"If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?" a hiring manager asked Joe during a job interview.
Poor Joe. He almost blurted out "Are you kidding me?! What kind of ridiculous question is that?"
Instead, he took a deep breath and replied "Well, that's an interesting question. Why do you ask?"
The hiring manager smiled and said, "I'm trying to figure out if you'll fit in with my team. If you told me you'd want to be a Labrador Retriever, I'd be concerned. You'll be replacing a manager who is the nicest doggone man you'll ever meet, but he couldn't get the job done. He's too afraid to deliver the tough news, or douse a flame before it becomes a five-alarm fire. I need a manager who can lead fearlessly - even when it hurts. Can you do that?"
If every hiring manager were as open and honest as she was, getting a job would be a piece of cake! Unfortunately, most of them are not.
So, Why the Ridiculous Questions?
There are a number of reasons why employers ask silly interview questions:
- The boss made them do it. As a rookie recruiter, I was required to ask questions like that. Once I found the confidence (and had proven myself), I pushed back and rewrote the interview guide. Until then, my choice was to ask the questions or get fired.
- It's what they've always done. And it's worked just fine for them in the past.
- They're trying to make a great hiring decision. Their silly questions have a purpose behind them - and that's to learn more about you.
The Five Things They Really Want to Know About You
In the beginning of my recruiting career, I watched a lot of great candidates get bumped because I didn't know how to prep them effectively. I didn't understand what managers were looking for! One day, it finally clicked for me and my close ratio (interview-to-hire ratio) went through the roof. No matter what question they ask you, they are trying to figure out one of five things:
- Can you do the job? "Why do you think you're a good fit for this position?" and "Why should I hire you?" are typical questions. They want to know if you have the skills, experience and education to get the job done.
- Do you understand the job? "What do you think will be your biggest challenge stepping into this role?" and "What do you see as your biggest gaps?" are common questions. Employers want to make sure you understand what the job entails, how it differs from your past experiences and what your skill gaps are. Operations at a huge health insurance company are different from operations at a small financial services firm. Many of your skills are transferable, but your blind spots will get you if you're not aware of them (or unwilling to admit them).
- Are you at the right price? "How much money do you want to make?" Can they afford you? Will you be happy with the pay? Paying someone less than they are worth (or think they are worth) is dangerous, and managers know it. Chances are very good that person will leave or worse, stay as a very disgruntled employee.
- Will you fit in with the team? "What kind of animal would you be?" is one of these questions. More common inquiries are "Tell me about your biggest failure;" "Why did you leave your last job?" and "Tell me about your favorite boss." Few people fail at work because they can't do the technical side of the job. Most fail (or quit) because of a culture clash. The most common problems occur because of values, communication styles, leadership styles and corporate culture. Smart managers know this. And their job is to try to figure out if you will be happy and productive at work.
- Do you want the job? They might also ask you "How do we compare to other opportunities you're looking at right now?" or "Why do you want to work for us?" They know you want a job and a paycheck, but do you really want their job? Will you be happy? Will you stick around when the going gets tough, or will you jump ship soon for a shorter commute, more money or something else? Just because you showed up for the interview does not mean you want their job. They know that.
Can you answer these five questions with confidence and clarity in 30 seconds or less? If so, then you're ready for your next interview! If not, you've got a little homework to do. To tell you the truth, your answers will change depending on the people, company and position you are considering.
Two Ways to Use These Five Questions
- To prepare for your next interview. Practice answering every one of these questions until you can do it in 30 seconds or less.
- To use as a tool during your interviews. Print them out and take them with you to your next interview. (Tuck them into your portfolio.) Glance at them next time you get asked a confusing or silly question.
What to Do Next Time You Get a Ridiculous Question
- Assume that they have good intentions. (They aren't just trying to make you sweat!)
- Do what Joe did. Ask them to clarify, elaborate, or explain why they're asking that question. For example: "Gee, that's an interesting question. Why do you ask?"
These five questions changed everything for me as a recruiter. I still use them today as I'm out looking for my next job (talking with prospective clients). I hope you find them to be as helpful as they've been to me.
About the Blogger
Catherine Byers Breet spent 15-plus years hiring for companies ranging in size from 3M and UnitedHealth Group to startups in the health care, manufacturing, finance, medical device, retail, marketing and technology industries. Since launching ARBEZ (www.arbez.com) in 2006, she has helped over 50,000 job seekers to do what they love for a living. She'll speak on the hiring process and interviewing at the Minnesota WorkForce Center-Hennepin South on Jan. 25.