“If you were an animal, which one would you be and why?”
Even though I know the purpose behind this question, I cringe every time I hear it. For starters, it’s old, tired and used so often as an example of a bizarre question that I wonder if anyone out there actually asks it any more. If you’ve been on the receiving end of this question recently, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.
Okay, so the point of the question; I mean, what purpose does it serve? Fair enough. That’s a good starting place for any potential question coming your way – know what’s behind the question; the purpose it serves. This type of question was often included in an interview to see how a candidate thinks on their feet when given something unexpected.
These days many people prepare for their upcoming interviews by enlisting the help of a Job Coach, Employment Counsellor, Career Counsellor etc. These people typically help by readying the applicant to succeed by having mock interviews. They anticipate questions that employer’s may ask, then coach their clients on how best to go about answering those same questions.
As an employer, it makes sense that in evaluating the applicants they interview, they want to see a person think and respond as themselves, not someone who is just regurgitating what they’ve memorized or been told what to say. To safeguard against this possibility, they may throw in the odd question that no one could reasonably be expected to ask. For decades now, some interviews have used the animal question or some version of it such as, “What fruit would you be?”, “What colour would you be?” or “What superhero would you be?” and of course “Why?”
Some think it is imperative to choose an animal that has qualities that relate to the job being applied to. A commissioned Salesperson choosing an aggressive animal, someone being expected to make a long-term commitment choosing a dog because of its loyalty etc. As for colour, fruit, superhero etc., it’s the same idea – pick one that you can relate to the desired qualities of the job you are applying to.
Me? I’ve found very few employer’s are using these as much anymore. Their questions are limited by the time set aside for interviews, and the information they need is better obtained asking directly relevant questions.
When I’m conducting mock interviews with those I serve, the closest I come to this is my last question which is simply, “Impress me.” I find it serves the purpose of being unexpected and as I observe their reaction I can see it has the desired impact of having them pause to think. It then gives them the latitude to tell me whatever they feel would best sway my opinion of them in their favour. Think of it like being asked what your greatest accomplishment has been, what you’re proud of, what I would truly find remarkable or something to note about you as we draw this interview to a close. In other words, it’s a chance to make a last impression on me the interviewer. And yes, relate it in your own way to the job you’re applying for now.
The animal question specifically though? I cringe. The way to answer this is easy. Answer quickly instead of stalling for time and stay away from anything questionable such as a weasel, snake or rat. Even if you like these personally, stereotypes don’t endear them to a lot of interviewers. Or be contrary and provocative if you wish and take your chances.
The thing about this question is its comparatively weak and has questionable benefit to anyone contemplating whom to hire. If you nail all the other 8 questions asked and bomb the animal question, you’ll likely still impress. Conversely, answer the animal question well but fail to impress when asked the more relevant questions and all you’ve got is the knowledge of what you’ll choose to be if/when you get asked to choose your next life form. How likely is that to happen?
There are all kinds of versions of the bizarre, unexpected question. “If you were a brick on the wall, which would you be and why?” is another. These also get asked if the interview suspects your answers sound too rehearsed, too practiced, anticipated and the answers simply robotic. So yes, they serve a purpose beyond just playing head games with poor unfortunate interviewees. Most interviewers respect their own time – and yours by the way – far too much to add unnecessary questions.
So I wonder, as an applicant in an interview, when was the last time you got asked such a weird question? Could be this question and others like it are out-dated and not worthy of being delved into much anymore, or perhaps they are confined to certain types of jobs.
Do they ask potential Brokers and Financiers what currency they’d choose to be and why? Has Richard Branson ever been asked to choose between being a Snail or an Aardvark and explain his rationale for making such a choice? I doubt it.
I ponder if Donald was ever asked, “If you could be a playing card, which one would you be and why?” Maybe he answered belligerently that he’d be a Jack of course because they are the ‘trump’ card? Ooh, a groaner!