seemed to make the interviewer happy (it was something he also enjoyed).

    I suppose if you were to name something really weird (like you were reading a book about mass murderers or something) that might be a bit iffy but I wouldn’t read too much into it.

  45. Ellex

    I wish an interviewer had asked this question. The question I was asked was, “If someone wrote a book about your life, what would the title be?” I just sat there for a moment, and the interviewer said, “Just say something off the top of your head.” So I answered, “No one would want to write a book about my life, and I wouldn’t want anyone to write a book about my life.”

    And of course I kicked myself the moment that came out of my mouth, because I know it wasn’t the kind of answer they were looking for, but…if you’re going to blindside me with a stupid question, you’re probably going to get an honest answer, and you probably won’t like it.

    I didn’t get the job, but there were a lot of red flags attached to it anyway.

    1. Clarice Fitzpatrick

      Oh, wow! Those are one of those questions that seem fun and casual but honestly require some thought? It’s also so strangely personal, I wouldn’t wanna try to basically brand my whole life just for an interview.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      If I ever had a reason to write a memoir (which is highly doubtful; I’m not very interesting), the title would be “There Will Always Be Women in Rubber Flirting With Me” so that wouldn’t be appropriate for a job interview.

    3. CMart

      “A Life: The CMart Story”

      What possibly else would it be for a vast majority of people? The only other thing that comes to my mind is “Can We Get Taco Bell For Dinner?” and I’m not sure that’s an interview appropriate synopsis of my life, however accurate it may be.

    4. wickedtongue

      Off the top of my head I tried to think up something, came up with “Sauntering Vaguely Downwards” and realized that would sink me in a heartbeat, especially if the person got the reference.

  46. Lauren

    In an interview I actually had an interviewer ask me to recommend two books for him to read. This was after the “what do you do in your spare time?” question. I did get the job so I guess I did ok.

  47. Anna

    It feels like there are so many bad answers. I read a lot, but on the spot for a favorite I’d probably stumble and then eventually answer with the last one I read for book club that I liked (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) – but I listen to a lot of YA audio books (not going to look super professional) and don’t enjoy classics.
    Movies I wouldn’t have a clue. I have young kids. I used to watch movies. Ask me what Netflix show I’m into this week instead. :P

    1. Anna

      And dammit, the answer to Netflix is “season 2 of 13 Reasons Why”, which is YA fiction. I swear, I’m in my late 30’s. It’s not my fault I still like teenage reading material sometimes.

      1. JeanB in NC

        Heck, I read kids’ books all the time and I’m … older than my late 30s. I tend not to read YA because it mostly seems like it’s all problems, all the time but I read books that are at the 3rd-5th grade level all the time.

    2. Cousin Itt

      I think you could reasonably say ‘I’m not really into movies but I love [appropriate TV show and reasoning]’

  48. Zaphod Beeblebrox

    I was once asked my favourite comedian. The temptation to say Roy “Chubby” Brown was immense, but I restrained myself and said Jasper Carrott. (Those of you across the pond may need to look those up – I warn you that the first one is very NSFW).

    1. Amber Duncan

      I always go with Billy Connolly for my comedian. Not precisely safe for work all the time, but not offensive enough to be considered bad.

  49. Devil in the White City

    The first job I had asked specifically what the last non-fiction book I read was, which threw me for a loop because I’d never been asked that before and I preferred fiction to non-fiction. So I said what the last non-fiction book I read was, which was The Devil in the White City, a book about a serial killer. I was mortified that I said such a gruesome book but they went with it. After I got the job and had been in the position a few months, I asked my interviewer about it and she said they didn’t care what I said; they just wanted to know if I was a reader.

  50. Rae

    My favorite book is Flatland. But how pretentious would I come off if I told an interviewer that my favorite book is a social satire that uses a fictional two-dimensional world to critique the hierarchy of Victorian culture.

    I’d probably just say that I recently read The Martian.

    1. feministbookworm

      Oh man! Flatland! it’s been so long since I’ve thought of that book! Thank you!

    2. Emily

      I like Flatland, but at the time I read it I was more interested in the math/dimensions side of things!

      I can see how, either way (mathematics or Victorian social commentary), it might not be the best pick if you’re trying to keep your answer simple/casual.

      1. Rae

        I read it as a math major. It was only later I realized the other implications. Oh to be 18 again.

    3. Erin

      I loved the Martian! But I like adventure books and movies. I’d probably just leave my answer there.
      My favorite movie is Indiana Jones and raiders of the lost ark. Book is Call of the Wild. Music would get me in trouble, had anyone heard of Hellbilly Metal?

  51. princess paperwork

    I’ve been asked this a few times. I always go with Charlotte’s Web (E. B. White) and then mention how its principles of friendship and hard work have stayed with me over the years. I think I come off slightly charming and slightly quirky.

  52. Amber Duncan

    I recently had an experience in a sub shop where the manager interviewing me asked “If you had to slay a dragon, how would you do it?” Being a big D&D fan, I came back with “What character classes am I allowed to choose from and what colour is the dragon?” (Both of those matter, if you know the game.)

    Turned out later that this manager didn’t really know what do to with that question. HER manager had used it, as he played D&D and would ask this question to somewhat analyze the personality of the potential new hires. My answer, for example, would have told him that I’m detail-oriented, since I was asking for more information. She was just using it because he did, and she thought that was part of the interview.

    1. Amber Rose

      Yikes. Awkward.

      I’d probably ask what alignment I was allowed to choose also. My answer changes if I’m lawful good vs chaotic evil. My neutral evil-ish character has successfully bargained with all manner of creatures and then subsequently stabbed them in the back.

    2. Jennifer Thneed

      I would ask if you meant European or Chinese! (And then I’d try to drop in some reference to the airspeed velocity of an unladen dragon, and it would all go south because I’m always weirder than my interviewers and they wouldn’t realize it was a joke.)

  53. Environmental Compliance

    In my last interview I was asked what my ideal job would be. So I answered with a carefully thought out synopsis of what I would like to have as my job environment & duties in the grand scheme of my preferred field, making sure to tie in with what the job was that I was interviewing for. Turned out they were looking for more of an “if you could be anything in the world career-wise what would you be?” My answer: well, when I was much younger, I really wanted to be a shark trainer and work with Steve Irwin. That’d still be pretty cool, and Bindi seems pretty awesome. I did get the job, so I guess that was a good response.

    1. Environmental Compliance

      Also, favorite books are a three-way tie between the Stephanie Plum series, the Sword of Truth series, and the Scarpetta series. I should reread the SoT series, I haven’t read those in a while.

  54. Modernhypatia

    I’m a librarian, and so it comes up as a legitimate question sometimes, and is also a pretty natural question for meals for all-day interviews.

    (It’s a legitimate question because a number of library jobs involve taking over responsibility for buying or recommending books in certain areas, or different people on staff may have areas they specialize in. It’s usually not make or break on hiring, but someone who fills gaps in the current lineup may edge out someone who doesn’t.)

    Because of that, I’ve always prepped to be asked it. I both read a lot of things that I don’t necessarily want to talk about in interviews (romances, fanfic) and I have a weird thing about being public about large chunks of what I’m reading. When I’ve been interviewing, I make sure to have a couple of titles I am glad to talk about ready (I aim for having something fairly recent and widely discussed in the list).

    I also prep a brief summary of “Well, people have said I read anything that sits still long enough, which is true, but I mostly balance between popular non-fiction, especially microhistories, and character or setting focused fiction, especially historical mysteries and some subgenres of science fiction and fantasy.” All of which is true, just not entirely complete. It does provide useful information for the actual job, about what kinds of things I might be particularly enthusiastic in talking about with library users, and it uses language from the field in how I identify some of my picks for personal reading.

  55. Bunny Girl

    This question is my worst nightmare. LoL. I am a hardcore horror movie lover and it’s basically all I watch. My reading list seems to run a bit dark as well. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to come off as disturbed. Luckily my favorite film is more of a thriller than something extreme.

    1. LCL

      I def went through the horror phase. If I didn’t think to edit my list to get hired, I would be in trouble.

      1. Bunny Girl

        This has been 15 years. It’s now just a sickness. LoL. I’ve only had a couple interviewers ask it. I think my answers sound a little better because I’ve worked in haunt entertainment and special effects for over 10 years.

  56. Cute Li'l UFO

    Part of me wants to answer “The Secret” to see what happens.

    I’ve been asked this but more as the last kind of question type, where it’s more just for fun. Music, movies, books. Answer is generally different depending on my mood and people get a kick that Xanadu is up there on favorites.

  57. Safetykats

    In the spirit of the interview question about your greatest weakness you haven’t worked on fixing, I’m going to start asking people what’s their favorite book they haven’t read (or favorite movie they haven’t seen).

  58. feministbookworm

    I got the question “what good book have you read recently?” in an interview for my current job. I was a grad student, just finishing up my thesis, and hadn’t had a ton of time to read non-thesis related things. Unfortunately, the things I had read most recently were The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith (a queer detective novel, highly recommend!), Alice Walker’s In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens, and Station Eleven (dystopian Scifi) which all seemed like potentially dangerous choices in terms of potentially revealing my sexual orientation, political persuasion, and generally incurring judgement. My favorite author writes feminist YA fantasy, so that was no help either. I think I stammered for a minute about being excited to have more time to read before deciding Walker was my safest bet. Luckily the job was in a progressive field in a fairly progressive area, so it turned out OK, but my experience made me decide never to ask this question of someone in an interview. (instead, I’ll wait until they’re hired and THEN ask for book recommendations!)

  59. anon4now

    I wonder what happens if your interests are more obscure (my favorite book is bad behavior by mary gaitskill, favorite movie is “may”)…do you just choose mainstream options that sound good, like “Harry Potter Series for both books and movies”?

    1. seller of teapots

      Omg, Mary Gaitskill. <3 <3

      I think the thing to do is say the more obscure answer, and say a little something why. "I love this book of poetry, that really spoke to me when I was a new mother, and it's been a favorite ever since" or "I love short stories, and this book Bad Behavior has some truly great characters in the stories." You know?

      (Plus, I don't think that book is that obscure!)

    2. Oxford Coma

      Same. I can just imagine telling an interviewer “Well, I was bored with Western popular music, so I’ve recently gotten into Harry Partch. His stuff sounds like throwing a set of intruments down a flight of stairs.”

    3. annakarina1

      I really liked May a lot too! I came across it on HBO many years ago, and was sucked in by its strange Frankenstein-like story that was both sympathetic and horrific at the same time.

  60. rosie

    I got asked this at a college interview once (though that’s more expected than in a job interview) and got pretentious-sounding praise from the interviewer for giving an answer other than Harry Potter. Though on another college interview (for the school I ended up going to), I mentioned Gone Girl as I had read it recently and the interviewer sent me a note a few weeks later saying he had just finished the book and loved it! Weird.

    I haven’t encountered this question in job interviews yet but like the suggested “I just finished X book or saw Y movie” answers.

  61. Elsewhere1010

    Hoo boy… if I answered those questions honestly the interview could end right there. At the moment I just finished a book by Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis) who wrote A Journey Through Wales in 1191 a.d., and it’s surprising because it’s basically a travelog such as Rick Steves might write. Where to go, what to see, what’s good to eat, local customs, how to tell if a beaver has been gelded, all useful information. Oh, and he was an arch-deacon proselytizing for the church as well. In english translation it really quite easy to read, and great good fun. (My other favorite is the Memoirs of Catherine the Great of Russia, where the subtitle should be, “I Had Nothing To Do With the Death of my Husband”). And believe me, my taste in movies also a little different…

    I would probably just pull out The Great Gatsby for favorite book (which it almost is) and Casablanca (ditto)!

  62. FirstComment

    Long time lurker but I related so hard to your specific example.
    About ten years ago I had just graduated college and had a second interview with two middle aged, male attorneys at a large law firm in the city. They asked me what my favorite movie was, a question I was not at all prepared for. So I gave an honest answer – Boondock Saints. Of course, they had no idea what I’m talking about and ask me what it’s about. I’m positive my awkwardness here is what took me out of the running, and it’s something I still think about when preparing for interviews! (It worked out for me though, I had already decided I didn’t want this job anyway – earlier in that interview they told me the coffee there was terrible.)

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt

        It is about two brothers who together dig into the true meaning of morality, good and evil, and decide that they need to be a force to bring change into the world. Of course if the interviewers decide to go watch it you might be in trouble.

        1. FirstComment

          If I only I had a moment to consider it at the time. I think I mumbled something about vigilante justice.

  63. voluptuousfire

    I was asked if I could be any character from a book or movie, what would I be? I was thrown off by the question (it’s not something I expected or have given thought to in general) and since I had seen 10 Things I Hate About You the night before, I said Kat Stratford. I think that bombed me. LOL

  64. echidna

    I recently answered this question with what I was reading at the time – And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts – and said a sentence or two explaining what the book was, only to have my interviewer say “Oh, I love that book – I met Randy Shilts at a conference!” (I was interviewing for a position at an investment firm so definitely no industry connection to speak of) Point being, I guess, definitely don’t bother lying!!

  65. Ellery

    I got asked this once while volunteering for a librarian position. About books, obviously. My response was something along the lines of “I like a good murder” which got both a chuckle and the reaction “That’s a very librarian answer.”

  66. Lia

    I stumble on the movie question because in any given year, I might see ONE film, if that. I don’t watch broadcast tv, either. I might watch a documentary here and there, but my TV is basically used for gaming.

    I read, though, and a lot, but mostly non-fiction. I can usually come up with something somewhat popular I’ve read recently, but if poked for a favorite book, I’d draw a blank. I have many I love, but none that is the ONE.

    Music, though, I can talk about all day!

  67. Delta Delta

    I got the book question in my very first-ever job interview when I was 16. I have no idea why the interviewer asked it, but she did, and since I was in high school and very into reading at the time I had a quick answer. What my enjoyment of Candide had to do with selling cards at the Hallmark store, I have no idea. But ever since then when I’ve been looking for a job I’ve tried to make sure I’ve either just finished a decent book or am in the middle of one. That way if it comes up I have something handy. I’ve never been asked the movie question, but if I’m not getting hired because I love The Princess Bride, then it’s a job I didn’t need anyway.

  68. Tau

    The movie question gets to me, because I don’t watch movies… because I get seriously overloaded by watching video-based media in a way that generally ends up with me curled up in fetal position with my hands over my ears… thanks to a disability I have absolutely no intent of discussing in a job interview, or if I can help it ever at work. My only option is basically to say something about how I don’t really watch movies but do X instead and really, really hope that the weirdness of not watching basically anything ever doesn’t count against me. So, I know it’s seen as a nice harmless softball question but for me it’s very much here be dragons.

    In terms of blanking for a long time (which I totally would for that question), I think it might be fair to say something like “sorry about that – I was in interview mode and wasn’t expecting a question like that!”, or something else that acknowledges that it was the massive context switch that took you aback. Unless you’re applying for a job where context switches like that are something you’d need to do at work.

  69. Allison

    I work in a media field with a kid and teen audience. Sometimes I ask this question (or another one, “where do you get your news?”) to get a gauge of whether the candidate is up on current trends, which is actually very relevant to succeeding in the field.

    1. Alle

      I catch a lot of news on Reddit, but I feel like that might give off a strange vibe with the site’s reputation. Is there a good answer to that question? Cable news seems pretty old school, Twitter seems pretty unreliable, and so forth.

      1. Louise

        I think twitter would be fine if you spin it the right way — like “I use twitter to keep up with what folks are talking about, but I look to the New York Times to actually understand what’s happening.”

  70. Office Person

    Jaws is my all time favorite movie, and I can follow it up with an anecdote of my husband taking me to see it in a “dive-in” movie, where you’re floating in a pool, watching the movie on the screen. It was so much fun. And it’s one of those movies that sucks me in whenever it’s on TV, even if it’s on, say TBS, and has 25 commercials in an hour.

    Jaws isn’t one of those polarizing movies, however, and 95% of the population has at least some idea of what it is and what it’s about.

  71. Argh!

    My all-time favorite movie portrays people in my profession, so that would be a no-brainer for me. And the reasons why I love it have to do with the ways the profession has changed over the years and how we are perceived by the public.

    Favorite book would be a toughie, though, because I don’t generally re-read books. A better question might be about a book that changed the way I think about the world. I could name a few of those.

  72. Jake

    I hate getting this question, especially when they are trying to use it to learn more about me as a person. My favorite novel is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and my favorite movie is Fight Club. The most logical thing somebody can infer from that is that I hate authority. 1. That isn’t true and 2. I don’t want you to infer anything based on my taste in movies and books.

  73. aebhel

    “I’m currently reading a lot of independently-published short-form fiction online.”

    Which works great unless your interviewer has heard of fanfic.

  74. Em

    Movies and books are some of the better personal questions I’ve had. Or at least, they are one of the easier ones to have a pre-programmed answer to that you can use each time. Asking about hobbies always ends up being my awkward one. I collect historical dolls but don’t want to give off a “crazy lady” impression, so I go with something basic like photography and hiking (which I also do and enjoy, but it’s not the most unique of hobbies).

    1. Louise

      OOF yeah my biggest hobbies are knitting and video games which make me seem like a weird amalgamation between a pre teen and a grandma.

  75. Someone else

    I’d probably not do well with this question because I make a distinction between my favourite and the book/movie/whatever I think is the best, or vs the one I enjoy the most, or think was the most moving or the most interesting or the one I could watch repeatedly and never get sick of… etc. So I’d have to either stop myself from asking what they really meant by “favourite” and all of the above qualifications or I’d have to guess why they were asking and hope I picked right or ask, but try to keep it really brief for clarification…all of which loops back to the larger point Alison made which is that this is probably overthinking it and the asker has probably not put that much thought behind it. But hey, if they were asking to get a sense of my personality rather than actually caring about the answer, their best sense of what I’m actually like is the over-thinking-clarifier, which I’m guessing most of the time would just annoy the crap out of them.

  76. Astrid

    I got a second interview for a summer law firm position 20 years ago because the interviewer was a big fan of the book I happened to be reading – My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist. I ‘ll always remember the title, but when I looked it up just now on Wikipedia, this definitely does not seem like it would be my cup of tea. I guess I must have been enthusiastic about it at the time.

  77. Nacho

    It sounds like simple small talk to me, an attempt to gauge your attitude and personality more than your qualifications. If the role is going to be customer facing and you need a certain amount of energy, I guess they could use it to tell how excited you get talking about something that interests you, and whether you’re just a stick in the mud or not.

  78. MissDissplaced

    Lol! I actually bonded with my boss over a Star Wars quote! Yes, my team is a bunch of geeks and I fit right in. They even get the Futurama references.

  79. SS Express

    I actually once did mention 50 Shades of Grey in an interview. The interviewer asked me what my book club was currently reading, and that was our book of the month. I knew it was a bad answer but I was also too nervous to come up with a good lie on the spot so I had to say it. I got the job!

  80. Catherine

    This is the worst possible interview question for me. I use English at work but I consume most of my entertainment in my primary language. I shouldn’t have to deal with the fact that my interviewer probably can’t read or write down any of the titles of my favorites, or things I’ve seen or read recently, nor should I have to do extra translation work for am interview unrelated to translation (let’s be real, some things do not render into English well at all! I can’t spend five minutes of my interview contextualizing the weird title of this novel!)

    1. SS Express

      I would think that’s a great question for you, because it’s an opportunity to stand out with an interesting answer that also demonstrates a skill instead of just naming the same book as ten people before you. They’re not really interested in the title of the book, just hoping to get some extra insights about you, so you could try an answer like “my first language is X so I mostly read Xian books, the one I’m reading at the moment is a retelling of a popular fairytale from the perspective of the villain”.

  81. Lissa

    My nightmare is being asked about favourite music, because I actually just…. don’t really like music that much. And when I do it’s always something unacceptable to cool people. I am not super super into books or movies either (though I do consume both), and some people get really judgy about not being a voracious consumer of entertainment, which…I don’t know, it just seems weird to me to assume if someone doesn’t read books they must be intellectually stunted (I do read books, just not that often anymore, and usually pretty lowbrow.)

    I think my actual answers would be The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery and Shawshank Redemption which probably get “huh?” and “obvious” from people if they’re actually judging the content of my answers and not asking to see reactions or similar.

  82. snuck

    I’ve used this question… it’s sort of one of those off the cuff things you can use to warm a person up/find a common ground.

    But.. it’s also sort of telling. If the person lists reading as a hobby, but then can’t answer a question about what they like to read, then… why list reading as a hobby?

    Another thought is that this isn’t that uncommon a question. You can turn it from an absolute (favourite book) to a general question (I like reading about… insert hobby/topic/other) very easily.

    Someone who told me they liked reading something like “Little Women” I’d want to know more about why they liked reading it… if they are an adult, why are they reading a children’s book, one full of sweeping generalisations and none stop drama. It’s the sort of thing to make me pause and think “Hrm…. why???”. Normally the sorts of things people have said to me are more general “I like reading sci fi – have you found the Iain M Banks Culture novels interesting?” or “I actually really like reading self help and business work books – I find little things in them that I didn’t think about myself and it’s really helpful”. It doesn’t need to be a lot more than that usually, it’s just an ice breaker or a chance to hash out a little connection to who you are.

    (And I’m with Alison – no Grey, Twilight or other controversial books/books based on teen romance/sexual behaviour/extreme political views unless you plan to bring them IN to the workplace, in which case giving your interviewer a heads up isn’t a bad move.)

  83. Anonym

    I work in healthcare and if an interviewer asked me this question I’d be significantly less inclined to want to work for them. It’s wildly irrelevant to the work I do and says almost nothing about a person’s ability to perform well in my line of work.

  84. Scarrie Fisher

    Don’t try to be too clever with your answer–just be honest! You know what your favorite books are, just come up with a short “why” to file away in your mind for situations like this. In my interview for my current position, after the perfunctory ending, “Do you have any questions?” and asking my few prepared questions about the work, I asked my interviewer if she had lingering questions for me. She paused for a moment and then asked me what I was currently reading. I told her, “Well, right now I am rereading all of Carrie Fisher’s books because I think she is one of the funniest writers I have ever read.” We ended up discussing her work for about five minutes and then drifted into about the interviewer’s previous job, which actually involved working on Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show.

    You never know what you might have in common with someone–I definitely never would have guessed in this case! Some people just like to see that you care about something. I honestly think that this interaction may be what got me the job (that, and probably the fact that she had interviewed at least 15 people by this point, but I digress).

  85. Noah

    Those aren’t particularly low-brow movies. The bigger concern about that movie list is that some over-sensitive people might find one or more of them offensive, but those likely aren’t the people asking this question.

  86. SG

    I haven’t asked anything quite that specific, but I like to ask what they enjoy or if they have hobbies outside of work because it lets me see them relax and open up a little bit. It sort of irks me when they bring it back around to how great they’d be for the job, but oh well.

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