Wednesday, July 2, 2008

If You Were a Salad, What Kind of Dressing Would You Be?

Anyone searching for a job knows the excitement of finally landing an interview. But just imagine how you would feel, after prepping for hours to make sure you're ready to answer questions about why you'd be great for the job, to have a hiring manager lean earnestly forward and ask:

"If you could compare yourself with any animal, which would it be and why?"


Welcome to the whacky new world of interviewing.

Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston, recently filled me in on some of the, er, creative interview questions being asked of job applicants:

* If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
* If you were a car, what type would you be?
* If you had only six months to left to live, what would you do with the time?
* If you could be a super hero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
* How do I rate as an interviewer?

OK, I think I see the point. The point is the try and rattle the job candidates a bit, because if they've followed the advice that I and others have given them over the years, they've done their homework and prepared good, solid answers to many of the standard (sane) interview questions.

But ever since the high-tech companies started asking questions designed to evaluate how a person thinks (why is a manhole cover round?), interviewers are starting to push the envelope in coming up with off-the-wall questions.

Sarikas says the key is not to panic. There really isn't a right or wrong answer to these questions, but the point is to see how you react when asked to think on your feet. The first thing you do is take a deep breath, so you don't blurt out something like, "Are you kidding me? What kind of crap is this?"

The second thing is to give an answer, even if you feel like an idiot. So, when the interviewer asks, "If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you be?" answer it to the best of your ability.

"Why, ranch of course," you say. "I go with just about anything, and am favored by most."

Still, if you're feeling it's time to turn the tables a bit and see what this employer is thinking, maybe you could ask some creative questions of your own:

* If your CEO were an animal, what would it be? (If they mention hyena, turkey buzzard, boa constrictor -- you might want to head for the exit.)
* If you could have one person in this company on a deserted island with you, who would you pick? (If the interviewer can't name one person, you may want to reconsider the lack of friendliness within the ranks.)
* If you were asked to compare the supervisor for this job with a food, what would it be? (If a lemon, prune or lima bean is mentioned, be careful in accepting this job. Very careful.)
* If a book were written about this company, what would the title be? (If "Loserville," "Eaten Alive" or "Insanity" is mentioned, again, head for the exit.)

Do you think these kinds of questions being asked of job candidates are fair? Do they serve a purpose?

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Anita said...

I understand an interviewer wanting to get to know someone a bit better, but, seriously...a Care Bear? Forgive me, but if you were my doctor, I'd rather you know the citric acid cycle than hear you really related to Share Bear.
Thanks for posting -- that was eye-opening.

Alison said...

I never ask candidates these questions because I think they'd absurd and don't really tell me anything useful. Frankly, I'd be embarrassed to ask them. By the same token, if a candidate asked me questions like that, I wouldn't be thrilled.

Anita said...

Ask a Manager,
I think it's probably a wise decision to ask such questions of a hiring managers ONLY if you're asked something along those lines. And, I think it would also depend on the organization. I hardly think a conservative financial institution would want to know if you're bleu cheese or Thousand Island dressing, any more than they would want to compare the CEO to a parrot.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I personally think this is a brilliant approach, not least because it shows a bit of imagination on the part of the interviewing company.
How much can you really hope to find out about someone from the usual, fixed-format interview questions? Not a lot in my experience.
As an interviewer i think you will find out much more about the person you are interviewing by using this approach. And as an interviewee i would appreciate the opportunity to be part of an imaginative interview process.

Alison said...

Anita: Good point!

Anita said...

After reading these comments, I think what everyone is looking for is a conversation, not just a stilted Q&A session. That seems to be a disservice to everyone.
Thanks for posting.

KEHutchinson said...

I was once asked if I was left on a deserted island, what book would I bring with me. I answered quite honestly, the Count of Monte Cristo, because it's my favorite book and it's really complex so it would take me a lot of time to get tired of it.

I don't think the interviewers were prepared for any answer at all, and had no idea what to say after that. It created the most awkward pause in the interview and neither side recovered. Needless to say, I didn't get the job.

Anita said...

I wonder if it's because they weren't familiar with the book. In which case, it's probably fortunate you didn't get the job!:)
Seriously, if employers are going to ask these kinds of questions, they better be just as prepared to respond to the answers. Sounds like they were ill-prepared. Maybe you were better off!
Thanks for sharing that story.