MediaBistro led me to the latest career advice in Fortune.com’s Ask Annie column: Employer’s Wacky Interview Questions. I don’t know what’s wackier: the questions, or that Annie Fisher really believes that the mission of career advisors is to come up with clever answers for them.
Get this question from an Ask Annie reader:
Yesterday an interviewer asked me, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?” I was so surprised that it took me a few minutes to come up with an answer. I said I was like a dog, “loyal to a fault” — which made sense, since I stayed with my last employer for 17 years, despite having had other offers — but I couldn’t really tell from his reaction if that was a good response or not.
A good response? About what animal you would be?
Fisher answers with an anecdote to encourage confused job candidates to play guessing games:
J.P. Hansen, president of Omaha-based Hansen Executive Search, was once asked the Barbara Walters-esque what-animal-would-you-be question in a job interview. His answer: A jaguar. Why? Hansen explained that “the jaguar is very versatile, able to patiently wait for its prey for hours on end, then pounce with lightning speed and grace. Plus, it’s a cool car!” The hiring manager who was quizzing him smiled, reached into her purse, and pulled out her car keys — with a Jaguar emblem on the key chain. Hansen got the job.
What luck! Another winning answer to one of the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions!
Next, Hansen explains the ”strategy” behind these idiotic queries:
“The job market is so tight right now, with so many candidates available whose backgrounds and qualifications are so similar to one another, that some hiring managers try to find an ‘aha!’ moment where they can trip you up, or get you to reveal something you didn’t plan to say,” he says.
Aha! The interviewer doesn’t know what the F she’s doing, so she tries to trip the job applicant with… Do you walk to school or carry your lunch (heh-heh…)?
Since there is no way to predict what you might be asked, how do you prepare? Hansen… says job seekers need to go into interviews with enough confidence to handle any wacky question that might come up. The only way to get that confidence: Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Prepare what? A Noah’s Ark of rejoinders that might reflect the pets (or cars) that some wacky interviewer owns? Fisher wraps up the article with a plug for Hansen’s book about interview animals. The caution to job hunters is clear: You’d better stock up on interviewer-approved answers to dumb-ass questions, or you’re not going to get hired. And here’s a book full of ‘em…!
Is it any wonder employers think there’s a talent shortage during the biggest glut of unemployed talent in American history?
- There just aren’t enough job applicants who know what animal they want to be!
- Today’s job hunters just haven’t got a heh-heh clever explanation for their greatest weakness, and,
- They can’t tell you where the hell they see themselves in five years (as though the company in question is likely to be in business in five years…)
Like most of life’s mysteries, Why should I hire you? has a Zen sort of “best answer.” That is, another question: The most important question in an interview:
“Would you like me to show you how I can help increase your profits if you hire me to do this job?”
If the interviewer doesn’t get that, you walk. Imagine taking a job with a dope who hires you because your answer is a match to the keys in her purse. Lotsa luck. My good buddy Nancy Austin explains it simply: Beyond the Trick Question. (Her article includes a hiring manager with a lu-lu of a Stupid Interview Question of his own.) Nancy’s article is all you need to know to interview like an adult.
But Fisher and Hansen need to consult the nearest ten-year-old who knows the joke about the trick question. (HR execs, please pay close attention.) Most kids are exposed to this famous childhood gotcha, and are thereby innoculated against embarrassing themselves later in life. This joke is told in a group, where one kid is set up as the sucker by the others, who all know the story:
The Joke: Two elephants are sitting in a bathtub, scrubbing away. One elephant pauses and cries out to the other, “Pass the soap!” And the other elephant shouts back, “No soap! RADIO!”
All the kids burst out laughing at the hilarious rejoinder and they slap one another on the back with glee. The sucker in the group cracks up, too and exclaims how funny it is — only to be mocked by the rest because there is no joke.
The story and the rejoinder are nonsense, of course; designed to determine whether the kid is so desperate to “belong” that he’ll suspend his common sense, his honesty and his integrity. Just like the foolish job applicant who goes along with the even more foolish hiring manager — both suckered by some “career expert” who is clueless about how to have an intelligent discussion about the work at hand.
Even ten-year-olds get it. An entire industry — the career industry — continues to embarrass itself by trying to con job hunters and hiring managers into pretending they’re silly elephants sitting in a tub.
This is no joke. It’s time to grow up and interview like adults.