interviewer asked what my best friend would say my worst habit is

A reader writes:

I’m a recent college graduate and last week I had my first job interview that wasn’t for a retail or food service position. I found some of the interviewer’s questions odd and I wanted to get the opinion of someone more experienced. If it matters, I’m a young woman looking to enter a pink collar field.

After initial pleasantries, the interviewer opened with, “Who is your best friend?”

I was taken aback because I wasn’t expecting something that personal. I tend to be a pretty private person and I don’t like sharing my personal life with my coworkers. It took me a moment to even think of how to answer the question. I finally told him my roommate.

He then asked, “How would she describe you?” Again, I struggled because my persona at home is not what I bring to work. My roommate sees me at my best and worst, but a more “real” version than the professional person I bring to work. I tried to offer him some positive traits that I think she’d agree I have.

He then asked, “What would she tell me is your worst habit?”

Without thinking, I blurted out, “Leaving my dishes in the sink too long,” because I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the line of questioning. At this point he brought in the manager who would be my direct supervisor and the questions took on a more professional tone.

I liked the manager I’d be working with, and the first interviewer seemed pretty pleased with my answers (he laughed about my dish answer and said his wife would say the same of him) but the questions were just so odd.

Are these typical questions to expect? How would you respond to someone asking you about your friends and what they’d say about you?

No, these aren’t typical interview questions. Moreover, they’re bad questions and the mark of an interviewer who doesn’t know how to interview.

If I squint, I can kind of see how “how would your best friend describe you?” could be an attempt to just get a better sense of who you are (something that’s not totally off-limits for a job interview, although this particular question is still a bad one), but “what would your best friend say is your worst habit?” is just a ridiculous thing to ask. The vast majority of people’s answers wouldn’t be relevant to work — it’s wildly irrelevant if your best friend thinks you should eat out less or initiate plans more or be less picky about guys or any of the other possible answers here. Plus, it’s going to make people uncomfortable, just as it did you.

Obviously it’s an attempt to get you talking about your weaknesses, but why the hell didn’t he make it relevant to work by asking, “What would your manager say your worst habit is?” Or better, “What kind of feedback have managers given you in the past, both things they saw as strengths and areas they encouraged you to grow in?” (I have learned a ton of interesting stuff by asking candidates that!)

Anyway, while these aren’t typical interview questions, it’s not uncommon to encounter an interviewer who doesn’t know how to interview well and uses questions that seem off-base or just throw you. You can’t prepare for those because there are so many possibilities for weird, off-base things a bad interviewer could land on.

What you can have are general strategies. For example, if someone asks you a non-work-related question that you’d rather not answer, you could (a) make up an answer that highlights something you want to reinforce in your candidacy, without sounding obviously disingenuous or over the top, (b) give a light-hearted response that highlights that the question isn’t suited for the context, like your answer about leaving dishes in the sink, (c) explicitly redirect it to something relevant to work (“I’m not sure my best friend would say anything relevant to work, but I’ll tell you what a close colleague would say…”), or (d) in particularly egregious situations, calmly say, “I wasn’t expecting that question. Why do you ask?” That last one is especially suited for interviewers who are treading on problematic legal territory — like asking if you have kids or what church you go to.

You can also expect you might be asked something about your life outside of work — whether it’s interests, hobbies, reading tastes, or who knows what — and have a couple of topics prepared that you’re comfortable talking about and which you can adapt for different questions.

It also helps to get really clear in your head about the power dynamics in interviews — specifically, that you’re there to assess them just as much as they’re assessing you, and you don’t give up all your own power once you sit down in the interview chair. I’m not saying that’s what happened to you — there’s nothing to indicate that — but it’s really common for candidates, especially early-career candidates, to feel like they’re just there to be judged and the interviewer holds all the power. Getting clear in your head that interviews are two-way streets and you get to decide whether you are interested in working with them can sometimes make weird interview questions easier to handle .

{ 261 comments… read them below }

  1. Antilles*

    Wow. This might be the least useful question ever, because I’m pretty sure everybody’s best friend would identify a habit that’s completely irrelevant to work.
    Like, my answer would be “my wife” and “he folds the towels incorrectly!” which like…um, I thought we were here to discuss a structural design job, so if that matters, I’m pretty sure I misread the job description.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Ironically, my best friend would probably genuinely say that my worst habit is working too much, but that sounds like the BS kind of answer people give to questions like this!

    2. Anonymous*

      Oh but there are so many questions that easily fall into “the least useful interview questions” category. My personal least useful one was “if you were an animal, what would it be?” I swear, my jaw literally dropped before I could get control of my reaction when the interviewer asked me that. I didn’t even send a thank you email after that interview – it was only one of the many flags telling me the job wasn’t one I would want.

      1. Potatoes gonna potate*

        The dumbest question I ever heard was actually posted in an online forum where the business owner said he’d ask people what Wizard of Oz character they would be. And whatever their answer was would indicate A LOT of things about their personality.

        1. Baron*

          Honest question – I’m middle-aged and have no kids. Has The Wizard Of Oz stood the test of time well enough for that question to hold up? Do young people today still watch it? It was a touchstone when I was a kid, but that was…a while ago.

          1. Too Many Tabs Open*

            I don’t think my kids have ever seen it (or The Sound of Music, for that matter –the other holiday TV mainstay of my youth). Though they have seen A Charlie Brown Christmas.

          2. Martin Blackwood*

            Not necessarily the 1930s movie, but I (GenZ) have definitely seen at least one student production of it (my older sister was…in the orchestra of it in high school? Don’t quite remember)

          3. alienor*

            My Gen Z daughter has seen it and we also read the book together when she was five or six. I just asked her if she thought most people her age would be familiar with it, and she said yes, it’s one of those cultural osmosis things that you just sort of know about. That might depend on which culture you grew up in, though – not sure how popular it is outside the U.S.

          4. Student*

            Wizard of Oz main story elements and plot points get brought into more contemporary culture items regularly. I know I’ve seen the main elements or world lore pop up in a couple of shows.

            Wicked, the musical, was wildly successful.

          5. Anonymous*

            My teenagers have seen it, mostly to get the flying monkey and other references in their memes. I also took one of them to see Wicked, so we watched the original before we went.

          6. MCMonkeyBean*

            I’m part of a local theater community that puts it on every year so I am probably biased but it seems like the kind of classic everyone still knows to me. I mean, it came out 50 years before I was born and everyone I knew as a kid had seen it.

            As an adult though I find every time I rewatch it I am more and more on Mrs. Gulch’s side lol. Like, is she just supposed to let Toto keep terrorizing her poor cat!? And it is suggested Dorothy could solve everything by simply taking a different route home that doesn’t taker her by Mrs. Gulch’s house and she just can’t be bothered to do so??

          1. alienor*

            I always wanted to be Polychrome the Rainbow’s Daughter and live on dewdrops and mist-cakes.

          2. JustaTech*

            The Queen with a Hundred Heads!
            (No, she’s not a very smart character, always picking the pretty and vain head over the not-quite-as-pretty and smart head.)

      2. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I usually offer up “Honey badger” with absolutely no follow-up or explanation.

        1. MsM*

          That’s either a red flag or an immediate hire, and I’m not sure I care enough to resist the “you’re hired!” impulse.

        2. Alex the Alchemist*

          Yeah, I’d just say “possum” and not elaborate.

          Or just say, “Possum.” and when asked for an explanation, say, “Well, I don’t have rabies either.”

      3. Sage*

        I had that question too! Back then I was very naive and I thought that there must be something profound and intricate behind that question that I just didn’t see. Years later I found out it was just a BS question.

      4. WoodswomanWrites*

        I was part of a four-person interview panel where we’d come up with solid questions for candidates applying for a communications role. Then my less experienced colleague added the question at the end, “If you could be an animal, what would it be?” We had one candidate who was the obvious choice for the position, answering everything thoroughly and confidently–and it clearly took a good bit of restraint for her not to make fun of that final question. I wanted to hide under the table myself. After she was hired, she shared what an annoying question that had been.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          I believe the answer to the what animal question is either Unicorn or Mermaid. But is Mermaid an animal or another form of humanoid type being?

      5. SheRa Is My Hero*

        My sister answered the animal question with one of my favorite answers. (She was interviewing for a government job when asked this question).

        “A panda bear, because they look sweet from a distance but would not hesitate to rip your face off”. She is the sweetest, most unassuming person so I wish I could have seen the interviewers face.

        She got the job.

      6. Anonymous*

        ooooooh… no, “what animal would you like to be?” is usually asked because of psychoanalitic bullshit about your personality that’s based on presciely no scientifical evidence.

        I had the (bad) luck of studying psychology in a very psychoanalisis-run country and here is what you are meant to answer so as to pass off as a normal, well-adjusted person (again, no evidence that supports this, and these are different than any answer I would give if I didn’t know the “theory” to it):
        – “If you were an animal, what animal would it be?” : answer with any socially acceptable, friendly animal. Dog, cat, Dolphin and things like that. When asked “why?” say any normal socially acceptable quality “because they are friendly /loyal”. You are, according to them, describing yourself, so make sure is a positive attribute you like and would be useful for your line of work.

        -“what plant would you be?” again, pick something nice and acceptable, daisies, willow, idk, and say stuff like “because they look lovely, because they are very resistant” whatever. DO NOT SAY anything with thorns.

        -“what object would you be?” – Pick something seemingly normal, DO NOT pick anything abstact or without a shape, like water or mist or wind.

        ALTERNATIVELY if someone is asking these questions, you can just say “f* that” and leave, because they are wasting their time and yours on some baseless bunch on crap.

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Right? My husband’s going to say that his biggest complaint is that I have high expectations and provide detailed feedback when they’re not met, which, uh, I’m a manager, that’s kind of my job.

      1. Kyrielle*

        My husband would probably say my complete dislike for scooping kitty litter, which he takes on most of the time so I don’t have to.

        As I’m not applying to work in an animal shelter or rescue….

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Well, I don’t do that either but they’re his cats. And I feel like it’s not my fault that he finds “rinse your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher and wipe up spills on the counter” to be high expectations. :P

          1. allathian*

            Depends on how often you run the dishwasher. But if you dirty enough dishes to run it every day or every other day, there are detergents on the market that can handle the remains of food up to 24 hours old. They’re meant to save water, rinsing a food dish that’s been in the oven can use twice as much water as running the dishwasher’s eco program.

            That said, it depends a lot on the climate and your local bacterial biome. When I lived alone I’d wash the dishes whenever the sink got full or I ran out of plates, i.e. about twice a week. When I was an intern in Spain, I learned very quickly that dishes have to be washed (or rinsed and put in the dishwasher) straight after a meal, leaving them only for an hour or two resulted in a horrible stench.

      2. Potatoes gonna potate*

        Mine would say I don’t like . I’m sure that’d go over well in a JOB interview. (and if it does, it’s probably not the right job for me!)

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        One of our, um, adjustment periods, at the beginning of the pandemic was my spouse telling me, “Stop trying to manage me, I don’t need feedback!”. He also hates the word feedback.

    4. Goldfeesh*

      Best friend: “Goldfeesh bogarts the joint too much …” “Oh, you wanted something work related???”

  2. Ally McBeal*

    Something I’ve learned in media training sessions is that the question doesn’t matter as much as your ability to pivot from the question to the point you want to make. Now, someone in a job-interview situation can’t just refuse to answer the question like a CEO could in a news interview, but if you can figure out what the interviewer might be trying to get at – what would someone who knows you well say about your strengths and weaknesses at work? – then you can deflect with something like “well, my best friend probably thinks I wear too much black clothing, but my manager at my last job once counseled me to XYZ…”

    1. Hmm.*

      I’m not sure I would say that if I actually wanted the job. That would come across as a rebuke for a lot of easy-going types that ask the question in what they think is good fun. Also, I’m not willingly going to give them what my last manager criticized me over. They’re going to have to directly ask me if they want that information.

      I think it would make a great passive-aggressive rebuke though. Saving that for a day I need to burn a bridge!

      1. wynona walker*

        this answer doesn’t read as a rebuke at all to me. it answers the question that they literally asked and then pivots to more relevant information. especially if you answered with a light-hearted tone, I’d think it would come across as going along with the easy-going vibe.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      I’d push back on this a little bit. You absolutely do not have to answer any question in a job interview that makes you uncomfortable. I’ve had an interviewer ask me a question they shouldn’t have asked and they retracted it before I was able to actually answer. Interviewers are imperfect people. Now if you refuse to answer their question about what kind of animal you would be or whatever, you’re probably not going to get that job. But that’s a reasonable tradeoff to make if someone is asking you wildly inappropriate questions.

      1. cabbagepants*

        Do you might sharing what the question was? In my mind I guess it was something about whether you had kids. It’s in that danger zone of “commons small talk” and “protected category.”

    3. Cobol*

      I agree with this. It’s a horrible question. The interviewer is either asking for some very specific answer you’ll never guess, or doesn’t really care about the answer. As long as you answer the question with positivity and something that’s close to an answer to the question you’ve passed.

      Now does the question make you reevaluate the company? That’s definitely something to consider

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree with this–my guess is that he heard some variation on “what would you manager say is your worst quality” and thought if he substituted in best friend he’d crack some secret code and get the really useful information… but of course it only makes him likely to get more useless information. I think pivoting in a way to address what you think they really want to know would show a level of problem solving and thinking on your feet that would come across well.

  3. Venus*

    “What kind of feedback have managers given you in the past, both things they saw as strengths and areas they encouraged you to grow in?”

    I’m not sure how I would answer this. The first thing that comes to mind is that I’m bad at saying no and will often agree to extra work, but I feel like that’s not a great thing to say during an interview. Thankfully I’m also comfortable refusing work that is outside my scope and I will refuse requests if I’m too busy, so the extra work is interesting to me, useful to the company, and done within my regular workday.

    1. Need More Sunshine*

      As an interviewer, I would find it a good answer if you said something like “Earlier in my career, I would take on anything someone else asked me to do even if it wasn’t in my job description. My manager gave me feedback that this was often spreading me too thin for my own tasks, and I realized that even though I thought I was being helpful to others, it did have an impact on my work. I started considering extra requests more closely and better determining which requests made sense for me to take on and when it made more sense to focus on work within my department. In the end, I’ve been able to learn some extra skills and provide some extra value to my company, while still effectively managing my own workload.”

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I use a variation of this answer for what I’ve been told is my biggest weakness at work. You never, ever just say a weakness and leave it at that. You talk through what the negative feedback was AND the steps you’ve taken to improve.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        This is a strong response. Here’s one analysis of why:

        “Earlier in my career, I would take on anything someone else asked me to do even if it wasn’t in my job description. My manager gave me feedback that this was often spreading me too thin for my own tasks, and I realized that even though I thought I was being helpful to others, it did have an impact on my work.

        Identifies the problem and shows understanding of why it was a problem and the impact the behavior had.

        I started considering extra requests more closely and better determining which requests made sense for me to take on and when it made more sense to focus on work within my department.

        Identifies the solution and why you think it worked.

        In the end, I’ve been able to learn some extra skills and provide some extra value to my company, while still effectively managing my own workload.

        Resolution and final outcome, demonstrating lessons learned.

        1. But what to call me?*

          I actually managed to use this structure once for the dreaded ‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’ answer.

          I said something about how I used to be way too much of a perfectionist but have learned that if you try to do everything perfectly in this job, you’ll never get anything done and will waste a lot of time on things like making a perfect plan that will fly out the window the moment a real client enters the room (got a knowing laugh from the interviewers in response to that), concluding that I’d gotten much better at prioritizing where to focus my time and attention to get the best results. Or something like that.

    2. Johannes Bols*

      The letter about the interviewer asking inappropriate questions got me to thinking… in a situation like that I would’ve decided I didn’t wish to work for the company. In the past I would’ve toughed out the rest of the interview. But there’s an alternative. Standing up, saying, “I’m concluding this interview.” And thanking the interviewer for their time and asking to be shown out. It signals to the interviewer that their questions were inappropriate. And it also signals that you took control of a dicey situation.

  4. Abe Froman*

    It really does seem like so many people want to “out-smart” the hiring process by asking these kinds of ridiculous questions. It definitely betrays a lack of experience or just a stubbornness to do things differently just for the sake of difference.

  5. ferrina*

    I love OP’s response of “Leaving my dishes in the sink too long”. It’s so beautifully innocuous and as relevant to work as the question was (i.e., not much at all).

    1. Heidi*

      I also thought this was an excellent answer. Basically nothing unexpected or odd. Moved the small talk along. Made the guy laugh. You did great, OP!

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      The problem here is that if the interviewer is a neatnik, he may (subconsciously or not) start to think of the interviewee as a bit of a slob, and that colors the interview in a way that it should not do.

      I know, because I am a neatnik, and I hate dirty dishes in the sink, but sometimes I do it because life happens and there are more important things.

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Have you READ the multitude of columns about office dishes on this site????


      1. Princess Sparklepony*

        Well, there is the entire Teapot industry that get intense scrutiny here. Along with Llama Care and Management.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      “Well you see, our company owner likes to pee in the breakroom sink, so this could become problematic.”

    5. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      I like it too. When asked what my biggest weakness is I usually answer with, “chocolate.”

      After they’re done laughing, I’ll tell them I’m not good at doing a task that can be associated with my specialization, but a) I haven’t ever needed to do so and b) I can look it easily.

  6. Sara*

    Also – why would he ask who your best friend was? How is that relevant to anything? Why not just start with “How would your BFF describe you”?

    The whole is weird but the way he led into is so confusing to me lol.

      1. Abe Froman*

        She would definitely say I don’t take her on enough walks or give her enough treats, especially right after we talk a walk or I give her a treat.

        1. But what to call me?*

          Oh yes, and mine would make sure to point out that lately I’ve been waiting later than usual for her evening walks, which is a cruel denial of her rights and not at all a response to daytime temperatures being consistently 100+ degrees and humid.

        2. Princess Sparklepony*

          Mine would complain that they only got second breakfast once.

          I had a brain fart and forgot I had just fed them. I had four at that time so never-ending tasks were routine… After that mistake, they always looked at me wistfully after first breakfast.

      2. DramaQ*

        My dog would say he really doesn’t appreciate it when I constantly complain about his farts since I’m the one that buys the dog food.

        Now I want to be asked that question just so I can use that response and see what happens.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Hahah yes, my dog would definitely ask me to stop calling her Stinky Booty Baby (but she is!).

    1. ursula*

      It’s not important for the story but I got hung up on this as well! I don’t really have one person with the “Best Friend” title, especially since I would assume I should exclude my partner. Without any judgment on people who do have a clear, single Best Friend (relationships develop in all different ways for different people over the course of our lives!), this is a weirdly Middle School framework, especially for a job interview question. Bizarre!

      1. ferrina*

        Right?! I have no idea how I would answer that. Maybe my sister?

        I can just imagine how my sister would describe me- “I don’t think she’s a waste of oxygen”
        (Literally how she has described me- this was high praise!)

        1. Loredena*

          Oh gods. Catch phrase from my sister is that I’ve never done anything wrong in my entire blameless existence! I can just imagine how that would go in an interview. (Obviously not true, she was just feeling compared and losing and it was funny enough in retrospect to stick)

      2. nobadcats*

        I always preface my answer as, “It’s not a position, it’s a level. And I have six, five humans and my cat.”

      3. Antilles*

        Middle/High School is exactly what I was thinking of too, because that’s about the last time where asking a completely random stranger you initially meet has a good chance to overlap with a “oh yeah, I have math class with that guy” rather than being just a meaningless name the interviewer’s never heard of.

      4. HonorBox*

        I was introduced to my best friend when he sat on my board of directors. We weren’t as close then as we are now, but he did at one point sign off on my expense reports. While I’m sure that would open up a different can of worms if I expounded on how we know one another, it would sure allow me to transition quickly to how a former supervisor would answer that question.

    2. Potatoes gonna potate*

      My best friend gets irrationally angry when I don’t let her play with knives.
      She’s 3.
      She’s my daughter.

    3. amoeba*

      Yeah, that’s honestly the weirdest part for me as well! For the second and third question, well, I’d probably translate them in my head to “how would others describe you/what’s your worst flaw” and interpret them in a work-related way, so basically just as if they had asked for my weaknesses.
      But the first part? Like, even if you have a best friend, which not everybody does, obviously, what do they want? Name? Description? I mean, they don’t know them, so what the hell would they do with that information?

      1. But what to call me?*

        Yeah, and without the context of the rest of the question, which the interviewer didn’t share until getting an answer to the first question, it’s *really* a mystery what they want. Just a name? Why? Presumably there’s going to be some kind of followup, so if you’re not someone with an easy answer (I’m sure not) then you’ve got to consider not just who best fits the ‘best friend’ criteria but also who is most likely to work well with whatever the followup question is going to be.

        It would also leave me wondering what kind of middle school-esque culture they must have at that workplace if it’s taken as a given that everyone’s social circle follows that friend/best friend structure.

  7. Need More Sunshine*

    “What kind of feedback have managers given you in the past, both things they saw as strengths and areas they encouraged you to grow in?”

    I love this question and I’m going to start using it in my own hiring process! It’s a more nuanced take on the typical strengths and weaknesses question. I’d also probably add in “And how did you implement that feedback?”

    1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Hopefully candidates will include how they implemented the feedback in their answers!

  8. Surfin’ USofA*

    A friend was recently asked in a job interview what they’d wanted to be when they grew up. Was this an ice breaker, or just a way to make them feel bad for not following their dreams? No one, I don’t think, would answer “Oh I grew up hoping to be a project manager!”

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      “I wanted to be a Salesforce admin!” And the follow-up question would be, “And when did you discover you can predict the future?”

    2. Potatoes gonna potate*

      “I wanted to dress up and drive to work and be important and make money!”

      I mean I got 3 out of 4 there so?

    3. Large Pink Rabbit*

      It’s just an ice breaker. It’s not a quiz, they aren’t going to fact check them on it. Just pick something that sounded good and be able to talk about what appealed to them about it in an engaging manner, with bonus points for being able to tie something about it to what they saw in their current/last job. That’s all any of these are.

      “Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be an astronaut. Captain (insert Star Trek captain appropriate to your generation) was my role model, and I wanted to be part of creating missions to explore the galaxy. While that never came to pass, project management involves creating connections with stakeholders and resolving conflicts. Fortunately, galactic peace isn’t at stake for me!”

      1. metadata minion*

        But is doing this sort of on-the-fly creative thinking part of the job they’re hiring for? If it is, cool, though I’d rather hear work-relevant creative questions. If not, you’ve just put the person on the spot for no reason. I know someone who wanted to be a garbage collector when she was little, because when you’re 4, garbage trucks are often The Coolest Thing Ever. It’s an adorable story in a social situation, but what the heck is an interviewer going to think?

        I wanted to be a vet for a while, and that’s generally a socially-acceptable or at least fairly common childhood dream, but I’d rather just talk about what appeals to me about cataloging without having to put it in a weird frame. I realized that I would actually be miserable in veterinary medicine, but it doesn’t even really make sense to frame it as “and that’s why I’m applying to this job, which is very unlike my dream”, since that’s true of basically any office job.

        1. KateM*

          I don’t even remember! I wonder how would an answer of “I just remember I was sure I will never be X or Y (my actual profession). Y because it seemed too easy and boring – until my mom told me that Y in school is always boring and just wait until I get to Z” go down…

        2. Anon for This*

          My fourth-grader wants to be a garbage collector because it doesn’t require more school and isn’t likely to be replaced by AI in the near future.

          1. IHeartGuacamole*

            It probably will be replaced by AI, unfortunately. When I was a kid, garbage trucks had 3 men working on them – one to drive and two to wheel the bins to the truck. Now there is only the driver. How long until they’re self driving?

            1. Student*

              Judging by the garbage-truck driver training that happens in the bug, empty parking lot near my home:

              It’ll be a long while. That job is gonna be safer than my office job, for sure.

        3. Large Pink Rabbit*

          It’s an ice breaker. It’s not a test of your creative thinking. It’s an opportunity to connect with another person, which is a skill in most office jobs.

          I realize that the comment section skews heavily toward people who prefer not to engage socially with their coworkers, but you have to realize that you are a minority. Many offices are going to be looking for people who can connect on a non-technical level as well as a technical level.

          If that’s a big deal to you, remember that interviews are a two way street. If you don’t want to be in an office where engagement is valued, just take note of the culture and turn down the offer!

          1. M. from P.*

            Hmm, I actually have a very different impression of the people on this site! I’d say the commentariat skews friendly, professional (in a good sense!) and no-nonsense (which can also be very refreshing to work with).
            Speaking for myself only, I’ve met some of my best friends at work and I’d still feel at a loss about that interview question. I’m all for connecting but it just feels so gimmicky to me – I wouldn’t like it at a party either.

            1. M. from P.*

              I mean the question about what animal I’d be, not the one about my dream job as a child.

        4. Loredena*

          I wanted to be an icthyologist at one point. That definitely doesn’t tie to my IT career!

    4. Salsa Your Face*

      I think the key with this sort of question is to find an element of your childhood dream job and link it to a skill required in your current career, to show that the threads have been there all along. “I wanted to be an astronaut because I loved adventure–I still find excitement in exploration, and my ability to translate that excitement to other people is what makes me an excellent tour guide.”

      1. Michelle Smith*

        I didn’t have a dream job then and I don’t have a dream job now. I never understood this. I don’t dream of working. I dreamed of being independently wealthy (literally – I was so specific that I still remember the first and middle name of my imaginary future housekeeper). If you want to know the threads of how I got to where I am now, I have come up with a coherent, interview appropriate narrative for that. But you’ll never get to it by asking me this question.

        1. coffee*

          Yeah, I had enough awareness as a child to know that I would never have the stereotypical kid-dream jobs like “astronaut” or “ballerina”, and I didn’t want to lie about that so people could enjoy thinking I was cute.

      2. Book miner*

        I wanted to grow up to be a cat, and I am proud to say that the core skills of napping and eating are still with me today.

        1. coffee*

          The older I get, the more I wish to be a beloved pet cat. Oh to be a cat napping in a sunbeam!

      3. Samantha*

        In kindergarten I wanted to be a lunchbox. Now I’m a project manager and I have no idea how I would link those two things together.

    5. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Woot! I can win this one! I wanted to be a writer, and I’m a writer! Of course, I only thought about fiction because I was a big fiction reader and it took awhile to sink in that *someone* writes all those sentences that we see in the world. Now I write (among other things) task instructions that absolutely do not suck, and I know that’s true because I get the people who will use the instructions to check them for me.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          I hope so! Because that would be rad. And I suspect that we’re around the same age.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        Same! I think I was born enchanted with stringing words together because I wrote scribbly lines as stories before I learned to create actual letters. And now I’m a professional writer and I love it.

        I confess that before that point, I wanted to a be a tall giraffe and I still remember my mother explaining that I was always going to be a human.

      2. M. from P.*

        Another wished-to-be-a writer. As a former technical translator, thank you for writing instructions that do not suck!!!
        There should be more of you.

        [I am now a doctor and I write patient discharge instructions that do not suck, haha].

    6. Gumby*

      My legit answer to this would be, “well, it depended on what books I was reading at the time. Except for Cherry Ames, I already knew I didn’t want to be a nurse though the traveling sounded good. But when I read Nancy Drew I wanted to be a detective, when I read Samantha on Stage – ballerina, etc.” There just aren’t any children’s books where the main character is a PM. (Not that I know of anyway.)

      1. Endorable*

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else who read Cherry Ames! Clearly started as propaganda for what was it, the US Army Nurse training corps.. ‘oh look at their cute uniforms’ :). That dream died when I had my first trip to the ER and was grosssed out by my own blood!

        1. Cheshire Cat*

          I read the first 3 Cherry Ames books! My library didn’t own copies of the rest of the series. :(

        2. Gumby*

          I was similar – I like my blood as long as it stays in my body where it is supposed to be!

          The Cherry Ames books were my mom’s. They are where I learned about malaria oddly. And I remember a whole lot about the uniforms which I found a little tedious especially since none of it seemed to still apply. But I was reading them a good 45 or so years after they were written so that makes sense.

        3. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          Omg, I LOVED Cherry Ames! I think I had about 7 or 8 of those books and would have gotten them all if I could have.

          From the age of 11 to about 16, I totally wanted to be a nurse. like you, Ieventually gave up on the idea because I realized not being able to stand the sight of blood was a deal breaker, lol, but oh, how I loved those books!

    7. Corporate Lawyer*

      When I was a kid, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I was quite certain about what I did NOT want to be when I grew up: a lawyer.
      (I’m a lawyer.)

      1. Avery*

        That reminds me of how my dad says when he was in law school, he didn’t really know what kind of law he wanted to do, but he knew he didn’t want to work in family law.
        (He’s a family law attorney. I’m a paralegal in the same field now. It wasn’t my first choice, but I wasn’t opposed to it either, except for things like “wouldn’t that be a lot of people skills and drama?” (answer: yes, but being remote helps keep some distance there) and “wait, wouldn’t I just be known as my dad’s kid then?” (answer: well, partly, but I like to think I’m starting to establish my own reputation already, about a year into my paralegal work.))

    8. allathian*

      I wonder, and it’s really irrelevant to the job, too. Some people know very early on what they want to be when they grew up, like my cousin who announced whe she was 4 years old that she wanted to be a doctor. Now she’s a pediatrician.

      I had so many dream jobs as a kid that I don’t remember all of them. I do know that at one point I wanted to be an astronaut. I also wanted to be independently wealthy so I could do what I wanted all day long. Oddly enough, I never dreamed of marrying a rich man as a means of getting rich, I always got rich either through an anonymous benefactor or by being the heir of a wealthy, until then unknown relative.

  9. not a hippo*

    “he’d say that I hate inane interview questions and don’t do well at hiding my contempt for them”

    Seriously, what kind of info was this interviewer angling for?

    1. pally*

      Gah! I know. Sometimes I fear the result of these asinine questions is that one is forever known as the “leaves dishes in the sink” person (assuming one got hired).

      Thinking “Sex-crazed homicidal maniac – but never at work” would be something I’d like to
      try -just to get a reaction. That would end things really fast. Not entirely a bad thing.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        If there is a point, it’s to make the candidate feel uncomfortable and off-balance, so that their other answers will be more ‘honest’.

        1. CG*

          Does being uncomfortable and off-balance really yield more honest answers, though? I mean, I guess if your whole work culture is about keeping your employees uncomfortable and off-balance, then maybe I could see presenting that up front in an interview as helpful for seeing if they can handle the job, but that’s about it…

    2. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      I did a one-way video audition for a job (it’s not an interview, there’s nothing inter about it) and I was asked to tell about a time I had to learn something new.

      I talked about how I had to learn how to interview job applicants and how I researched in multiple places.

  10. Margaret Meedee*

    Recently had an interviewer ask me to talk about a time I had stereotyped someone and what I had learned from that experience.

    The interviewer said they like that question because it makes people uncomfortable.

    It certainly did – made me uncomfortable to work for a person who thinks this is an appropriate question to ask in an interview.

    1. ILoveLlamas*

      I probably would have answered that the most recent time was this interview — that I stereotype people who ask uncomfortable questions because I see them seeking to exert their power in these types of situations where there is an implied imbalance of power (i.e. job interview). Then I would ask them their last time they stereotyped someone…. I do not suffer that level of ick without speaking up. I’m too old for that nonsense.

      1. Nina from Corporate Accounts Payable*

        Since there isn’t a ‘like’ button (probably for the best), giving you a BIG like for that answer!

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*


      I think doing a self-assessment of biases on a regular basis is a healthy exercise. No one is perfect, but we can always try and be better than we are and it’s a good way to not become the old grump wandering around saying “back in MY day” (or worse!). But I don’t know that I’d want to tell an interviewer for a job all about the views I had that I realized were flawed, and definitely not this way!

      1. Margaret Meedee*

        it was an internal multi candidate multi position situation and fortunately the first person interviewed told everyone else about the question so we all had time to think up a bs answer. I hope he got something out of it (and to answer prior comments you guessed the race and gender of the interviewer exactly and could probably guess his socioeconomic standing + where he got his MBA too in under 3 guesses.)

    3. Camellia*

      The first thing that came to my mind is ‘white male privilege’. And what did I learn? I learned that he lived up to that stereotype.

    4. Fikly*

      If it makes you uncomfortable and it shows, then the interviewer knows that you are a poor hire on a DEI basis, because you can’t handle the harsh reality that EVERYONE does badly at DEI, and until you admit it, you cannot do better.

      It’s a great question, and more people should ask it when hiring.

      1. The Ginger Ginger*

        You can talk to someone in an interview about DEI and they’re relationship with it without asking them to delve into their own biases in such and abrupt way. That’s a weird and confrontational way to approach getting that kind of information from an interviewee. And you can’t infer what you’re saying from an answer like that. All you can infer is that you made the person uncomfortable enough, or surprised them enough, for them to not know how to respond. That’s not actually good interviewing.

      2. Silver Robin*

        I mean, “I ask stuff to people folks uncomfortable” is a jerk move unless the job requires dealing with folks who are like that (and in that case, do you want that job?). And that attitude comes through. I am not going to be vulnerable about ways I have fallen short of my values with somebody who is just trying to make me uncomfortable.

        I just highly doubt that this kind of framing would get useful answers. My interviews involved questions about DEI because it was relevant to the type of work I would be doing and DEI is part of everyone’s annual review. So definitely, folks should be asked about it, but not for the sake of inducing discomfort.

      3. Reformed*

        See reflecting on your biases is a good internal thing, but I can’t tell an interviewer about any actual leaps forward I’ve made without admitting that I used to hold bigoted beliefs. And if I reveal I used to have bigoted beliefs, he’s not going to believe I don’t currently. So no one is going to honestly answer the question, they’re all just going to sit there awkwardly while they try and figure out if there’s a way they can bring up redheads or twins or something.

      4. Anonymous*

        I guess it depends on what your objective it. If you’re actually interested in candidates’ experience with DEI initiatives, asking something intended to provoke and elicit an emotional response versus actual information is not the way to do it. If you love watching people squirm and feeling morally superior, have at.

        I’m also less concerned with someone’s internal processes and more about how whatever work they’ve done manifests itself in their ability to work positively, respectfully, and productively with our team, who will also be interviewing.

      5. city deer*

        The last time I stereotyped someone, I assumed that that person, as a member of a certain socially dominant group, would be uncomfortable with me and potentially act inappropriately toward me because of my belonging to a certain marginalised group. I learned that sadly I was correct and that despite the appearance of social progress for my group, I do not have the luxury of assuming that everyone is safe for me to be around.

        Your take on DEI is just bizarre. It isn’t a skill that people are “good at” or “bad at” and it’s pretty absurd to suggest that everyone is equally “bad” as if people from different backgrounds don’t have radically different experiences of stereotyping or *being* stereotyped.

  11. Irish Teacher*

    No, those are definitely not questions I have ever been asked and I spent about 13 years subbing and applying for numerous jobs each of those years.

    I might have a pretty appropriate answer for what my friends would say my worst habit was though. “Talking too much about history.” It’s pretty true and for a job teaching history, it would seem to work!

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Pink collar = typically female dominated career field. May be “caring related” or not. I’ve seen nursing, beauticians/hairdressers, teachers (elementary), administrative assistants, etc. all classed together as pink collar careers.

    2. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Traditionally feminized work such as nursing, teaching, and social work. It often sits at a crossroads between white collar and blue collar work. You likely have a college degree and are seen as working in a “profession” rather than “just a job”, but you’re also doing a lot of physical (and emotional and mental) labour, struggling for workers’ rights, and paid shockingly low amounts.

    3. Salsa Your Face*

      It generally refers to work that was traditionally thought of as “women’s work,” so secretarial jobs, teaching, nursing, childcare, etc.

    4. amoeba*

      Ah, interesting, thanks for the replies! Was somehow thinking healthcare/nursing (like, envisaging pink shrubs, I guess, for some reason?) but this makes more sense…

  12. Kara*

    Agree that some people just don’t know how to interview and so try to come up with questions that they think mean something.

    I once had an interviewer ask me “If you could be any animal, which one would it be and why?” My response at the time was “Honestly, right now I want to be a polar bear because they live in the Arctic and it’s 96F and 70% humidity in Georgia.” It made her laugh and we moved on. I know from talking to other people who interviewed with her that she was looking for some kind of “teammate/cooperative” type of animal or response, but apparently my answer didn’t get me rejected, since I got the job.

    But in my experience the best way to handle those questions is to treat them seriously but lightly, if that makes sense.

    1. danmei kid*

      We all got asked that once as an icebreaker and I said I’d like to be the pets of any one of my teammates because y’all be out here spoiling your pets like crazy. It got a good laugh.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          My spouse’s deepest desire is to be reincarnated as a well-kept cat. (Ours are rather spoiled.)

    2. Penny Pasta*

      When a former manager of mine asked an interviewee what kind of animal they’d be that was the sign she wasn’t going to hire the person and was just asking dumb questions to mess with them.

    3. Panda Pal*

      Who comes up with a team animal? If you say your favorite animal is an ant, because they work in teams I would not believe you. I think I’d probably say a panda because…. I like pandas. Any spin I can think of seems incredibly disingenuous.

      1. allathian*

        Mmm yeah. I’d probably say a humpback whale, because they’re the only species to use “tools” underwater when they use a bubble net to corral fish or crustaceans like krill in a smallish volume of water so they can eat them. They work as a team to blow bubbles so every member of the pod gets their share of the food. (Otters also use rocks to break the shells of shellfish to get at the meat, which is very cool too, but they don’t work as a team to do so.)

    4. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      See, that’s a great example of why it isn’t a useful question in my view.

      How are you supposed to know she’s looking for examples of collaboration? Why not just ask for that? “Tell me about a time you’ve collaborated with others and it went well/badly/what you’ve learned/what role do you usually play in a team?/What do you find difficult about collaboration?”/etc.

      The animal question is frustrating because someone’s animal choice tells you nothing whatsoever about how collaborative they are. It could be a question to assess anything.

  13. Juicebox Hero*

    I kick my shoes off as soon as I walk into the house so there’s a giant pile of random shoes sitting next to the front door. It really says something about my bookkeeping and customer-wrangling skills.

  14. All That*

    It’s also possible that the interviewer wanted to ask something that hadn’t been asked before – to see how well the candidate thinks on their feet. I’ve been asked, “What’s your favorite color and why?” (Aubergine, because it sounds fancy.) “If you were a superhero, who would you be?” (Batgirl, because I like the mask.) I think part of it’s to see how you react (I try to act like it’s a bit whimsical). I also think it’s stupid, but play the game.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, but there are better ways to gauge that. You can throw some scenarios out there that they might actually encounter in this position and ask how what they would do in that situation and why.

      Questions like this are entirely devoid of context.

      1. EngGirl*

        Yes and no. I’m a big fan of a relevant hypothetical. One of my favorite questions was to say “Ok let’s say that you’ve made this kind of mistake that resulted in X cost/issue. What’s your course of action once you realize this has happened.” And I’d get some really great insight into candidates (the number of people who would describe the various ways they’d try to cover their tracks was startling).

        However there are only so many versions of these types of questions you can ask. If I ask something “out of the box” and you give me certain types of answers in a job interview, I can only imagine what you’d say to a client.

  15. Bruce*

    Ugh… these rank up there with the trick questions / logical thinking problems. I did well on those but did not really think they were very relevant and I don’t use them myself. To me they give the wrong signal to candidates, that the interviewer thinks they are smarter or cooler than anyone else and wants to make a point of it. I’m at the point where I want to hire people who are smarter than me…

    1. ccsquared*

      Yeah, I like brain teasers in my free time, not while being interviewed. In one of the interviews for my first professional job, I was asked what I would do if I were shrunk to the size of a quarter and dropped into a blender and had 60 seconds to get out before the blender was turned on. Every other oddball question in that interview later made some sense, but I worked at that company for 7 years in a variety of roles and that one has remained a mystery.

  16. RunningUpThatBill*

    Okay, I have to ask, LW: were you interviewing for a job with the Posse Foundation? I used to work there and this is extremely similar to 2 of the questions we would ask teens applying for the Posse Scholarship: “Who’s someone who knows you really well?” and “What are 3 words they would use to describe you?” Those questions were supposed to help out teens who might struggle if we just asked them about their best qualities and feel like they were “bragging” or something if they just said their 3 greatest strengths, so instead they could think about what someone who knows them well would say. We’d often follow up by inviting them to say more about those 3 words so they could expand on their strengths.
    I think this is an okay question for teens interviewing for a scholarship, particularly since Posse seeks out “unconventional” scholarship applicants — teens who are less likely to have gotten coaching or mentorship that would help them interview well. But, at Posse there’s also a practice of having job applicants go through a similar application process as the scholarship applicants, which is admittedly very weird in some ways. For example, these questions are obviously not a fit for a young professional applying for a job!

    1. Fierce Jindo*

      Thanks for explaining this! A friend worked at Posse and was asked what kind of fruit he’d like to be. I always thought that was extraordinarily stupid, and I’m glad to at least know the reasoning behind it!

      1. RunningUpThatBill*

        Yeah, they’re very committed to what they call the “dynamic assessment process.” It’s supposed to be an interview process that not only uncovers traditional interview info like strengths and skills, but also gives a sense of what it would be like to be on team with this person (since Posse is a scholarship program based on a cohort model), what life experiences might contribute to them succeeding in the scholarship program that might be overlooked in a more traditional process, and also attempts to put at ease candidates who have less coaching and resources to be set up for success in an interview process.

        I sort of appreciate that they want staff to go through a similar process, to really experience what some elements of the work will be like (and get a student’s perspective, in a way), but it’s also very unusual and sometimes misses the mark. And I’d argue that it makes more sense when interviewing candidates for roles where they’ll work directly with students, than folks applying for, say, administrative or fundraising roles.

  17. Zephy*

    I have always struggled with “what would your bestie say about you” types of questions. How would I know? I’m not them, I don’t know how they perceive me, and actually that’s none of my business, anyway. Or yours, for that matter, Crappy Interviewer. It’s a bad question unless you’re specifically trying to screen out certain flavors of neurodiversity.

  18. what even*

    My gut reaction would be “my wife” and then some sort of (made up of course) weird sexual practice

    My gut reaction would not get me that job

    1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I’ve been asked “how would your spouse describe you” and I was very tempted to answer “nice boobs”.

      To be honest, my relationships to my spouse or any of my friends don’t include much of describing each other’s good and bad sides to each other. I don’t know what they would say about me.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, exactly. At best I’d be putting words in their mouths. I can say what I think are the good and bad sides of some of my friends, but I guess I’m not self-aware enough to guess at what they’d say about me. And I’m fairly self-aware in general about my emotions, characteristics, and abilities, etc.

    2. Katie Impact*

      I feel like there’s really not much interviewers can learn even from answers that might seem tangentially work-relevant. My fiancee would say that my worst habit is eating food that she’d been looking forward to eating herself or cooking with, but that doesn’t mean I’d steal food out of the fridge at the office!

  19. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    “What kind of feedback have managers given you in the past, both things they saw as strengths and areas they encouraged you to grow in?”

    Yeah, this question might actually not be that useful either if you’ve had a bad manager that avoids giving any feedback, or gives unclear, conflicting, too harsh, or incorrect feedback.

    I don’t think the interviewer is looking for the answer about habits or weaknesses, so much as they are gauging the applicant’s ability to respond appropriately and their attitude/personality — are they pleasant, do they get evasive or annoyed or curt, do they ramble on and on and then forget the question, do they actually admit something inappropriate?

    1. EngGirl*

      That’s always been how I’ve used these types of seemingly irrelevant questions. I don’t use them unless I get a certain vibe off a candidate (or if we’re just sitting around waiting for the next interviewer, but that’s usually more “so what do you do for fun” or “what kind of music do you like” type of stuff)

    2. Cedrus Libani*

      Unless the candidate is fresh out of school, they’ve probably had at least a few managers to choose from, and they’ve been subject to various forms of authority (of widely varying reasonableness) for their entire lives.

      I think there are work-related skills being tested here. Does the candidate know what they need to be successful? (And does that line up with reality, both in general and for this job in particular?) Is the candidate able to take criticism and learn from their mistakes?

      I’ve had bad bosses, and I’ve learned from every single one of them. Not always lessons that I’d admit to if asked this question. There were lessons on boundaries, on keeping a paper trail, on the folly of trying to fix stupid and the wisdom of cutting your losses and moving on…

      But there were other lessons too. I’m now better at communicating with people whose brains don’t work like mine, and I’ve learned to seek out places where my strengths are not just needed but also WANTED.

    3. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      Why can’t they assess all those things with a relevant, clear, direct question though?

  20. Large Pink Rabbit*

    “The vast majority of people’s answers wouldn’t be relevant to work”

    Interviewers who ask these questions aren’t always looking for answers that are directly relevant to work, though. They are looking more for *how* you answer. They don’t care whether you leave your dishes in the sink, but they might care about how you are able to talk about the disagreement or whether you are able to answer seemingly irrelevant questions smoothly. You don’t need to overthink these kinds of questions–he’s not interrogating the quality of your friendships! Just pick something and talk engagingly about it.

    Maybe it will help if you frame it as a Toastmaster’s moment. For those who have never been, they sometimes throw a random subject out, and you have to talk about it for 60 seconds or something. Then people will give you feedback on whether you got the time right and how many times you said “um.” The random subject in this case was what your best friend thinks your biggest flaw is.

    1. Silver Robin*

      Right but they should only be doing that if it is relevant to the job. Is that a necessary skill for the role? Somebody who is doing majority data entry probably does not need to speak extemporaneously about random subjects.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        In an interview they’re looking for more than just job skills though — a resume should cover baseline skills — they want to know if this is a person they want to work with. If 30 people apply and 10 of them have the required skills, these softball questions get people to reveal bits of their personality; it might work in someone’s favor, or it might eliminate them from consideration.

        1. Book miner*

          I would say that answering nonsensical questions in a stressful setting won’t necessarily reveal anything very meaningful about a person, except maybe how good they are at bullshitting.

      2. Large Pink Rabbit*

        Handling disagreements gracefully and being able to field unexpected questions is a skill for most roles.

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      But you could ask candidates for examples of how they handle conflict, and dig into it with them.

      Asking what their best friend thinks their worst habits are is an unnecessarily unclear way of getting that information.

  21. Potatoes gonna potate*

    “What kind of feedback have managers given you in the past, both things they saw as strengths and areas they encouraged you to grow in?”
    That’s an amazing question.
    And I’d be at a total loss as to how to answer – my evaluation meeting was fairly recent (a month ago?) and the feedback was basically “our expectations were low but holy crap not THAT low” and the “good” things seem like would pigeonhole me into a task/role that I’m not interested in.

    and as for the question at hand…’s a good thing I know what my friends would say but I have no idea what I would even say in the interview.

    1. Book miner*

      I don’t think I’ve ever had big picture negative feedback from a manager. While I would like to think this is because I’m perfect, it is more likely because all of my managers have been very hands off.

  22. Purple Jello*

    Once I started going to interview with my own list of questions for the interviewers, I had much better interview results – AND I was much less nervous. You need them to “sell” the job to you just as much as you need to sell yourself to them. I know that you don’t always have the option of being picky about taking a job, but just coming in with questions shows you prepared for the interview. And it might help you find some red flags.

    What kind of questions, do you ask?
    – Questions about the job posting
    – Questions about the company based on the public information
    – I was in compliance, so questions on how they’d handle a sticky or grey-area compliance issue
    – Questions about how they’ve handled a past compliance violation, or a hypothetical situation. (HINT – there are ALWAYS past compliance violations)
    – how is training handled (in general for the company, for my position, and training my position provided to others)
    – What the Interviewers like best about the company. Or “areas for improvement”
    – Alison’s magic question

  23. Penny Pasta*

    I really hate this best friend question. It makes a lot of assumptions about relationships people may or may not have, and which may be painful. For example, I don’t have a best friend. We parted ways long ago, partly because she hated my now-husband. I’ve been married longer than we were friends (and I made the right choice). I get that it behooves the interviewee to make something up if necessary, but I’d love to see the interviewer try to recover that fumble.

  24. Cubicle_queen*

    It kind of sounds like when my job started having us interview contractors using the TORC interview style (Threat of Reference Check), which comes from the book Topgrading. Within the interview, we’d look at 1-2 places of recent employment and ask for their supervisor’s name, say, “So if I called up Bob and said, ‘Tell me about Candidate,’ what could we expect them to say about you?” And then ask, “What would Bob say about you as a critique?”

    I’m wondering if this was some misguided translation because the interviewer didn’t think OP had an official previous job, but your best friend is ineffective for this kind of thing. Using retail and fast food supervisors would’ve done fine.

    1. That's 'Senior Eningeer Mate' to you.*

      I love the whole idea of “threat of reference check”. It just screams “unpleasant person to work for and wants you to know it”. My referees are chosen because they like me and think I’m a very good employee. Doesn’t everyone do that?

      I mean, sure, ring my current place of employment and ask for a manager, then ask for a reference check and a critique. You’re going to get either some Australian vernacular or a very polite Italian gentleman saying “he has not told me he is leaving. I am unhappy to hear this”. Which I suppose counts as critique?

  25. Kat*

    I went to an interview last week where one of the panel asked me which would I be: aluminum foil, saran wrap, or wax paper.

    I could feel Alison rolling her eyes on my behalf…

    1. Pyanfar*

      I would have struggled between aluminum foil, which is recyclable, and wax paper which reminds me of my late mother’s method for baking cakes

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        I’m going with waxed paper, because it’s biodegradeable, and I’m a fiend for composting. (I wouldn’t say that last bit.)

    2. narya*

      Yes, what did you say?! (And was it the “wrong” answer? Are any of these wrong answers somehow?? I have so many questions…)

    3. Indolent Libertine*

      Aluminum foil, because I’ve always wanted to be both recyclable and able to make a microwave oven explode? I’m struggling to figure out what would be either a good or bad answer to this…

    4. Dustin the Wind*

      Aluminum foil. Because currently I am a corvid and we like shiny things, so all my friends would love me.

    5. Hiring Mgr*

      I would say wax paper, because I don’t know what it’s used for and this would be a great chance to learn something new, which is how I’ll approach every day at the office, sir! Or Aluminum foil, because it’s dependable and trustworthy, yet can cut you and draw blood.

    6. Sage*

      I’m fascinated by the people able to provide interesting answers to that. I would have probably asked what saran wrap is, but I am not an English native speaker.

      1. 1LFTW*

        It’s name-brand plastic wrap, but back in the day it was I guess it was THE plastic wrap, because it’s done the Xerox thing.

    7. Kat*

      I said saran wrap, because I am flexible and I like to be honest and transparent with people. Felt like nonsense, but I did just get a call back so I guess it worked for them lol!

  26. StarTrek Nutcase*

    I think Allison is spot on about questions like this coming from interviewers who just don’t have a clue. I once had separate interviews with 3 professors for a research dept. assistant job. One was normal & typical, the 2d told jokes continuously and never asked me anything, and the 3d one ask only what my favorite hobby was and after my one word answer talked about his duck painting for 25 mins. I got the job despite the objections of the 2d. (He told me later I didn’t laugh enough at this jokes.)

    This was early in my career and I came to believe interviews were a crapshoot for both interviewers and interviewees (I had both roles). As the formers frequently have hidden prejudices (ex. a single woman will party too much so probably unreliable) and the latter are frequently hampered by nerves or are excellent bs’ers.

  27. Nene Poppy*

    In an interview years ago, the person who I would have worked for asked a version of the LW’s questions – ‘what would your family and friends say about you?’

    The guy was so awful, that I knew after the first few minutes into the interview there was no way I was going to work for this person hence my reply, ‘Exactly what I tell them to say.’

    The jerk offered me the job, which I certainly turned down.

    I was in my 40s and secure enough in myself not to put up with that nonsense. I was also in employement at the time so I could afford to be flippant.

    The person who took the job later sued the jerk for sexual harassment and discrimination.

  28. narya*

    Every time I read one of these letters about bad interview questions, I’m immediately taken back to an interview I had years ago with some (now out-of-business) office, where the guy who owned the place was interviewing me from across the country via video call (this was before the days of Zoom, Teams, and the like, when video calls were generally horrible, uncomfortable experiences with bad quality picture, sound, setup, etc.). Literally ALL his questions were of the personal/irrelevant nature. Nothing about my work experience or history or anything. He said he wanted to make sure all his staff “got along.” The 3 I remember most vividly are 1) What radio station did you listen to on the way here? 2) If you could invite any 3 people to dinner, blah blah blah 3) What was the last book you read? (Not favorite book, just the last one, which was even more irrelevant).

    There were plenty more, but by the end, I was waiting for him to ask that famously silly question, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” I was kind of disappointed he didn’t, lol.

    I don’t remember what my answers were (because who cares?) but I remember he didn’t like ANY of them. He got visibly more uncomfortable with each answer and even called me out on a few of them. But I wasn’t prepared to answer those stupid questions! So I know many of them were just frivolous throw-aways. I walked out of there certain I didn’t get the job, and nor did I care. But it always makes for a good laugh when I tell that story, so not all was lost.

    1. Ali + Nino*

      I haven’t been asked which type of tree I would like to be, but I was asked *to draw* not one but two trees. I (freehand) copied them from paintings in The Art Book and referenced the originals in the corner of each picture (i.e., artist, title). And then I was told that I couldn’t just copy someone else’s tree, I had to draw my own.

      I did, but I still didn’t get the job. I wonder what “my” trees said about me??? (eyeroll)

      1. Lady_Lessa*

        In college, one of my acquaintances was involved both in biology and art. At his art exhibit, he had taken the drawing of spinal nerves coming out, simplified the lines and used that as his etching. I’m not sure if anyone else recognized it.

        But on his nude paintings, his skin tones were warm and touchable.

      2. Sage*

        You mean Koch’s Baum Test. And yes, there are people who believe that certain drawings reflect who we are.

        1. Ali + Nino*

          That sounds about as reliable as astrology. I don’t care what this test is called, it’s dumb!

          1. Sage*

            According to my google search, and to no one’s surprise, there is indeed no scientific evidence for that. And astrology is a good comparison.

          2. Jackalope*

            I took a moment to think about what tree I would draw before reading the Wikipedia article about this, and came up with… the tree in my front yard. For the very deep and profound reason that it’s the tree that I’ve looked at most in the last couple of years (it’s right outside my bedroom/home office window, so I spent a lot of my COVID-enforced WFH time staring at the tree), so if I were going to draw a tree this is the one whose details I would remember best. It’s unlikely to be the tree that “most represents my personality” or whatever; just the one that a former resident several years ago decided to plant outside the window that is now mine.

    2. Tom*

      The dinner one could actually tell you useful things about someone, though, particularly if you follow up with why. It shouldn’t be used as a determiner of whether someone gets the job (Well, unless they say something like “Pol Pot, because I’m really interested in getting everyone back to the land”), but it can give you a sense for a new hire’s personality and prep you for potential conflicts that might arise.

      (This only holds true if the interviewer will the interviewee’s manager. If not, skip it.)

      1. TooOldForThis$*

        Oh I would love to see the reaction to my answer to #3: The menopause manifesto Probably would disqualify me immediately.

    3. Martin Blackwood*

      What radio station you listened to on the way to the….remote interview???? What a guy.

      1. narya*

        To be fair, I drove to the office for the interview, and he was the one who was remote. However, because he was across the country, he wasn’t familiar with any of the local stations! I had to explain what kind of music it was. Why even ask the question? Even just “what kind of music do you like?” would have made more sense!

  29. Ann O'Nemity*

    If I’m being generous, maybe the interview is used to hiring students with little to no work experience and is therefore changing “what would your manager say…” into “what would your best friend say…..”

  30. EngGirl*

    I’ll say it, I as an interviewer have asked similar questions to that. I will also say that at first it was 100% due to inexperience. HOWEVER, it did stick around in my repertoire as something that I occasionally ask in a very specific situation.

    Part of the job I was typically recruiting for involved being able to lead people back to relevant topics of conversation/good soft people skills. So asking a fairly innocuous (if not great) question like “how would your best friend describe you” lets me see if a candidate is good with that skill naturally. If someone gave an answer like the LW it was a green flag, if someone did a really good pivot then it was an ultra green flag. Every now and then I’d get someone who was a little too honest (oh she’d say I could never show up on time for anything and that I’m a horrifically messy person) and that would be a red flag.

    1. Heather*

      Yes, it’s not a great question, but if you’re interviewing for something that’s really customer-heavy, or where people will have to be able to “talk to a rock” etc, I can see this sort of thing being okay. Like, a blank stare followed by “My roommate says I snore” is not a great answer, but “He thinks I’m boring because of how much I love accounting!” with a big smile could indicate that this candidate can roll with the unexpected.

      1. EngGirl*

        Honestly I’d even take the snoring answer lol. I’m not looking for a “right” answer with something like this, I’m looking for a very very wrong answer. Typically from a candidate who just gives me a certain kind of cocky vibe. Not to be confused with a confident/I’m also interviewing you vibe

    2. Michelle Smith*

      Honestly, I get where you’re coming from and I still kind 0f hate it. I am horrifically messy – but only at home. My cubicle is always meticulously organized and when I was working in office I would clean and organize everything every Friday afternoon. The mess at home is because I spend all my energy (or spoons, if that analogy makes sense to you) masking at work and by the time I get home I’m exhausted and don’t have the energy to care about dusting or putting my laundry away.

      I’m also chronically late. I struggle to make it to dinners on time and have to set a ridiculous amount of alarms because of time blindness. However, I work really, really hard to make sure that it never impacts my work and I always communicate if for some reason I’m running late to a meeting. How I operate in my personal life really just doesn’t reflect much on how I operate as a professional.

      1. Random obs*

        I agree with all this, but then all you need to do is to answer the question with a “fault” that won’t be so damning. There is nothing that says you have to answer this question truthfully – you answer in a way that gets you the job. You’re not testifying under oath.

        1. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

          Of course, but then what’s the point of the question?

          I don’t think it is a hard question to answer, pivoting to a work related answer you want to give. But I also don’t think it is the best way of getting any of the information people have said it might get them.

  31. Frango mint*

    E. Jean Carroll once covered this —-she suggested folks answer that their flaws were Don’t like men in Speedos, Sometimes have dog hair on my slacks, Sometimes fall asleep on the bus going home.

  32. Champagne Cocktail*

    Gah! What a horrid question. I would guess that the asker thinks the answer would show a level of self-awareness, but there are better ways.

    I’m currently interviewing candidates to brush alpacas right now. That question is not on the list. Also none of my questions start with, “Tell me about a time you…”

    1. Esprit de l'escalier*

      Tell me about a time when an alpaca licked you while you were brushing it…

      1. Champagne Cocktail*

        Ha! Pretend I just bought you your favorite beverage.

        Seriously, though. I think the STAR format of question and answer needs to be burned, buried, and the earth salted. With a specific format for the answer, it means a candidate can prepare so much the answer sounds canned and meaningless. Let the candidate construct their own story. It gives the interviewer insight into how the candidate communicates as much as describes the experience.

  33. HonorBox*

    Honest to goodness, my best friend would say he hates the sound of me licking envelopes. He’d be in my office from time to time when I was putting accounts payable checks into envelopes and HATED the noise. So of course I played it up when I learned it bothered him.

    But I’m not sure that gives a clear picture of how I actually work…

  34. Emily*

    I would have been so tempted to looked the interviewer dead in the eye and say in a dead pan voice, “I can’t say. My best friend and I have a pact to never reveal each other’s secrets.”

    I agree with Alison though, that was a weird interview question and it’s weird that the interviewer asked it. It sounds like you liked the person who would be your manager though, OP, so if the job otherwise seems like a good fit, I wouldn’t necessarily write the job off entirely, but definitely do your due diligence in looking into the company.

  35. QuinFirefrorefiddle*

    I mean, my best friend ghosted me a few years ago for no stated or apparent reason, so my best guess is that she thought I was boring. But could we talk about work now? (Ugh.)

  36. Heather*

    I’m a huge proponent of strategy C. You probably go into interviews with a few stock answers/stories. You can always find a way to work them in via redirection. It’ll be a little awkward, but the awkwardness is coming from their question!

    Interviewer: “Tell me a story from your childhood.”
    Answer: “Hm, I don’t have that many memories from when I was really young. By high school, though, I knew I was developing an interest in (this field). My economics teacher hated me, but my biology teacher loved how interested I was in this field!”

  37. Law-yer*

    I recently was asked why I chose the instrument listed on my resume (a decision made literally twenty years ago by a child) and then, as a follow up, what my relationship to that instrument is now. It’s a large brass instrument that I played (poorly) in college with many other people to make it sound ok; out of deference to my neighbors, I don’t much these days.

    But my failings as a musician have nothing to do with my success as a lawyer.

  38. Happy Lawyer*

    I don’t disagree that these particular questions are bad, but for my purposes well over 50% of the purpose of the interview is to find out how the candidate can converse intelligently in a work environment where we have to solve hard problems as a team. It typically doesn’t matter what we talk about — I need to see how candidates talk about things, and sometimes I pick a topic only very vaguely related to what I know about the candidate for us to talk about because I have to pick something and “what did you do at your job” questions don’t do it. But the things have to be things that gets the person thinking, not dumb speed dating questions.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Yeah. But I’m not sure a question where nobody with the sense god gave the common turnip is going to answer candidly is a good fit for that.

  39. Unkempt Flatware*

    “My cat doesn’t think very highly of me at all, I’m afraid” then sit and stare blankly.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Ours have substantial complaints about our level of service and support.

      For instance, I wouldn’t open the sunroom door for one of them the other day because it was 100 degrees out, and, since we have to leave the door cracked open when he’s in there or he yowls so loudly our next-door neighbor starts texting to see if he’s okay, I didn’t fell like air conditioning the outdoors or turning it of and sitting in a puddle of sweat.

  40. Regina Phalange*

    Once an interviewer asked me what my most embarrassing moment is. They had to know no one was going to answer that in earnest. It was so weird.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I was on a cruise earlier this year and they flagged a bottle of shampoo was potentially alcohol (exactly why you can’t bring booze on a boat there you are never more than 50 feet from a bar is a mystery). The person in line in front of me at security was on her honeymoon and we letting the security guy know in excruciating detail what the various bottles in her bag where for.

      Certain people might just answer that one is an *extremely* forthright manner.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        You can’t bring booze on a boat because they don’t want you drinking 2 bottles of tequila in your stateroom so you then fall off the balcony. In theory the bartenders can cut you off if you appear too drunk.

  41. Tiger Snake*

    Funnily enough, I did see the logic in that chain of questioning. Switch out “best friend” with “the reference you gave us”, and suddenly it’s an attempt to look at your ability to listen and take criticism onboard.

    There are absolutely better questions out there to get that same judgement, to be sure.
    But I think the right response would be “My manager had raised concerns about __. So, what I’ve done to try and improve on that is __.”

  42. Junior Assistant Peon*

    When I interviewed candidates, I tried to avoid making them nervous with trick questions like this. The ability to stay calm under pressure is a nice-to-have quality, but shouldn’t be the main thing the interview measures.

  43. Random obs*

    A friend of mine passed the Foreign Service officer examinations. As part of his security clearance, he was asked this very question. He was also asked for the name of someone who disliked him as a reference.

  44. Kevin Sours*

    Never been able to shake the feeling that any question that starts “What is your worst…” might as well be phrased “Please lie to me convincingly”.

  45. WellRed*

    Look, I’m not MsPopularity but I have no knowledge of anyone who actively dislikes me. If I could even guess I sure as hell wouldn’t know their contact info.

  46. quinn*

    Yeah, that’s a terrible question! Obviously they should ask “What would your worst friend say your best habit is?”

  47. DJ Abbott*

    If you end up taking this job, maybe casually mention these questions to your boss. Other managers might not know he’s doing this.

  48. Not Janet*

    I once was asked in a ‘one way interview’, what would your family and friends say is your greatest strength. I answered, my family would definitely say that stacking the dishwasher is my greatest strength because I really do have a great ability to fit everything in.

  49. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    If someone asks a silly question that has no bearing on the job, I do feel it is OK to basically lie.

    Not about your skills or anything relevant, so for example I obviously wouldn’t say “my best friend gets annoyed by my excellent French speaking skills” if I don’t speak French.

    But I might just say “my friend would say my worst habit is using excel too much rather than learning newer programmes, I’m aware of that as something I could do better and I now challenge myself to try tasks with a new programme first before resorting to the familiar ones. I’ve found it such useful feedback from people and learned xxxx.”

    Obviously that’s a silly example of a weakness but the point is, you’re not under oath and they’re not going to track your friend down to check whether they really think your worst habit is using excel too much or whatever. Your friend won’t be able to tell them that your worst habit is actually quoting the Simpsons constantly…

  50. Johannes Bols*

    The letter about the interviewer asking inappropriate questions got me to thinking… in a situation like that I would’ve decided I didn’t wish to work for the company. In the past I would’ve toughed out the rest of the interview. But there’s an alternative. Standing up, saying, “I’m concluding this interview.” And thanking the interviewer for their time and asking to be shown out. It signals to the interviewer that their questions were inappropriate. And it also signals that you took control of a dicey situation.

  51. Oh hey*

    During my interview for my current position my boss said, “I usually ask people, if they were a sandwhich, what sandwhich would they be, but never get good answers.” I wonder why! Then proceeded to ask me, if I was a car, what type of car I would be.

    The latter, I could at least give him an answer that would display traits he would like to see. I said my current vehicle. A lime green Jeep wrangler. Utilitarian, reliable, practical for New England weather, and still has it’s own personality and flair.

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