‘What’s your spirit animal?’ and other curveball interview questions you might want to start asking

In this tight job market, you might want to go beyond the typical “Can you tell me a little about yourself?” and “What are your greatest professional strengths?” type of questions when interviewing someone. 

So why not try a new approach to interviewing that may help you make the best possible hires? Say a candidate looks great on paper and even more promising in person, but you need to know more about their personality. You wonder, When faced with a really high-pressure situation, how will this person perform?

Recruitment teams are taking a different tact these days and doing whatever they can to separate the best candidates from the best-practiced candidates, or those who are well-rehearsed in answering the typical interview questions.

Questions that add value

Sometimes this means throwing a few curveball questions a candidate’s way. While the following unusual questions – culled from real interviews and shared by employees on Glassdoor – may sound strange, each has value that can really add to the interview process:

1.    What’s your spirit animal? – Government employee

2.    If a lion and a tiger fought, who would win and why? – Lawyer

3.    If your neighbor asked your child to supervise a pool party at their house, would you let your child go? – Lawyer

4.    What would you do if you found an elephant in your backyard? – Management student

5.    What would you name this painting and why (referencing an abstract painting on the wall)? – Insurance underwriter

6.    How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge? – Lawyer

7.    If you were a movie character, who would you be and why? – Network administrator

8.    What would you want your title to be when you retire? – Engineer

9.    Describe how you would make me a sandwich. – HR professional

10.  How much would you charge to clean all the windows in Chicago? – Doctor

11.  If you don’t get this job what’s your backup plan? – Sales rep

12.  If you were a flower, what kind would you be and why? – HR professional

13.  What were you like in high school? – HR Professional

14.  Are you a superstar? – Marketing professional

15.  If you turned around and in the doorway was a penguin with a mustache, wearing a big sombrero and poncho, what do you think the penguin would say? – Medical school resident

Can they think outside the box?

The point to asking these types of open-ended questions is to see what a candidate is like off script. For example, asking “How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge?” would show that a person can think outside the box and come up with creative solutions and, in a real work situation, can connect abstract concepts and ideas to a customer problem, internal process or sale.

On the other hand, if the candidate responds with “I don’t know” or get flustered, that might tell you that this person cannot think on their feet and might not be the best person for the job. The best hires are those who can identify problems quickly and solve them efficiently.

HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes asked his current executive assistant, “What’s your spirit animal?” and hired her because she said a duck. She answered that the animal is “calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface,” and it was the “perfect description” for the job, he says.

But try not to be too hard on your candidates if you don’t get a good answer. Remember, they’re nervous and will be thrown off guard by these unusual questions. So, it’s best to not use these questions as the only barometer to gauge a candidate.

It’s difficult to pick the right person, and you may need to experiment with different types of open-ended questions until you find your own go-to question that seems to work perfectly for you.

Rachel Mucha
Rachel writes about Human Resource management and has been a member of the HRMorning staff since 2017. She is a graduate of Ithaca College.