interviewer asked what I’d do with a live elephant, coworker doesn’t think I should take vacation, and more

It’s five answers to five questions, plus a bonus. Here we go…

1. Interviewer asked what I’d do with a live elephant in the parking lot

I had an interview today that involved a very odd question: What would I do if a client dropped off a live elephant in our parking lot? I’m a paralegal in the U.S., which means I provide administrative support to lawyers. Live animals are NOT a regular feature of my daily work life.

I thought the questioner was asking how I handle unexpected situations and I began answering the question with that in mind. He interrupted me to note that no, he actually meant a live animal. What would I do if someone deposited a live, real elephant in our parking lot?

This seemed inordinately weird. Can you imagine any purpose to this question? What in the world was he seeking to learn about me?

Most likely, it was intended to see how you reason your way through a problem. For a while, brainteaser questions were popular in some interview circles (including big companies like Google) — things like “how many manholes are in New York City?” and “how many ping pong balls would fit in a Boeing 747?” They’ve lost popularity, though; Google in particular stopped after finding candidates’ answers weren’t correlated to on-the-job success. But the idea was to get you talking and hear you work your way through the problem out loud. It’s less about your answer than about how you’d figure out the answer.

I suspect your interviewer was going for something similar — they wanted to hear you talk through how you’d handle something unexpected, using a concrete example. It sounds like you started to talk about how you deal with the unexpected generally, but they wanted you talk through this example in particular.

2. My coworker told me my vacation shouldn’t have been approved

I am wondering your take on a remark that was made to me by my team lead today. She technically does not have authority over me, but is the lead for my area (which is only the two of us). Both of us put in requests for vacation time around the holidays, and both were approved. She has seniority over me, and if a request needed to be denied between the two of us, it would have and should have been mine.

Those days are coming next week, and today she told me my vacation time should have never been approved in her opinion, but unfortunately our manager let me have those days. I was a bit taken aback and felt it was inappropriate for her to share that opinion with me directly. I now feel uncomfortable taking the time off as planned.

My manager had asked for these vacation requests in advance for a group of us that she supervises, and she was going to come up with a plan for back-up coverage. It does seem that plans were made for back-up on the highest priority work items, but my team lead doesn’t seem to like the back-up plan. Is there a response I should have for her? Should I even offer to cancel the vacation time? Or is my coworker in the wrong here for saying anything to me about it?

Don’t cancel your vacation! And don’t feel weird about taking it either.

If your team lead doesn’t like the back-up plans your manager made, that’s between her and your manager. And if she has concerns about both of you being out at the same time, she can address that with your manager as well (although the opportunity has long passed for her to do that, since it’s too late to change it now).

If she mentions it to you again, you can just say, “(Manager) told me it was fine and that she was handling back-up plans, so I’m assuming that’s still her intention unless she tells me otherwise! I hope you have a good week off.”

3. Should I ask if I was rejected on a technicality?

I’ve just received a rejection letter for a job that I thought I was a strong candidate for. I didn’t even get an interview. One thing that is gnawing at me is whether I was rejected on a technicality — I didn’t upload a copy of my degree as part of the application because I’ve just moved countries and my degree is in a box traveling over the ocean. I uploaded my university transcript instead because it’s all I had.

I know someone on the hiring committee socially. Should I mention it the next time I see them? Or would it just embarrass me further when they tell me my application just wasn’t as strong as I thought it was?

I wouldn’t mention it. They may not know off the top of their head why you were rejected (being on the hiring committee doesn’t mean they reviewed all the applications; they may just be involved at the interview stage). But even if they do know, they probably won’t appreciate being put on the spot in-person like that.

The most likely explanation is that they had multiple strong candidates and can’t interview them all. I regularly reject strong candidates, simply because others are stronger; it’s just the way hiring goes, especially in a tight job market.

That said, if you’re ever in a situation again where you’re being asked for something you don’t currently have access to, like a copy of your degree — which, by the way, is silly for them to request at the application stage — include a note explaining why you’re not providing it. Otherwise you risk looking like you’re not following instructions, and they won’t have any context about why. A good employer wouldn’t reject you over what happened if you were otherwise someone they would have wanted to interview — if nothing else, they’d ask you about it — so it’s probably not what happened here, but it’s good to cover your bases.

4. Showing I wasn’t demoted

My question is how to go about describing my new role in places like LinkedIn and on my CV so that it does not look like I was demoted. Which I was not!

I started out in this company in a role that has a title like Team Decision Taker, with many people in the hierarchy above me, in a tiny department working on a system most people did not even know existed. Then I moved to a different part of the organization and became a Program Decision Taker, essentially a secretary overseeing a big budget for critical IT projects. Although I discovered that this type of work was not what made me happy, I did very well in that role also. Now my (big, multinational) company is going through a complete transformation, reducing the entire management to much fewer levels and removing the level of Program Decision Taker entirely. In the new structure, Team Decision Taker is one of the few leadership levels left, and is much more senior than the old Program Decision Taker role. I applied for and got one of the new Team Decision Taker roles in a very sought-after and important domain, which included a raise and a higher salary step, and I am super excited!

To me, it is clear that things went from okay to good to great, and when I talk with people about my career path in this company, I can convey how I’ve grown and excelled and taken on more and more responsibility. However, I’ve heard some people interpreting senior employees taking Team Decision Taker roles as being “demoted.” And I know that if I put on my CV “Year 1, Team DT – Year 2, Program DT – Year 3, Team DT,” it may seem like that as well. But I cannot reasonably describe my second role with the same title as the other two, and anyone who even scratches the surface will understand that it was not.

Am I worrying about this too much? Do you have any tips?

You can explain it in a bullet point under that role! For example, under the newest role, have your first bullet point be something like “promoted to more senior decision-making role to do blah blah.”

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Name change success story

A few people have written in about name changes at work and I wanted to share my (totally boring) experience.

Earlier this year I changed my legal first and middle name. My new legal first name is a shortened version of my original (very gendered) first name and I go by my new (gender neutral) middle name. I kept the distinct first initial of my old first name in places where I can use it. I’d wanted to do this for years and finally bit the bullet and did it.

Changing it professionally was much easier than I thought. This summer my small company was acquired by a larger company and I decided to make the transition at that time. I gave my boss and HR a heads-up, then made an announcement on Slack to my company explaining the change. I updated my Slack name to reflect the change (left both names on for a while, then deleted the old one), and had IT make me an email alias for the new name.

Here’s the text of the announcement I used: “Hi friends! I have a personal announcement to make. Earlier this year I changed my legal name – I’m now going by my middle name, {name}. As we move over to {acquiring company} I’ll be making the transition at work. My Slack name is now {name}. Please start to call me by my new name.”

My coworkers at the acquired company made the change pretty quickly and I moved over to the new company on the new name.

Honestly, I got very little grief about it during the change, both personally and professionally. Most people said “okay, noted” and tried their best to get it right. It wasn’t a big deal at all! I didn’t have to have a lot of conversations about it at all. One thing I found helpful was to think of it as giving people an update about a fact that has changed. Obviously it was emotional for me, but by the time I was ready to share, I had practiced the factual, non-emotional delivery, which discouraged a lot of follow-up conversations.

I found that people don’t think that hard about it — they just say “okay” and move on. I got a lot of support from my colleagues and coworkers (as well as my friends) and it was worth it in the end.

Thanks for sharing this! I get a surprising number of questions about name changes; people often really struggle with how to present them. Being matter-of-fact is usually the right way to go!

6. A “reflection session”

We had a “reflection session” yesterday. It involved a guided meditation at the beginning and then each department (well, the important departments, so not mine) went around and talked about all the amazing things they did and all the hardships they dealt with. (Hey, did you know 2020 was hard?) They also did an “In Memoriam” segment like the Oscars which named all the family members of employees who died this year. It was 90 minutes long and went until 5:30. It was exactly as excruciating as I made it sound.

Some additional details: the In Memoriam segment ended with a slide that said “And the more than 300,000 Americans who have lost their lives from Covid-19 this year.” And the background music was the CEO playing his guitar.

I’m sure they meant well but … oh dear.

{ 280 comments… read them below }

  1. DiplomaJill*

    My standard maiden-name-to-married-name name change was similarly easy —I thought, until I overheard one of my reports complaining that DiplomaJill at Client was super bossy. Guess he hadn’t caught on that the new DiplomaJill emailing him with requests was the same one who had always been

  2. Julia*

    #4 – might this also be one of those situations where it’s OK to append a more conventional job title in parens? Like next to “team decision taker” for the third title you could put “(Senior Product Manager)” or whatever the most common title actually happens to be for the work you’re doing – it’s not entirely clear to me from the letter. “Decision taker” strikes me as a creative enough title that it would be okay to paraphrase. But maybe the actual title is something more commonplace.

      1. OP #4*

        Thanks Alison and Julia – I butchered the titles to generalise them as much as possible but I think I went too far. The actual titles are Product Owner, Program Lead, Product Owner. So they are pretty common titles that most people know, and I can’t put a fake ‘Senior’ in front of the last one because there are people who have that as their real title.
        I’m beginning to accept this is just how it is and use Alison’s bullet idea to give the context.

        1. triplehiccup*

          Is there another metric you could use in parentheses to show increase? Budget or team size comes to mind. Or, after the third one: “(Promotion post-reorg).”

          Also, idk if the comma/hyphen formatting is standard for your industry or location (or CVs in general – I’ve only used one once, versus resumes), but personally I found it hard to tell at a glance which title went with which year (I assumed the commas separated the list items).

        2. Sandi*

          I wouldn’t worry. There are plenty of people who are struggling due to covid so I think you would be fine even if on the surface you seemed to have a demotion. If you write it up in your cover letter (“my experience as a Program Lead meant that I won a competition to be Product Owner for X”) and start with something high responsibility for X and something less glamorous for the first job then that would hopefully convey the true difference. Someone with experience knows that there are $5000 projects, and $50,000,000 projects, and leading each is a very different thing. In thinking about that, you could include something about each project if there are ways to quantify the difference in size, such as funds or number of people involved? Hopefully there are ways you could make it work.

        3. Roz*

          I had a similar situation where my first job our of college was as a Public Policy Analyst, which for that organization was the entry level title with entry level responsibilities around supporting advocacy and government relations. Coordinator was the level up, and so I was promoted to that role a year into the job. But when I moved to a new organization, the role Policy Analyst was actually a professional contributor role that paid much more and was a nice step up in responsibility. But the title is so generic that it’s used to mean VERY different things depending on the organization’s mandate and the level of authority provided by statues. I have used the actual titles in my resume but note in bullets my responsibilities and accomplishments, which show a steady increase in scope , responsibility and accountability.

          I hope this helps with your case.

          1. Roz*

            Lol, I meant Statutes! Like legal frameworks for operations.

            I promise the statues are not giving me work assignments.

          2. OP #4*

            Thanks Roz! This helps a lot as your story is so similar. Did you ever experience any negative assumptions as a result of this, in later job applications?

        4. BenAdminGeek*

          In my job history, I’ve gone from “Team Leader” to “Client Manager” to “Team Leader”, each of which was a promotion, just different role names. For the second one, I am actually at a “director” level now at my company, so I updated LinkedIn with “Team Leader (director)” and that worked well for me.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          If your gone from product owner for something small to product owner for something big, include that.
          eg “product owner (no-pulp orange juice)” to “program lead (OJ expansion)” to “product owner (citrus beverages)

  3. Job Carousel*

    #2 – I’ve had a coworker who made similar comments to me. She was one of the team leads in a group of ~20 of us, but not my direct supervisor or in my managerial chain. Part of the (overly bureaucratic) vacation request process in that work setting was emailing our team leads, our direct supervisor, and any supervisors on teams we’d be working on at the time to get the request approved. I was going to lose vacation days if I didn’t use them, so I requested five days off over the course of six weeks. I didn’t have trips planned (I was pretty financially strapped and couldn’t afford a proper vacation), so I requested a mix of Mondays and Fridays off to have some leisurely 3-day weekends, and I made sure arrangements were made to cover my work on those days. Everyone was fine with the request, or so I thought, until this coworker IMed me out of the blue and told me “your vacation days don’t sit well with me.” She proceeded to have this absolutely ridiculous conversation with me (where I largely refused to engage) where she simultaneously complained and bragged about how little vacation she had taken since she started this job. Finally I got fed up and professionally but firmly pointed out that she wasn’t being affected at all by these days I was taking off (we weren’t covering any of the same projects during those six weeks), vacation was an employer-provided benefit for all employees including her, and I wasn’t planning to change my plans for her benefit. I took my days off without guilt.

    Unfortunately this coworker was a nightmare to work with. She micromanaged things that weren’t hers to manage (she would literally interrupt my phone calls with our clients to point out things I should be saying, which I had usually already said), shamed anyone who didn’t work her crazy hours (she literally worked 12 hour days, or said she did, while the rest of us worked 8-9 hour days), and generally badmouthed anyone who she didn’t like to our supervisor. I tried my best to manage the situation by being obsequiously polite to her, while inwardly despising her. I was very happy when we were no longer in the same department.

    OP, is this the first time you’ve seen this kind of behavior from your team lead? Any other hints you might have to tread lightly around her? Hopefully this was just a one-off thoughtless remark that was otherwise out of character for her.

    1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      Your coworker sounds like the Self-Appointed Hall Monitor I used to work with. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Some coworkers are such busybodies who have nothing better to do than pay close attention to what everyone else is doing. If they channeled that energy into the actual duties of their job, they’d probably be super successful. But instead they get their jollies shaming everyone and making their lives miserable. They don’t realize that their coworkers merely tolerate them and that nobody truly likes them (and everyone wants to be at least somewhat liked). The best rather rest of us can do is, do our best at the job, be pleasant to everyone, work well with everyone, try to give Self-Appointed Hall Monitor types as little information as possible about what we’re doing, and engage with them as little as possible.

      1. LQ*

        I worked with one of these for a while and one coworker took her WAY to seriously. But the Hall Monitor wasn’t the boss of us, and we knew she never would be, she could try to complain to the boss, but the boss did not care that someone was 2 minutes late occasionally or that you used the wrong font or had a drs apt on a friday. The boss wasn’t good enough about shutting her down, but he never took any of the complaints seriously. You can take your hall monitor way less seriously than you are OP. Some folks are like this and if you can learn to let it roll off your back. It’ll likely make your entire job more pleasant.

        “You shouldn’t have asked for that day off.” “Hey where are we at with the files for Friday?” “Because I asked for the day first.” “I’ve got my stuff ready to go, just waiting for you.”

      2. Roy G. Biv*

        “Self-Appointed Hall Monitor” is a phrase I first learned here on AAM, and I cherish it. There are a few coworkers and family members in my life who will forever be thought of as Self-Appointed Hall Monitors, and that makes dealing with them just a little less onerous.

      3. AKchic*

        At my last job, my actual boss *allowed* the Self-Appointed Hall Monitor to be that way because it allowed her to micromanage from a distance (she had a built-in tattle tale in our shared office space IMing her in real time, how fun! how convenient!). I enjoyed my last 6 weeks after I turned in my official notice. “Why didn’t you tell me you were looking for another job?!” Because I didn’t have to.
        You’re not my boss. You’re not my supervisor. I don’t answer to you. Focus on your own work. I don’t owe you an explanation/my schedule/reasons for leaving. I was civil, but I didn’t hold back any longer. She no longer got the polite conversation to her fishing expeditions or her attempts to manage me. She hoped to get my position when I left. She didn’t. They gave a lot of work back to the c-suite folks I’d relieved extra work off of and pulled a lower-level worker to handle the minor stuff. They can’t keep anyone in my position for longer than 18 months. Hall Monitor is still there, 5 years later. Same position.

      4. jojo*

        If someone interested my business phone call like that I would be at managers desk as soon as I hung up. And if that did not stop it I would take it to HR. Interfering with others work performance, especially where the customer can hear, is a big no.

    2. OP*

      I am sorry to hear all the stress you have gone through with that coworker! With my team lead, there have been other times I have been made to feel uncomfortable around her- mostly, she takes out her frustrations on me when she is not having a good day, and will snap at me throughout the day. I have to be careful about when I ask her questions or need to discuss something with her- she only wants me to go with her at a designated time at the end of the day if something comes up, but there are times where it can’t wait. I know I will get barked at when I walk up to her desk. She, however will talk to me anytime of the day if she has something. There have been times I have been left shaking at my desk because her tone was so harsh with me, when I didn’t even do anything wrong. At first I thought maybe I was being too sensitive, but apparently other coworkers have been talking about how they hate the way she treats me, or so I was told.

      1. bleh*

        Perhaps a use-your-words moment is in order. Something like “I need you to stop using that tone and be civil when I ask you questions. This issue is important and time sensitive or I would not interrupt you or anyone else. There is no need for you to bark at me. Now… [explains issue again]”

        1. OP for question 2*

          I have to admit I have a hard time standing up for myself. It might be because I grew up in an angry household, and I have such a hard time with confronting people in a direct way like that. I know she was talked to about this once after I went to my manager about it, but it didn’t seem to change her behavior overall.

      2. Nea*

        Wait, what? This isn’t “someone is rude about my leave” anymore, this is “someone is verbally attacking me for doing my job” and that’s a whole different, darker issue that should be taken to your manager.

      3. Tired of Covid-and People*

        What a miserable human being, hope 2021 brings as little contact with this person as possible. Your manager should actually deal with her behavior, no way you should have to deal with this just to get your job done. Speak Up! And good luck.

      4. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Oh no- she sounds horrible. She is definitely a bad team lead. As a team lead, she should make herself available to the team she “leads” when they have questions. And it’s also her responsibility to be approachable and reasonably pleasant to work with. It’s not okay that she makes you shake at your desk. That isn’t normal. She sounds more like a tyrant than a team lead. I’m sorry you have to deal with that.

      5. Artemesia*

        Have you tried a shocked ‘well, that was uncalled for’ or just a ‘Wow’? You shouldn’t have to put up with this crap and in my experience people who get a reputation for not putting up with crap get a lot less of it. If you make her uncomfortable when she tries to make you uncomfortable, she will probably find someone else to pick on.

      6. LGC*

        Yeah…dude, this sounds bad enough where I’d either stand up to her or – yeah – talk to your shared manager. I’m leaning towards the latter, to be honest – I don’t know if she’ll change if you stand up to her.

        Even if she was your direct supervisor, she shouldn’t be treating you the way she is by taking her frustrations out on you. You’re her coworker, not her punching bag.

  4. Bob*

    This would be my answer to the elephant question, though it would probably not help my candidacy: I’d rewatch the Simpsons episode where Bart got an elephant :D

    Also i got the impression the OP did do what Alison suggests in answering it as meant to determine how an interviewee would handle unexpected situations.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like she answered it more generally, as if they’d asked something more like, “How do you handle unexpected situations?” … but they wanted her to talk through this one concrete example.

    2. MK*

      I don’t actually see how this question is even a “brainteazer”. Unless you are an idiot (or possibly a trained zoologist), you don’t try to do anything with a live elephant in a parking lot, you call emergency services and pray to God a department that can deal with the situation exists in your city.

      1. Mookie*

        Right. There’s no “thought process” to analyze. Report it, let the office know not to leave unless/until told to by emergency responders, and don’t get involved. There’s possibly some moral or ethical dilemmas inherent in the question, but they’re asking somebody how’d they react on the clock, not off it. Like, is a paralegal supposed to spout tenant law at the client until they and their olyphant go away? Cover the firm’s ass liability-wise by issuing a cease and desist in the parking lot? This isn’t a puzzle needing solving, because the answer’s the same for everyone and it takes two seconds to choose it.

        1. doreen*

          You would think there’s no thought process to analyze – but you might be surprised. I was on an interview panel years ago and one of my coworkers had a question that at first I thought was silly. It was about the candidate being in charge when a bomb threat was received. There were details – it was evening ,the waiting room was crowded and there was a box under one of the benches. One candidate wasn’t doing anything until calling the manager for instructions, one was first going to figure out why the waiting room was crowded and a third was opening the box. All before calling 911 or evacuating the building. No matter how simple the answer seems there actually is a thought process – that bomb threat question turned out to be very helpful.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            I’ve worked for federal government contractors. There’s a protocol for bomb threats. I’d follow that.

            1. doreen*

              We have one too – and that would have been fine, although it wouldn’t have been the only “correct” answer. But if you had asked me before that set of interviews, I never would have imagined that anyone would have given those three answers before evacuating the building and calling 911.

              1. Properlike*

                OMG YES. I would actually like that question in an interview, on both sides: It’s astounding how many people don’t know how to take action during an emergency. I would want staff that I could count on to err on the side of safety than rules.

            1. tangerineRose*

              That’s what I was thinking. Did these people never deal with a bomb threat at school? You evacuate and call 911 and then stand out in the cold complaining about the jerk who called in the bomb threat (we were lucky enough that it was only a threat when this happened).

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                At my school, it was the fire drill and people were complaining about the idiot who set her bacon rolls on fire in the middle of the exams

                (the idiot was me)

                (but I got top marks because I followed the protocol to the letter and the exam supervisor was terribly excited at a chance to use her fire blanket for the first time ever!)

                1. zaunfink*

                  … I NEED to know how in the world you set your bacon rolls on fire in the middle of an exam.

                  How in the world?!

                  Also, I would have been mightily impressed with you (I am, in fact, awestruck)!

          2. KoiFeeder*

            Here’s my first thought: African or Asian elephant?

            I am under the impression that you can get a license for Asian elephants depending on circumstance, but not African elephants. So while I’d have a discussion with the handler and potentially call the local zoo/animal services (and definitely if the elephant was LOOSE) for an Asian elephant, I’d be calling 911 and then the zoo immediately for the African elephant regardless of other context.

            More pertinently, African elephants… do not like humans the way their Asian cousins do. And I like not having my face remodeled by a large, angry elephant.

            1. Paulina*

              Ha! My first thought was to ask “African or Asian?”, but largely as a stalling tactic (and a Python riff). Thank you very much for explaining why the difference matters, other than size.

        2. Angstrom*

          Disagree. There’s plenty one could verbalize.

          “Ok. Here in Tinytown Rural there’s no zoo within 100 miles, and I know our first responders don’t get elephant training.
          I see three problems here:
          1) Keeping the elephant safe
          2) Keeping everyone else safe
          3) Getting the elephant to where it belongs.”
          …and so on…..

          1. Anononon*

            Honestly, at a workplace, I would be concerned if the interviewee focused more on 1 and 3 than 2. Safety of employees, clients, and the public is paramount.

            And even if I thought first responders didn’t have elephant training, I’d still let them fully handle it.

            1. Chinook*

              I agree. Human safety trumps animal safety and you would be surprised by what first responders know. They are humans with hobbies and side interests and there could be someone on staff who can finally but his obscure elephant knowledge to use.

              And, in rural areas, ops may also be animal control. DH has “arrested” a loose goat and placed him in the back of his cruiser to return to the farm (he said he has had worse smelling people back there) and yelled at a young bear to get out of a tree ( It did and promptly ran up the next tree and made crying noises. We suspect it was a teen cub who didn’t like the scary human yelling at him). There is photographic proof of his many animal interactions, often within town limits (because rural folks don’t call about animals as they were there first).

              1. Anononon*

                Sorry, nope. I don’t want to work with someone who would sacrifice humans for an animal. Even at zoos working towards conservation, human safety comes first.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Y’all, you can care about both human and animal life. Caring about one doesn’t exclude caring about the other. You can strive to keep both safe.

          2. Observer*

            I originally thought the question was very weird, but you’ve just given an answer that is very useful – and concerning.

            If I’m hiring for a position of any level or responsibility, I want someone to prioritize STAFF SAFETY, CLIENT SAFETY absolutely first Keeping the elephant safe is absolutely AFTER that.

          3. Annony*

            As someone who is not in any way qualified to deal with a live elephant, any response other than “call 911 and tell everyone in the building to shelter in place” and “call the client and tell them to pick up their elephant NOW” would be reckless and endanger more people than doing nothing at all.

            1. Texan In Exile*

              Exactly. I kept wondering what I was missing – if “call 911 and make sure all the people are safe” was the wrong answer, because I couldn’t figure out what else to do.

        3. Observer*

          There’s no “thought process” to analyze. Report it, let the office know not to leave unless/until told to by emergency responders, and don’t get involved.

          You would be surprised at how many people would NOT react that way.

          I can think of some people I work with who would start screeching “There’s an ELEPHANT in the parking lot!!!! An ELEPHANT!!!!! OH MY GOD!!!!! COME SEE!!!! I’M SO SCARED!!!! COME LOOK!!!”

          Not that anyone is going to say that that’s what would do if an elephant shows up.

          1. Empress Matilda*

            That would be me! Either that, or I would freeze up entirely, and just stand there staring at the elephant with a confused look on my face, hoping somebody else will take charge.

            This is clearly not an interview-appropriate answer! But then again, I would argue that it was also not an interview-appropriate question, so you get what you get. :)

          2. Elizabeth West*

            You’re right, unfortunately. Even if the elephant is accompanied by a handler, this is what people do.

            My ice rink in OldCity was across the street from a venue where a small circus performed when it was in town, and yes, one Saturday when we were at a freestyle session, there WAS an elephant in their parking lot. Yes, we ALL ran out to see the elephant.

            1. SD*

              I’m betting your elephant had a handler close by, so gawk away (from a safe distance).

              My interview elephant would have either 1) been transmogrified from a resident mouse or 2) been transported by an x-large TARDIS that appeared in the Chandaka Elephant Sanctuary in India where the parking lot elephant wandered in.

      2. Bob*

        This reminds me of a couple stories over at Not Always Right.
        If i post the links this post won’t show up but they are called:
        “The Customer’s Instinct Is Always Wrong”
        “Sometimes You Just Have To Bear With Them”

        Google should kick them out.

      3. Sandi*

        My workplace still does specific brainteasers in our interviews, because we rely so heavily on logic and math. Yet it is clear that the answer to this problem is to call emergency services and a zoo. And the client to ask them if they can take it back. There is no long or complicated answer.

      4. KHB*

        Is it possible that that’s the answer they were looking for – “This is not something I’d be remotely equipped to handle, so the only thing I can do is to call somebody who is”?

        I’m reminded of the infamous Chinese math problem, “If there are 26 sheep and 10 goats on board a ship, how old is the captain?” Apparently, it was originally a French math problem, and the intended answer was the “obvious” one: “I don’t know; there’s not enough information.” But instead, most of the students tried to solve it by manipulating the numbers (to get things like 26 + 10 = 36), which in turn gives some interesting insights into how they’re approaching all their other word problems.

        So many of us have it drilled into us from a young age that there’s something shameful about saying “I don’t know” or “I can’t solve this problem by myself,” and that it’s better to try anything than admit that something’s beyond your capacity.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          That was my answer to a question in an interview with McKinsey consulting – “I would need more information.”

          For them, that was the wrong answer. They wanted me to guess. So – know your audience, I suppose.

          1. Bob*

            Thats the thing, my answer would have been i can’t answer that. I would assume legal age to captain a ship which i assume is a legal adult?
            Which is what i don’t like about these nonsense questions, since its unanswerable and they want to make believe the truth is the wrong answer its a ridiculous way to screen potential employees.
            It hurts good candidates and it hurts employers.

            Fail all around.

      5. pleaset cheap rolls*

        This is the approach. Since it’s a client, I’d also talk to my boss and/or that client.

        It’s not that complicated.

        1. Not playing your game anymore*

          We ask candidates “how would you go about determining how many house painters there are in the US” We’re a library. We get odd questions like that. Depending on the position we are hiring for, a great answer is “I’d call the reference librarian” or “I’d check Occupational Outlook Handbook” and sometimes you get an answer like that. But other times? Oh my. We’ve taken some long strange trips, “Call a local painter, ask how many houses he can paint in a year, houses need painted every 3 years, there are x million people who live about 3 to a house….”

          Oh dear. That’s not how you answer questions in a library. And it tells us quite a lot about your style and how much supervision and training you might need.

          So for me, and elephant in the parking lot would mean 1. “get out my cell phone and take a few pictures so I can contact animal control with proof that I do in fact have an animal problem” (they wanted a picture of the snake we called about a while back)
          2. Post someone at the main entrance to make sure that anyone leaving the building has a heads up about the elephant situation. (so modify the cougar plan) 3. Call campus security and put dealing with the situation in their somewhat capable hands. I’d email them the pics as well.

            1. Chinook*

              Doesn’t every workplace have a version of a cougar plan. Ariund here it includes elk during mating season, moose with young (bith include updating facebook group so everyone knows to go another way) and bear siting (stay inside until atleast 10 minutes after the bear leaves and then go in the opposite direction while making lotsnof noise.)

            2. EmmaPoet*

              In the libraries I worked at in moose-filled locations, we had moose plans. Bears didn’t tend to show up because there were too many people for their taste, but moose were all over the place.

        2. Absurda*

          Yeah, I can see myself going into information gathering mode:
          Were we expecting an elephant?
          Is it restrained or just running loose?
          Do we want to keep the elephant?

          I do think a call to the client would be warranted.

          1. Forrest Rhodes*

            For some reason, the very logical question “Were we expecting an elephant?” has me laughing out loud. Thanks, Abusirda!

          2. Properlike*

            This was exactly my thought process. “Did the client let us know? Is the client a zoo?” Because the fact that it’s a CLIENT doing this, and not a randomly appearing elephant, assumes some level of familiarity with why there may be an elephant in our parking lot. And, if not… then how do we know the client did it?

            But first, I’d ask, “Is this a problem your firm encounters often?”

            1. tangerineRose*

              “But first, I’d ask, “Is this a problem your firm encounters often?”” LOL, this is great!

      6. Adultiest Adult*

        Glad I am not the only one who immediately had that thought. And I’m actually trained in crisis response! Part of that involves knowing when and how to intervene, and when you should wait for another professional! Elephants are not in most people’s repertoire.

      7. Deranged Owl*

        Yeah, I think I would just call the non-emergency number of the police and hope that they will deal with it? Like when you find a lost dog or cat. Only in this case it is a giant elephant.
        I mean, I have no idea who else to call in this sort of situation.

      8. Artemesia*

        yeah, this one doesn’t seem like much of a challenge. I live in a city with two zoos — so I’d call one of them first. Otherwise, you call 911 and let them figure it out. It is a better interview question than ‘if you were an animal, what animal would you be?’ That time of question had its day.

      9. Mango Is Not For You*

        I don’t know, seems like there are a lot of things you could do:

        1. Look to see if the elephant is tethered to something or running loose. Is it going to go running into traffic or something?
        2. Send out a blast to everyone in your building by whatever means necessary that due to an incident in the parking lot, we need everyone to stay inside.
        3. Call a zoo for advice and ask them to please come help
        4. Call emergency services and say you have an elephant situation and the zoo has been called but also please come help
        5. Recruit a couple of coworkers to stay on the line with the zoo and emergency services
        6. Post someone at the doors to make sure no one is going outside
        7. Contact the office of the President/CEO/COO whoever and ask if we knew that the client was going to be dropping off an elephant and what we were supposed to do about it
        8. Find some sort of container and bring water to the elephant

        1. Heather*

          OP #1 – The Elephant – here. Thanks to everyone for their funny and thoughtful comments! Alison is right: I started answering generally and was about to give a real-life example when the questioner interrupted to say “No, live elephant.” Questioner was male and older than I, so there may be an element of Questionus Interruptus in that.

          I was so thrown by the Google-like question that I got very in my head and answered very like Mango Is Not For You above. I even said “that’s a very Google type question.” But I wish I’d gone with “call 911” and “tell my boss.” Interestingly, the questioner was silent for the remaining 20 minutes of the interview so I’m pretty sure he was seeking something besides what I gave him. C’est la vie. And thanks again, everyone. This is such a lovely and thoughtful site.

      10. MCMonkeybean*

        I think with something like this you are not meant to answer with what you would actually do in real life if that happened since that is not something that would ever actually happen, but just sort of think out loud a hypothetical journey. Like my *real* answer would probably be “call the police” but that’s not what I would say in the interview. I mean honestly I think if I’d been in that interview I would have been so thrown that I would not have thought of a good answer, but from the comfort of my computer here I would say something like:

        “First I would go to the parking lot and check if the elephant was secured and no one appeared to be in any immediate danger. Then I would call the client to find out why they left it there. I would research what elephants need to eat and how much water they need to drink and try to make sure it was adequately taken care of until we were able to get it relocated….” Etcetera.

        I think I kind of like the idea behind thinking out a fake problem like that, but I do think also that the question would be so jarring that I wouldn’t really know what to make of it in the moment.

      11. Tired of Covid-and People*

        Or, you try to prevent such a situation, an elephant truck has got to be noticeable and it takes more than a moment to unload one, so how about running out there and asking what the heck are they doing? Otherwise, I would call the police, obviously a crime has been committed (elephant-napping?). This scenario is so farfetched that it would not yield good information about unexpected issues likely to be encountered in the workplace, so it’s a dumb question that not everyone would be able to answer effectively, including some otherwise excellent candidates. Do better, interviewers.

      12. AKchic*

        In my city (which is NOT a climate for elephants), we had a couple of elephants. Because reasons. One died and the other ended up on a preserve in California.

        Anyhow, knowing what I know, my steps would be: Alert management to ensure staff know and keep people out of the parking lot to ensure the safety of clients and staff.
        Call emergency services to notify and find out if they need to call Fish & Game or if I need to.
        Have someone from our office filming parking while keeping everyone out (it’s a CYA thing). Have someone checking to see if we have footage of elephant drop-off in the parking lot so we can have it ready for officers. Hopefully management will have legal counsel on stand-by in case we need it (liability, PR, who knows).
        Write up statement and list everyone who I contacted and names of everyone who had connection on our end of the situation.

        This is an emergency services issue. They need to handle the bulk of the situation. All any of the staff can do is minimize the risk/danger to the staff/clients in the building. That’s it. Nobody can try elephant wrangling. Nobody can try to arrange for a place for this elephant to stay since they don’t know where the elephant came from or who owns it (is it stolen? Most likely for many areas of the world). The elephant could be considered evidence as much as an unknown hazard.

      13. SusanIvanova*

        Way back in 1985, when I was in college, I taught karate as a summer job. It wasn’t exactly high paying so I went job hunting at the local mall’s computer store. I should never have mentioned the karate job because the hiring manager got stuck on asking what I’d do if someone came in and tried to rob the place.

        “Call security, it’s their job.”

        HM then escalated with stuff like “but what if they try to run out of the store/have weapons/etc” and I’d give the same answer every time. One of the things we taught was knowing when to fight, and being robbed in a mall was not one of those situations. Also I was a skinny 20 year old college girl with a very realistic grasp of my odds in a real fight.

      14. Prof*

        I mean…I AM a trained zoologist and I would call animal control too, cause you don’t mess with an elephant without the proper gear! I do however know how to react and get away safely if I encounter it (slowly get the heck away such that any breeze doesn’t blow your scent towards it, if it runs at you with ears back run and pray cause it’s not bluffing- threats with ears forward are warnings).

    3. Amy*

      I wonder if he wanted something jargon-y? Like the importance of recognizing when something is outside of your core competencies and leaning on the expertise of others? A fancy way of saying I’d call the city and let them figure it out.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I watched crews load elephants onto circus trains. This is not something that is done quickly nor quietly. Elephants can make a swishing noise- like corduroy pants- when they walk.
      It’s possible that the elephant could be noticed before it’s unloaded. It’d have to be a huge vehicle. It might be possible to get a vehicle description and plate. Then yeah, law enforcement and safety controls around the elephant’s area until LE gets there.

      Old me would have laughed at a question like this until one day I had to explain to a customer that they had to remove their monkey from the store. And I had to explain WHY.

      People. Sigh.

    5. Phony Genius*

      I know some employers for whom the answer they would be looking for is “get the word out and set up an admission booth and start selling tickets to see it.”

      1. MK*

        Thereby violating about a few dozen laws and regulations? I am pretty sure you need a license for this kind of business in most places. And I certainly hope you need a license to be in possession of an elephant in all non-jungle places.

    6. Joan Rivers*

      Is it OK to answer it in the same magical way the question is asked? AS IF you can do amazing things?
      Or are you supposed to be practical?

      1. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

        Practical is the first thing that came to my mind. The story of the gift of the white elephant. I thought, is that what they are asking? if our company was gifted a white elephant by a client, what would we do?

    7. Münchner Kindl*

      My first thought was the old joke: How do you get an elephant in the fridge?
      step 1: Open fridge door
      step 2: put elephant inside
      step 3: close fridge door

      (there’s a follow-up joke: How do you get a giraffe into the fridge?
      open fridge door
      take elephant out
      put giraffe inside
      close door)

      But as already said, Animals I call police for, they contact with animal service, or in this case, the local zoo.

  5. Aggretsuko*

    If someone dumps a live elephant, I would call the nearest zoo or other animal learning facility/place that deals with elephants and say, “Hey, I’ve got a live elephant here, what’s your advice?”

    Then I would go make friends with the elephant and feed it fruit until the authorities came.

    1. KateM*

      As OP is a paralegal, I’d expect some kind of legal-adjacent viewpoint about a live elephant, too. :D

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I’d expect to just answer the question. Tell you boss ASAP, and suggest calling the client and/or animal control.

        It’s a dumb question but it’s not that complicated. What would you do? What would you actually do? Duh.

        Pennyworth has some other ideas that are good.

      2. AnonLawyer*

        I’m a lawyer and I have a paralegal. If there’s an elephant in the parking lot, that’s just not my paralegal’s job to deal with.

        If this is something kind of metaphor, if the legal equivalent of this happened (bizarre and unexpected situation), my paralegal would need to come talk to me.

        Serious side eye for this nonsense.

        1. AJH*

          As another lawyer, I second this. My paralegal is not trained in elephant wrangling, her job description does not include elephant wrangling and, much more to the point, our professional indemnity insurance does not cover botched elephant wrangling. My calls would be, in order, to the building manager to ensure they knew about the elephant in the underground parking garage which is the nearest thing my office has to a “parking lot”, to the client to tell them to send someone to collect their damn elephant and to the nearest zoo/safari park for guidance on what to do while waiting for them to remove it.
          I would also run far, far away from this firm, without passing go and without collecting £200.

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            I’m not a lawyer and these answers seem obvious to me if you listen to the question.

            The question was not “How would you get the elephant out of the parking lot” or “How will you ensure the elephants’ safety.”

            It was “What would you do?” The more I think about it, it might not even be that bad a question because it’s testing if the person is listening carefully to what was asked and not making assumptions.

            1. Lance*

              It’s still a bad question, because it’s nonsensical and takes no part of the job into active consideration. Interviews are for trying to figure out if someone will be good on the job, not good in wild, random scenarios.

              1. KHB*

                Part of doing the job well is often knowing when to ask for help, or routing problems to people who are better equipped to deal with them than you are.

                If it’s a bad interview question, it’s because it sounds enough like one of those weird brainteaser questions that a lot of candidates will immediately assume that you’re looking for some kind of lateral-thinking creative solution, not the actual course of action that they would actually take in this scenario. A better option might be to use a scenario that’s a little closer to something that might actually happen on the job (but is still wild and random enough that the candidate hasn’t already thought about how to deal with it).

                1. pleaset cheap rolls*

                  “I think with something like this you are not meant to answer with what you would actually do in real life”

                  I strongly disagree. It’s an interview. For a job in a law firm. I imagine precision of language is important for this job, so it seems to me answering the actual question is the best route.

                  If you really think it might be about demonstrating lateral thinking, I’d advise you to ask about that first before launching into it. Otherwise you’re not answering the question that was asked.

          2. jph in the heartland*

            I used to work in a law firm in an old building, and one day we did have a bat in the office. Not an elephant, but still very unexpected and disturbing. We shut the door and called the building manager.

            1. jojo*

              We used to get bats in the old house when I was a kid. Wack it with a broom, throw a towel over. Throw it, towel and all outside.

          3. tangerineRose*

            “the nearest zoo/safari park for guidance on what to do while waiting for them to remove it.” This! I see some posts that make it sound like elephants are incredibly dangerous and some that make it sound like someone who’s a stranger to an elephant should just walk up and give it food and water.

            I’m not sure exactly how dangerous elephants are. My guess would be to give them plenty of space and tell other people to do the same, but asking actual experts what to do is probably the best thing to do.

            1. Prof*

              Elephants are incredibly dangerous- I worked in the bush in Africa, I was not worried about lions and such, but elephants were a daily concern….

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          I’m a paralegal and I have a lawyer. If there’s an elephant in the parking lot, I would tell my lawyer. And call the building management. But suppose we were in a building of our own, and my lawyer was somewhere else. In a practice with several lawyers, I would work this up as high as possible. In fact, I work for a solo practitioner. Assuming I was the senior person present, this reverts to the obvious: call the police and animal control.

          Any other answer is obvious BS. Despite this, I honestly don’t know if this would be an acceptable answer to the interviewer. Maybe what they want is that I will make a banner with the firm name, leap with it atop the elephant’s back, and triumphantly march it trumpeting down Main Street, thereby ensuring lots of free advertising for the firm.

          Now here’s a real-world equivalent, that actually happened to me. My guy was in court, and therefore unavailable. The other side in a different case in a different court files an emergency motion (BS, but that is another matter). We have mere hours to respond. What to do? In a firm with other lawyers, I would kick it over to one of them. But this is a solo practice. Answer: Call my guy’s phone, leave a voice mail to call me as soon as he gets this message. Then draft the damn response. It was finished by the time my guy’s case had a break and he checked his messages. So he phoned me, I explained the situation and read the response I had drafted. He made me take out the righteous indignation part (I knew he would, but had to get it off my chest), and authorized me to sign it and file it. Problem solved. Any potential employer that would rather hear a tall tale about an elephant over this has other issues.

          This brings me to the Unsolicited Career Advice portion, to the OP. “Paralegal” is the world’s most underdefined job title. It means whatever you and your boss make it mean. There are only a couple of things that only a lawyer can do, such as sign her name to a pleading or suit up and go talk to a judge on behalf of a client. Administrative support is certainly part of a paralegal’s job, but if that is all, this is a glorified legal secretary. A good legal secretary is worth their weight in gold, and makes good money. If that is how the OP sees themselves, they should go that route. If they want to stick with paralegaling, they should stretch themselves: learn to do legal research, draft pleadings, and so forth. Try to do everything the boss does, apart from signing those pleadings and talking to judges. A good boss will rejoice. The more the paralegal can do, the less the lawyer has to. If the boss tells you to stay in your lane, you have a bad boss. Look elsehwere. The benefit for the paralegal of learning these skills is to be more valuable, more marketable, and to have more interesting work.

        3. Delta Delta*

          I am a lawyer and it would make my day if someone brought us an elephant. Also, anyone in the support team isn’t responsible for things like facilities maintenance or wayward elephants, so I’d want them to come get me. And I think it would be fine to tell me it’s an emergency.

          Then I would speak nicely to the elephant, play some classical music to keep it calm, make sure it has enough water, and figure out what the heck to do.

        4. Velawciraptor*

          Honestly, my first thought was “this question is obviously a slight exaggeration of some crazy thing a client once pulled.” It’s not unheard of in my firm to have clients’ dogs wind up with us briefly when someone is incarcerated and we wind up finding a safe place for pup to stay until client posts bond. And there are clients at every variety of firm, from my public defender’s office to Big Law, who see attorneys as their personal concierge and just straight up demand their lawyers do Weird Shit. I honestly think it’s more of a “how do you approach dealing with unreasonable expectations/demands from clients” kind of thing.

          It’s (hopefully) an exaggerated hypothetical, but I can see where it would come from.

    2. Raven*

      Yeah. A critical part of dealing with any unexpected situation is knowing when it’s out of your range and you need to call in the experts. What I know about elephants — bits of biology, ancient history, etc. — might be useful if I had to produce a presentation about elephants, but is utterly useless when there’s one in the parking lot. “Hello, City Zoo? I’ve got a problem….”

      If the answer they want is something other than “call the experts” then they should be asking me questions about my own expertise, not questions intended to be totally outside of it.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I am a paralegal.

        At one interview I had a (work-relevant) question about dealing with an emergent problem, and I answered it pretty thoroughly, but they kept saying, “But what else would you do?” so I kept adding more detail or going further along the process.

        Eventually they revealed they were looking for me to say I would have reported it upwards. That was so blindingly obvious I had thought it went without saying (as I then explained with reference to indemnity and restitution).

        So you never know.

          1. AnonLawyer*

            I mean, if a major issue comes up and the paralegal isn’t looping in the attorney, it’s a problem. But that’s a situation that’s more unique to the legal field because of ethical concerns.

            1. KHB*

              I’m not in anything remotely resembling the legal field, and we’re all told that if a major issue comes up – or even a minor issue that could potentially develop into a major issue – we should always loop in the boss, whether to ask for his help or just say “here’s what we’ve got going on.” The first time the boss hears about an issue should not be when it’s already reached crisis mode and blown up in everyone’s faces.

              1. SarahKay*

                This! I’ve called our site leader at 11 pm to let him know there’s potentially a serious issue on site. He’s the one who is going to have fingers pointed at him if things go badly wrong, so he needs to know.

              2. tangerineRose*

                “The first time the boss hears about an issue should not be when it’s already reached crisis mode and blown up in everyone’s faces.” This!

            2. pleaset cheap rolls*

              But similarly, if something large and freaky happens in any business, is a relatively low-level staffer supposed to solve it on their own?

              1. AnonLawyer*

                True. I’d consider it a big deal if my paralegal didn’t loop me into things because we’d be getting into legal ethics territory. I once had a paralegal make changes to some work I was doing without telling me, including legal decisions. I was furious. He was doing it to other attorneys (particularly younger female attorneys) and ultimately ended up being let go.

                1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                  There are things I am the most qualified person in the office to handle, but I still loop the attorney in ahead of time, because it’s their name on the Register.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I too am a paralegal. My immediate thought to the elephant question was that I would kick it upstairs. That is what I would tell the interviewer. I would give it about 50/50 whether that was exactly what they wanted to hear, or would reject me for lacking initiative. This is the problem with stupid interview questions. It comes down to guessing what they want to hear, which can be entirely arbitrary.

          1. KHB*

            But this then gets back to the idea that interviewing is a two-way street. If what the employer “wants to hear” is for some reason something other than the obvious correct course of action for a paralegal to take when a client does something crazy, is that a firm you want to work for?

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              This works in theory, but not necessarily in practice. A bad interview question ought not be a deal killer. If the bad question comes from the person you would report to, and this person is super committed to this bad question, that would be different.

              1. KHB*

                If the bad interview question is just one element of an otherwise competent interview process, that’s not terrible. But if they’re immediately rejecting everyone who gives the “wrong” answer to the bad interview question, I suspect they’re making bad hiring decisions all over the place (and probably also have some weird ideas about how performance is recognized and rewarded on the job). Maybe that’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a really bad sign.

                In any case, you’re not psychic (I’m assuming), so if you’re trying to approach the question by guessing what the employer wants to hear, you can’t do much better than flipping a coin. So you might as well give what you sincerely believe to be the right answer, which will at least raise your standing among those employers who share your opinion of what’s sensible.

        2. SusanIvanova*

          I had a “what else would you do?” interview loop once for a small team that was part of a big OS software company. They asked how I’d debug a problem. I started with the obvious steps. They asked “what else”, I covered more obscure steps. Repeat over and over until finally I got to “well, in that point it’s probably in the operating system framework itself, so I’d write it up and file a bug with them.” (The same company as this team, remember.)

          “Oh no,” they said. “That framework is very stable, it doesn’t have bugs.”

          I work on that framework team now. They crack up at this story.

    3. Pennyworth*

      I would respond as though is was a medical emergency and start with ensuring the immediate safety of 1. me 2. other people 3. the elephant. It would be fun to discuss how that would best be done until first responders and elephant wranglers arrive. I would love a question like that!

    4. Gen*

      Having worked a job where “there’s a live emu/ostrich running down a major road” was a more regular incident than we would have liked, I’d probably end up answering in way more detail than they could possibly want. Short version is stay away from the animal, keep others away from the animal, call an expert. Absolutely do not feed/touch/climb/tackle/makeover/fight the animal, though do consult someone else to make sure it’s not a hallucination (for example multicoloured miniature elephants are rare in the UK), a stuffed toy/abandoned Halloween costume/playground furniture in the shape of an elephant, or an innocuous farmyard object (such as a trough, haybale or grey Fiat Punto).

      1. Red 5*

        Yeah, your short version is basically what I’d say. It’s the same as a first aid/cpr situation. Assess the scene, it’s it safe? Assign tasks, two the guy next to you to go get the facilities crew or the building manager because they’ll need to be involved (point to specific people and give them specific jobs, don’t say “somebody go get Bob.”) Then call for help and do what the experts tell you to do unto they get there. In our case, it would be calling The National Zoo which isn’t just our local zoo that’s chocked with experts, but also a place we have a professional relationship with so it would make more sense than animal control who I know would probably just call the zoo.

        It’s really a good model for any crisis communication issue.

      2. Amy*

        I encountered a much grimmer version of this scenario a few years ago when I came along a fatal motorcycle accident while driving. It went 1) Call 911 2) Set up road flares to prevent a second accident 3) Wait for police / EMT 4) Go home and puke your guts out

    5. Blue Eagle*

      As an afficienado of Secrets of the Zoo, I like Aggretsuko’s answer. 1- call the zoo (definitely not call the police who would probably come and shoot it) and 2-feed it (I’d try to find it some lettuce).
      Of course, it would be a totally different answer if the animal was a meat eater in which case I definitely would call the police first and would focus on people’s safety first.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I used to live not very far from OldCity’s zoo and sometimes, I would think about what I’d do if the tiger (who has since died), the lion, or one of the cheetahs suddenly appeared in my backyard.

    6. juliebulie*

      You shouldn’t try to feed it or even approach it yourself. The elephant doesn’t know you, and you can’t be sure that its restraints (if any) are adequate. It could hurt you or run away into traffic, hurting others or itself.

  6. Diahann Carroll*

    They also did an “In Memoriam” segment like the Oscars which named all the family members of employees who died this year. It was 90 minutes long and went until 5:30. It was exactly as excruciating as I made it sound.

    Some additional details: the In Memoriam segment ended with a slide that said “And the more than 300,000 Americans who have lost their lives from Covid-19 this year.” And the background music was the CEO playing his guitar.

    I wish you could see how my eyes just bulged out of my head while reading this. This whole thing is like something out of an SNL skit (back when that show was funny).

  7. Finland*

    What would I do if a client dropped off a live elephant in our parking lot?

    If it’s accompanied by the sound of a large truck backing up, I’d probably roll over and hit the snooze button.

  8. Sales Woman*

    #1 I’ve gotten the elephant question before! But I’ve gotten it in sales interviews.

    In a sales role, the interviewer is normally looking for the interviewee to say they’d find a way to profit off the elephant somehow—selling rides, having people pay for pictures, etc. Which is kinda shitty.

    When I’ve encountered this question, I say I’d start an animal rights campaign using this poor abandoned elephant and use the money raised to send it home.

    1. Julia*

      It’s sort of interesting. I gave it some thought. My first thought of course was to call animal control. But then I thought, wait – a *client* dropped it off. Surely there must be a reason. And what if they’ll be back to pick it up in 10 minutes? Don’t want to jump the gun to piss off a client.

      On the other hand, what’s the elephant doing out there now? Is it distressed? Doing property damage? Danger to others? I may have an ethical responsibility to call animal control, and my company could be liable for damage caused. What’s more, the client may be violating state or municipal law by keeping an exotic pet; I don’t want to abet that and I certainly don’t want to say I’d abet that in an interview.

      So. A lot more thinking than necessary. But I think I’d come down on the side of the following actions:
      1) go outside or send someone outside to see whether the elephant is a danger and 911 needs to be called,
      2) call animal control,
      3) email blast or other emergency communication to all employees to let them know the situation is being handled and to avoid the area (plus getting someone from security/maintenance so they are aware),
      4) make sure someone calls the client to let them know I’ve called animal control so they aren’t blindsided,
      5) station someone who works in security or maintenance outside at the entrance to the parking lot to warn away cars and welcome animal control.

      1. KateM*

        Also, if there is a client, then there is a case and someone who works on that case? Ask that lawyer whether the elephant is their important witness or in some other way involved.

        1. SaeniaKite*

          Perhaps they were being defended against an accusation of dumping a camel in a backyard and it wasn’t going well and the lawyer involved needs to be warned for their own safety

          1. KateM*

            They brought proof that it wasn’t a CAMEL that they had dumped in a backyard.
            Or maybe they brought proof that the other person had dumped an elephant into their backyard first.

    2. Liz*

      Maybe I have far too much of a literal brain for these types of questions, but I would not have thought of that! My immediate responses all revolved around calling animal control or appropriate authorities, and then probably taking measures to keep people away from said elephant (an angry animal can be dangerous, especially one of that size). I don’t think I have the lateral thinking required for a creative response – but I tend to be very swift off the mark in actual emergencies.

      On a related note, my family once came home from a trip to find a cow in our back garden. Fortunately the farmer had been tailing it from the farm a few miles away and had already got a trailer backed up to the hole in the fence and was attempting to lure said cow on board. Our role involved staying thoroughly out of the way and letting the experts handle it. Beyond the immediate safety of the public, I would expect the same would apply to an elephant.

      1. KateM*

        But maybe the elephant was dumped in a crate of cage and so was not dangerous to others. Still a good idea to call security to make sure others aren’t dangerous to elephant.

      2. Anononon*

        Yeah, me too. If someone asked me a hypothetical about a literal elephant being dropped off, and they pushed for my actual response, I would just say call 911 and make sure everyone stays away.

    3. yokozbornak*

      The elephant question is definitely a thing! My former boss loved to tell the story of getting this question in an interview and how he flubbed it totally. Apparently, his interviewer wanted to see how his mind worked. Would he accept the elephant and figure out a way to feed and house it? Would he call an animal sanctuary or a zoo for assistance? Would he reject the elephant and explain why? Yeah, it’s a dumb question.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        That’s so weird! I can see its value as a creative thinking exercise or an icebreaker – that actually would be kind of interesting, in a low-pressure situation like an all-staff meeting. But there’s just too much pressure in an interview, where you feel like you need to get the “right” answer in order to get the job.

        1. MCMonkeybean*

          That’s a good way to put it. I am actually having fun thinking of answers and reading other people’s responses in the comment but would not so much have fun with it in an interview where I would probably feel like my answer is wrong.

    4. Lurker*

      I recently became obsessed with the Global Elephant Sanctuary in Brazil (after reading an article in the NY Times about how to move an elephant during a pandemic) so my first thought when reading the question was, “It should be relocated to an elephant sanctuary!” The sales answer is the crappy reason why those poor elephants in the sanctuaries are so damaged (physically and psychologically). My next thoughts were is it Asian or African (they have different temperaments), is it male or female, etc. which isn’t surprising because I am very detail oriented. Obviously my initial thoughts are not that useful for the situation…I probably would have answered with something more along the lines of “stay away from the elephant and call animal control.”

  9. MGW*

    Look I’m a soon-to-be (5 months!) veterinarian and I still think I wouldn’t know what do do if someone showed up in my parking lot with an elephant and no warning! I guess start trying to triage it? Call the local zoo?

      1. Roy G. Biv*

        The modern response requires before anything else happens, take photos and put it on social media. “Meet my new work friend!”

    1. Sleepless*

      Hi soon-to-be colleague! 27 year veterinarian here, and I kind of smiled at this question because obviously, abandoned dogs and cats are an occasional thing in animal hospital parking lots. I personally would call Animal Control first (they had to round up a very pissed-off sheep once and keep it at our suburban Animal Control office), then the police, then brainstorm to see if there were any nearby private zoos. The only licensed zoo in our city is halfway across the metro area. I’d also then see if one of our horse-owning employees could run get it some hay and a water bucket, and pray that it didn’t damage anything until it was handled.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Sounds like you have some amazing stories! What does an angry sheep act like? Does it make noise? Does it try to bite and/or kick?

  10. Lena Clare*

    LW6 – oh dear. That’s quite awful. I think the In Memoriam is insensitive too – I wouldn’t want to burst out crying at work. The CEO playing the background guitar, though, is just chef’s kiss delicious.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Definitely. LW6, this story is a keeper. I hope you’ll repeat it next December, when Alison does her annual roundup of the weirdest holiday parties!

    2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I really want to know what song(s) he was playing – was it music appropriate for a memorial? Something at least solemn and instrumental, if not actually something memorial-specific? Wonderwall?

  11. Dr Rat*

    Dear Reflection Session – there is a British expression about being able to ‘dine out” on something, meaning it’s an amusing or horrifying story so enthralling that you will be asked to repeat it again and again at social gatherings. Bars, dinner parties, etc. I want this to be your 2021 Post Vaccine Dine Out story. When people start talking about boring meetings or lame office parties, I want you to say, “Oh, that’s nothing. Let me tell you about the…(pause) REFLECTION SESSION. It was ninety minutes of pure, cringeworthy mortification…” Describe it in all its absolutely glorious awfulness. Looked at in this way, the CEO playing his guitar as background music is pure gold.

    I also recommend Merrill Markoe’s short piece Limo to Hell (in What The Dogs Have Taught Me), which describes what it’s like to be stuck at the Emmys for four hours. It will make you feel at one with the universe.

    1. Hannah*

      Just coming here to say, Merrill Markoe’s What the Dogs Have Taught Me is hilarious, and now I will be digging out my copy and reading it. Christmas Eve afternoon planned!

    2. Maxie's Mommy*

      I had to ask an accountant about a woman who had 16 different Social Security numbers. When I asked what he charged for his advice, he said he’d be dining out on the question for years—no charge!!

    3. Ermintrude*

      I bought ‘What the Dogs Have Taught Me’ at age 15 whilst on holiday in the USA, and it changed my life, albeit a fair bit of it went over my head back then. Ben Wah balls!

  12. Dr Rat*

    I’m sure I wouldn’t get this job, because my reply would be, “I’d go back into the office and walk around all the departments asking people, “Anyone know who ordered the elephant?” until someone said, “Oh, yeah, that’s ours, did they drop it off already? Hey, Bob, the elephant’s here!”

    1. Pennyworth*

      I once worked in a law firm where a client was claiming against a municipal authority for breaking his window when a large mower flipped a rock through it. He had brought in the rock as evidence, which we duly filed under ”alleged offending rock”.

  13. Vincent Ortega*

    To question one: I and my new Elephant friend would travel to the Alps, and we would finish what Hannibal started!

    1. So many possibilities*

      :D Heck, why go all the way to the Alps? There’s probably some Hannibal-ing to be done right where you are. I have come not to make war on this parking lot, but to aid the good citizens against that guy who always takes up two spaces for his Tesla. Have at it, Elephant Friend!

  14. Seattle Lisa*

    Re: #1: I’d ask my coworker if they also saw an elephant, just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things!

  15. Sue Wilson*

    1. If you’re a paralegal, they’re probably looking for you to work through considerations (what laws do you needs to consider, who is the person you need permission from, etc). You speaking generally isn’t really going to tell them how you prioritize, because generally you’ll mention all considerations without saying which one is most important.

  16. Lilli*

    LW3: I don’t know which country you live in know, but in Germany you send in copies of your diploma (and letters of recommendation from former employers since listing references is not a thing) first thing in the application process. If you don’t send a copy without giving an explanation that would be extremely odd. Maybe that’s the same in the country where you are now.

    1. Violet Rose*

      I struggled with that a bit when applying to jobs in Germany, since so many of the certificates and things that applications expected are just Not A Thing where I’m from. I have to assume that companies that hire Americans regularly are aware of this, but it’s still a bit discouraging to be asked for a ream of certifications and offer… a diploma

      1. Artemesia*

        In the US universities often will not replace a diploma because the diploma is basically a decorative item; if you need to prove graduation you order a transcript. I have heard of countries that absolutely require the actual diploma and American applicants who absolutely have no way to provide it.

        1. Phony Genius*

          Yeah. In the U.S., colleges and universities provide certified transcripts to employers. In fact, many employers require the transcript; the diploma is not enough.

  17. Duvie*

    Former zoo docent here. Elephants are very social animals, and need the company of other elephants in order to be happy. Since an unhappy animal would reflect poorly on my employer, I’d have to contact the client to see if he had any other elephants he could drop off. Then there’d be the matter of locating an elephant sanctuary (there’s a lovely one in Tennessee) as well as the fund raising activities required to get the poor pachaderms to their new home. This is going to take some time and effort!

    1. Red 5*

      Perfect response! I think where I live/work this question wouldn’t work at all because anybody with any sense would just say “I’d call the National Zoo, I’m sure they’d know how to advise me and they would want to help because that’s their mission.” Doesn’t give you any insight into the person being interviewed but is the honest truth. But I’d imagine their advice would be the same as yours!

    2. Phony Genius*

      Me as interviewer: Other elephants to drop off? So you would start to solve the problem by adding to it. Interesting.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        See, this is the exact problem! As the interviewee, you don’t know if they’re looking for a literal answer (call animal control) or a creative one like Duvie’s. And it matters, because there’s a lot riding on it if you get it wrong!

        I do think it would be fun in a more relaxed work setting, but I’m still a hard no on using it as an interview question.

  18. I take tea*

    This reminds me of a Vivien Alcock book called Travelers by Night, where a couple of circus kids run away with an elephant to save it from being sent to the slaughterhouse. The logistics are quite well described.

  19. The Wall Of Creativity*

    Happened to me once. I just sat down and started to play the piano. Calmed the elephant right down. It even started crying.
    I’m like “Do you remember the song, Dumbo?”
    “No. I remember the ivory.”

  20. 'Tis Me*

    If I saw the client delivering the elephant I would probably try to stop them to establish why they were doing this, whether they were abandoning the elephant, whether they had a permit for the elephant, whether they wished us to also represent them against the relevant local institution for originally owning the elephant without a permit and then abandoning them (as applicable), and whether they had alerted anybody to the fact an elephant was going to be left in our car park.

    If I was too late to stop them, I would probably make that phone call or ask their lawyer to do so, if somebody else represented them on other matters.

    I would also establish whether or not the elephant was tethered/secured in a cage/crate/trailer or roaming the car park, while remaining a safe distance. I would either ask Security to then lock the whole car park and remain outside while waiting for somebody from the local zoo, or to cordon off an area around the elephant to ensure they stayed calm and weren’t startled. I would also confirm that we could bill the client for additional expenses incurred e.g. Taxis for anybody unable to leave with their car due to these actions.

    If the car park included an evacuation safety zone, but was not safe due to elephant, I would ensure that details of an alternative assembly point were circulated, along with an explanation to the building occupants as to why they were not to enter the car park/that segment of the car park. If there were individuals who volunteered at the zoo/local elephant sanctuary who were confident that they could safely interact with them, I would also establish our liability in allowing them to do so, to ensure the elephant was adequately fed, watered etc.

    If the client hadn’t arranged for anything to be done with the elephant, I would also contact the local zoo to alert them of the issue and seek advice (whether they could collect the elephant, if not whether they could recommend a vet to check the animal over and if they knew of anybody with the expertise, space and permits to collect and care for them), as well as appropriate local authorities (police/animal control). Otherwise I would ensure that the client’s plans were checked for robustness and legal compliance (dropping off an elephant without any comment or notice doesn’t fill me with confidence in their logistical abilities).

    I would also ensure that the client was appropriately billed for everybody’s time needed to resolve this snafu, and that the elephant was rehomed with somebody more responsible. If applicable, this would include brokering their sale to the zoo/sanctuary.

    As this is not a situation I have encountered before I would also check with my supervisor/a legal partner/case law to ensure that I have covered all bases in regards to our responsibilities and to ensure the safety of people on our premises, the welfare of the elephant, the client, and our legal liabilities.

    I… Tend to talk a lot in interviews ;-)

  21. Red 5*

    LW 5, I’m so glad your name change went well! I’ve recently given similar advice to someone who was worried about announcing a name change. I haven’t dealt with it personally, but in my years of work and personal relationships I’ve known so many people who have changed their names, either formally or informally, and one thing I think might be helpful to remember for people who are worried is that there are so many reasons for changing your name and a lot of them are boring! You don’t have to share very much about the why unless you want to, and it’s okay to shut down nosy people with a “this is just what I like better.” In fact, I know people who changed their name just because they didn’t like it and wanted something more fun!

    In my work, it’s more common for people to decide to stop using an Americanized name and ask to be called by their real name and I also want to add- don’t apologize for your name if this is your situation! Whatever name you would like to be called by, it’s your name and it’s beautiful. It’s a privilege to get to learn all the wonderful different names I’ve learned to say, and it’s fun to learn about different traditions and cultures if people want to tell me about it. Don’t say you’re sorry that your name is hard or confusing, every person deserves to choose how they would like to be addressed. Your name isn’t hard or confusing, it’s just not a common here.

    If you (the general you) are trans, then the same thing applies. Don’t apologize or hedge, the name you’ve chosen is wonderful because it’s your choice. It’s a wonderful privilege in my life to know the trans people that I know, because they are wonderful, caring people and truly great friends and the least any of us can do for our friends is to call them the name they ask to be called. Yes, it’s hard to switch. I’ve known some of them for decades, old brains are only so elastic. But it’s my job as a friend to work on that, so don’t apologize to me for asking it. You’re not being a burden, you’re being a person.

    I hope in 2021, everybody who changes their name for any reason has a good experience and that it goes smoothly.

  22. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Oh, #6… I started out impressed that a company took the time to acknowledge hardship and this very serious issue and ended up cracking up. Made my damn day and it’s not even 7am yet.

  23. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: When I started giving interviews for technical jobs, I was told by our HR rep to ask questions like that ‘in order to see how people think’ and I did it precisely once and learnt that it makes me feel really incapable to ask stuff like that.

    I make up my own these days – usually tell the interviewee that there’s no right or wrong answer first, I’m just seeing how they think (this removes some of the stress from them). Then there’s the question. FOr example, for a tech support role I might make up a scenario where the CEO of the firm can’t open Excel without it crashing – and there’s a system wide outage of a document repository: how would you assign the one you’d tackle first and why?

    (And yes, my answer is often different to the people I hire!)

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      A lot of those “How do you think” questions would be infinitely improved by being up front about this. I don’t know how many manholes there are in New York City. Is this a question about my research skills, or about my approximation skills? Don’t make me guess.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yep. People’s thinking skills under the extreme stress of an interview are not what I want to test. I want to get a handle on how they’re likely to think in the office.

        (I was once asked at an interview what animal I would be if I was one. I said ‘dragon’ and the interviewer said ‘oh no, has to be a real one’ and I replied that a) that hadn’t been in the original specifications and b) I specialise in out of the box thinking so nope, wasn’t gonna change my answer.

        Did get offered the job, but the pay was insultingly low so I didn’t take it)

        1. tangerineRose*

          If we assume that the idea of dragons was based on dinosaur bones, and we believe that dinosaurs have evolved into birds, then they do exist :)

  24. Amy*

    My CEO sent a long email yesterday ruminating on love, life and lessons of 2020.
    It was well-meaning but I stopped reading after the 1st paragraph. I can’t imagine a slide-show with a captive audience.

    1. Absurda*

      My company announced a few changes at HQ. Then my CEO sent out an email saying the changes at HQ wouldn’t impact him, then he reminded all of us of how rich he is.

  25. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    #2: Why do some people frown upon others taking their vacation days? What IS that? I’ve had coworkers try to control my vacation days (Self-Appointed Hall Monitor was one of them) and have even had a couple of managers who made their little comments when I took vacation. One manager, when I returned from vacation (I took the week of July 4th off, a week that is usually slow in my field because a lot of clients are also out in vacation), during our weekly check-in call was terse with me at first as if she were angry with me. She then blurted out that I seemed to be “MIA” during my vacation week. I assured her that I had checked my email a couple of times during that week and there was nothing pressing (and if there was I would have handled it). This was after she had agreed for me to list her as the contact on my out of office automatic reply. She never informed me of any expectation that I should check in with her during my vacation. The only thing she had to do in my absence that week was answer a couple of simple questions (that she didn’t need my input for) from a client. Guess that was just too much work for her (I have always been happy to cover for others, including her, when they were out in vacation). Another manager likes to call me when I was out to ask where a certain file was so she wouldn’t have to actually look for it herself. I wasn’t an assistant and we all managed the files in project folders, etc. Same manager made a comment when I got back that she needed something but (in an angry, annoyed tone) I was out. BTW, she was the one who approved my vacation in the first place. And then there was Self-Appointed Hall Monitor. I didn’t take any vacation days over Thanksgiving or Christmas my first year at that company since I was new and didn’t want to ask, even though those times are notoriously slow in my field and a very reasonable time to take vacation days. Sometimes you get a Scrooge-o client requesting last minute things, but it’s usually slow. So the next year, I requested time off around both of those holidays. Got all of my requests in, in advance. My manager appreciated my advance planing, approved this, and I marked it on the team calendar. A month or so later, Self-Appointed Hall Monitor was looking at the team calendar and questioned me about my taking “all this time off around Thanksgiving and Christmas.” (She was not a manager or team lead.) I said that I hadn’t taken much time off all year, and that I didn’t take any time off for any of the holidays the previous year. (I didn’t really have to explain myself to her.) Her reply was “So?” We weren’t in the type of industry or company where we had to have coverage over the holidays, so she was just being a busybody trying to inflict her own rules onto others. Why are some people like that?

    1. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

      BTW- Before I go on vacation, I always tie up as many loose ends as possible and provide detailed information on any projects, etc. to make it as easy as possible for anyone covering for me in my absence. And, of course, if there is truly an emergency where I am the only person who can answer the question or handle something, they can contact me. So, the people who got upset over my having the audacity to actually use my PTO benefits were truly being a**holes. :)

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’ve had plenty of fun with the people who insist that I should not take time off over the holidays because people with young children ‘need’ it more. So I get dirty looks when I book Xmas to New Year off.

      However, I’m over 40 these days and really don’t care much what others think of me. Wish I’d known this was a benefit of getting older sooner!

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        The only exception we made was for a single dad who only got extended custody of his kid during the Christmas break. Everyone else had to get in line and work out their days off.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I remember the verbal fight I had with one manager who insisted that I couldn’t possibly have any obligations over xmas back in 2008-ish. Yes, I said, I don’t have kids, but I do have a family! I worked over new year instead – turns out the lady who was arguing about having childcare responsibilities was actually quite happy about postponing her celebrations till then!

          Probably helped though that her kid was pretty young and frankly wouldn’t remember xmas anyhow.

  26. LGC*

    LW2: Is your coworker, by chance, named Jane? Did she start after unexpectedly leaving her previous job around April this year? Does she have uncomfortable mothering tendencies?

    (And if so, I’m curious as to how the wedding in October went and how many people bothered to wear masks there.)

    But yeah – like…I think that you kind of answered your own question! If there was a problem with both of you being off, your manager should not have approved your time off. Although Jane might not be pleased by this, it doesn’t sound like she has the authority to make that decision.

    And given that your manager approved your time off and has set up contingency plans…Jane is making an issue out of nothing. She’s arranged for things to be taken care of in your absence. And if things go sideways, it’s ultimately your manager’s responsibility.

    Finally: I don’t like the fact that seniority is the tie-breaker here. It means that Jane always gets the best days, when it feels fairer to take turns (like, this year she’d get priority for Christmas, but next year you would). But that’s kind of irrelevant here.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. If I were the manager here, I’d be ticked off at the meddling team lead (“Jane”), rather than at the Letter Writer.

      So, LW#2, I think you know this already but, if your team lead, “Jane Meddlesome,” mentions this again, just smile cheerfully, say “Manager already approved it. By the way, enjoy your vacation!” and go on your merry way.

      Do not — repeat not — start asking “Jane Meddlesome” to approve future time off. That is your manager’s role.

      1. LGC*

        If I were the manager here, I’d be ticked off at the meddling team lead (“Jane”), rather than at the Letter Writer.

        That was my thought – the TL (Jane) is suggesting that she knows the manager’s job better than the manager does (which she most likely can’t), and she’s intimidating LW2 to do something that the manager has clearly said is unnecessary. Most important, approval of time off is none of Jane’s business – Jane isn’t allowed to approve time off to begin with.

        I did mention it at the top, but this sounds similar to the situation where the LW’s coworker tried to blackmail him for going to the store on a sick day. (This was linked in Alison’s roundup of her favorite letters, which is why it’s fresh in my mind.) And I think LW2’s initial reaction is a bit similar to that LW’s, to be honest – in that she’s giving her Jane more power than she actually has. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the team lead in this case is a bully in general, and this was just the latest issue.

    2. Tisiphone*

      With you on the seniority part!

      Some jobs have low turnover, which means you’re always going to be last on the list. #2’s manager has a plan for if both of them are out, and it doesn’t include denying time off.

      I’m at a Use It Or Lose It company, which means November and December are full of shorthanded days. It’s courtesy to look for fully-staffed days to fritter away just because, but if there’s something going on that requires you to have specific days off, there’s absolutely no requirement to time it around other people. Put in your request, wait for the approval, and enjoy.

      Happy holidays!

    3. OP for Question 2*

      Not Jane- and no wedding in the cards for me in the past or future at the moment! I get what you are saying, and that is how I looked at it too- that if it’s not her authority to make decisions on time off, she shouldn’t be confronting me personally if she doesn’t agree with it, but still wanted Allison’s perspective in case there was a viewpoint that I might be missing in the situation.

      I have mixed feelings about the seniority when it comes to the vacation schedules. I understand wanting to reward loyalty and those who have many years of service, but that does create a situation where others are then limited in getting popular days off, especially around the holidays, even if they are hardworking, loyal employees themselves. In the case of my team lead, she always requests and is granted extra days around the holidays- which if my manager would only allow one of us out every year, that I would never get those days until she left, which seems unfair. This is the first year I have requested those days too, and if others in my office are allowed to request those days, it seemed fair that I should have been too.

      1. LGC*

        I mean, I can totally understand that! I guess what I’m trying to say is that your team lead was way out of line here (and it seems like in other places from other comments you wrote), and I actually think your first read was accurate.

        On the flip side, it does sound like your manager is pretty on the level – she allowed both of you to take time off at the same time and arranged coverage for when you’re both off. And it also sounds like you learned something – it’s possible for both you and your team lead to take time off together!

  27. Stay-at-Homesteader*

    Having worked in legal and legal-adjacent settings, it’s actually not impossible that they’ve *had* a client drop a live elephant in the parking lot.

    Probably still not a great interview question, but hey, weird stuff happens in law offices. A lot.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Okay, that beats my ‘live chicken took out an entire train’s brake systems so the train broke down outside our place’ animal story hands down.

  28. hiptobesquare*

    My boss asked me that elephant question in my interview- apparently it’s about taking ownership of problems?

  29. anonymous 5*

    Elephant-interview-question-adjacent anecdote:
    The weekly magazine published by my discipline’s professional organization (I’m in physical sciences) has a humor column. One week, when I was in grad school, they were talking about absurd interview questions. My advisor and I were in the office, and he was reading the column and laughing.
    Advisor: Hey, A5, let’s see how you’d do on these goofy interview questions. I would have blown ’em. How would you put an elephant in the refrigerator?
    Me: Oh geez. There’s bound to be some “right” answer here about it being a stuffed animal or something, right?
    Advisor: Nope! You open the door, put the elephant in, and close the door. So how would you put a *giraffe* in the refrigerator?
    Me (immediately realizing *exactly* the kind of stupid that these questions were designed to highlight): Ahhh! You open the door, *take the elephant out*, and then put the giraffe in and close the door.
    Advisor (both of us laughing hysterically): YES! *Now* you’re ready to handle corporate interviews!

    1. Absurda*

      A company I used to work for had a manager who would ask interviewees “if you were an animal what animal would you be?” One colleague answered: “A platypus”.

      She figured, ask a ridiculous question, get a ridiculous answer.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      And how do you know that there was recently an elephant in the fridge? Because of the footprints in the butter!

      (Ah, my mis-spent youth, filled with books from Price-Stern-Sloan…)

  30. Detective Amy Santiago*

    #1 – I am disappointed that no one gave the correct answer which is “I would send a letter to Alison Green at Ask a Manager and ask her what to do”.

    #6 – Wow. Just… wow.

    1. Queer Earthling*

      “My boss is expecting me to handle a situation that is expressly not part of my job. I was hired for llama wrangling, due to my expertise in llama treatment in general and my degree in Llama Sciences, but my boss is often asking me to help with related issues (camel grooming, for example) and sometimes completely unrelated tasks (finding housing for half a dozen crocodiles, for example). Whenever I point out that it’s not what I was hired for, he just tells me to get it done.

      This all came to a head today. A client dropped off an elephant, even though we are not and have never been an elephant facility; it’s already damaged three cars. But instead of saying no to the client, my boss is expecting me to drop all of my duties and handle this animal. Elephants are not part of my job description, and more importantly, I do not have the tools and resources to handle an elephant and its needs. Can you help me with a script to push back on this request? Time is a factor.”

      1. Bryce*

        I think we need to recruit some actual llama wranglers and teapot manufacturers with management questions for April 1.

        1. Old Admin*

          “I think we need to recruit some actual llama wranglers and teapot manufacturers with management questions for April 1.”

          Yes! Yes!! I second that! Aaaaaaaaaalison – puhleaze do that! :-D

  31. Franz Kafkaesque*

    I’m pretty sure I’d just say “Call county animal control” and look blankly back at the interviewer. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get the job either.

  32. Beth*

    LW #6 — I’ve recently had a couple of people solemnly inform me that 2020 was a really hard year for them, as if this was a brand-new personal discovery. Oy.

  33. ThatGirl*

    I recently had an interviewer throw a few “fun” questions in and one of them was this: A penguin has just shown up at your door wearing a sombrero. Why is he there and what does he want?

  34. HailRobonia*

    When I was in college I interviewed for a job at the dorm snack shop. High stakes, right? One of the questions they asked was whatI would be if I could be any kind of bug. I said a praying mantis… because they are my favorite insect. I didn’t get the job (I don’t think it was because of that question… I had no retail experience at all).

    I would have thought there is no good answer to that question, but one of my friends had also interviewed for the job and she answered “a honey bee, because they all work together to make delicious honey for the hive.”

    So I at least now have that answer in my back pocket.

  35. CreamsicleCati*

    I’m glad I’ve never gotten asked the elephant question because my honest answer to what I would do id I saw an elephant in my work parking lot would be “shriek with glee and have a hard time stopping myself from making friends with it” and I know that’s 100% not the right answer :-)

  36. Jean*

    OP1, obviously the answer they were looking for was “become best friends with it and then train it to attack my enemies.” What else would one do with a live elephant who spontaneously showed up at their workplace?

    1. Forty Years in the Hole*

      Years ago, hubby was transitioning from the military to a defence-adjacent field (think research and analysis) – no scientific background and zero experience in the particular field but his degree was one of the quals they were accepting, and he has confidence in spades. So, first interview, they have him do a PPT on a hypothetical how/why a certain asset should be acquired: his stock in trade was senior-level briefings. Aced it.
      Second interview: Q: “how would you get safely across a cow pasture measuring 100 square meters, and dotted with 10 hidden, randomly placed mines…?” His initial (icebreaker, just kidding) response: “send the cows across first?” But then he described in great detail how he’d consult with the experts on his team: the scientist, mathematician, statistician, geologist, biologist and climatologist (because every good military leader ensures the right expertise on their team…), and have them work the factors: potential mine location, weather pattern, soil composition, blast radius and odds of safely getting across.
      When he got to the part about compensating the farmer for one cow, to “test” the planned route, the interview panel stopped him…they were laughing so hard. He had no idea what he was talking about, but he figured, due to the nature of the job, that they weren’t looking for a “right” answer; they were looking for initiative, logic, teamwork and problem-solving qualities. He got the job!

    1. Ermintrude*

      Nope out and go home to bed, since even if I’m not hallucinating, that is just way too much and I can’t even.

      1. Tierrainney*

        or at least that was the answer to a joke: what do you get when you cross an elephant and a rhino.

  37. PT*

    Elephant: As someone who’s worked at a lot of dysfunctional jobs, I would just see the elephant as symbolic of the sorts of messes I’d be expected to clean up (a very BIG mess) and would nope out of that interview process.

  38. Mello Yello*

    #1 I hate these kinds of interview questions. I was once asked if I could be a dessert, what would I be & why? This was a contract HR guy. He was just a gatekeeper & I just had to play the game so I could meet the real team I’d be working with.

    I came up with, “I’d be a hot fudge sundae. The perfect balance between hot & cold, black & white,yin & yang.” Gag me, right? But he *ate it up.* The real team was wonderful & it was the best job so I’m glad I played along with “HR guy who read a book.”

  39. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Years ago our local animal control started getting calls about an elephant in the downtown core. After some eye-rolling, they sent out an inspector and they did not find an elephant. The calls kept coming in for several days and finally, the inspector found the elephant. A store had hired one for a sale and it was only on display outside for several hours a day so by the time the inspector arrived the elephant was always gone. So I guess you ticket the elephant for not having a license?

  40. CaVanaMana*

    If somehow asked me the elephant question, I’m such a smart ass, I wouldn’t be able to provide a serious answer. I’d probably start talking about riding it around town, perhaps taking it through a drive thru picking up lunch, naming it Mickey (as in the mouse), dressing it up with fancy hats and having a new best friend. If they didn’t hire me, they’re boring!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This was why I thought up a very nerdy answer to the “If you were a tree” question. I figured if they knew what a mallorn tree was, then we were on the same wavelength and that might bode well for the future.

  41. Phony Genius*

    We used to actually have something like this. There is a rail yard across the street from our office. When the circus came to town, they’d park their train in that yard. The day they arrived, the rail cars would all have the animals in them waiting to be unloaded. There were trunks sticking out of the rail cars in all directions. So one escaping into our parking lot is not entirely far-fetched. (Except that the circus has since gone out of business.)

  42. Elizabeth West*

    OP #6’s reflection session (with the CEO playing guitar!) is going to be one of those bizarre stories you tell at parties when people ask what was the most ridiculous thing that ever happened to you at work.

  43. King of the Forest*

    Your Majesty, If you were King, you wouldn’t be afraid of anything?

    Not nobody, not nohow!

    [TIN MAN]
    Not even a rhinocerous?


    Why, I’d trash him from top to bottomamus!

    Supposin’ you met an elephant?

    I’d wrap him up in cellophant!

    What if it were a brontosaurus?

    I’d show him who was King of the Forest!


    Courage! What makes a King out of a slave?
    Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave?
    Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk, in the misty mist or the dusky dusk?
    What makes the muskrat guard his musk?
    Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder?
    Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder?
    Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the “ape” in apricot?
    What have they got that I ain’t got?


    You can say that again!

  44. 2horseygirls*

    #1 – I could only hope to get that question in an interview! I am actually one phone call away from a director of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and have 3 major zoos within 90-120 minutes, so that would be my first call, so she could start networking a response team to deploy. Second call would be to the closest barn (20 minutes from my current office) to bring a couple bales of hay and send someone to buy out the closest fruit department.

    Why can’t I get fun questions like this in my interviews?

  45. MCMonkeybean*

    I may be over 30 years old but my favorite book is still one that’s like a second-grade reading level: “There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom” but Louis Sachar. In that book there is a book-within-the-book called “My Parents Didn’t Steal and Elephant” and I can’t help but think of that story in this situation. Though I guess of all the potential interview answers to that question, probably bringing up a children’s book I should maybe be more embarrassed to admit is still my favorite is likely not the best way to go…

  46. boop the first*

    2. Oh, that’s rough! I very much dislike when stress is passed downwards. What does Lead expect you to do about it? Pass it back up!

    I totally understand the uncertainty of wanting to take time off, and knowing that it would cause a hardship for others. It’s the reason why I usually only took a week of vacation every few years when the desperation built up enough. Turns me off from asking. However, once management steps in and makes a plan, you let them handle it! It’s called CYA – Cover Your A**.
    If Lead is worried about coming back to a disaster, welp, that’s what happens to everyone after vacation.

  47. Kali*

    I kind of enjoy the question in 1! Probably not in a job interview situation, but just as a random thought exercise.
    I’d probably ask someone to keep trying to contact the client, google the number of a zoo that kept elephants, hopefully nearby, and ask their advice, while also asking someone – the building’s security team? – to try to make sure the poor baby is contained in an area where it was safe and couldn’t damage too much or run away.

  48. InsufficientlySubordinate*

    Elephant question: A favorite author used a similar situation for a short story. Well, sorta similar in that the elephant was a zombie wooly mammoth. I would probably use that as a guide: call an expert, call the police, call the head of the facility (museum), and keep as many people away as possible. Hope that nothing provokes the animal or it may beat a car with a car alarm going off until it shuts up.

  49. EmmaPoet*

    #1- my serious answer would be, “I would call Fish and Game to notify them, then institute the moose protocols we had from my previous job” (warn anyone trying to leave and lock down the library. We don’t have clients in that sense, so calling the individual who dropped off the elephant would be difficult.)

    My non-serious answer would be, “I will feed the elephant, adopt it, and then start my own elephant army to trample evildoers.”

  50. SaintPaulGal*

    I’m quite surprised at how many people on here said they would call police/animal control about the elephant, and furthermore how many folks found that to be the obvious, only answer. That is how I would answer if the elephant appeared with no known source, but if a client dropped it off that would completely change my approach. I would be thinking about protecting the client and the firm’s relationship with that person, and I would imagine calling in the authorities would likely be antithetical to that—hypothetically speaking, if I were a client and I left my elephant in the custody of my lawyer and she had the police haul it away, I expect I’d be quite displeased.

    My answer: I would ask the person who manages that client what the elephant was doing there and whether the situation was under control. Assuming there were still open questions at that point, I would ask that colleague to please contact their client for further background and instructions. Then I would notify everyone in the office not to go outside, and that the situation was in the process of being handled. Then I would go back and see if my colleague had gotten the necessary information from the client and begin putting that into action. If the client was unreachable, I’d work on brainstorming additional ways of getting in touch with this person or someone connected to the client. Only if this dragged in for a very long time with no resolution would I contact the authorities.

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