February 15, 2016

If You Were Given an Elephant (and Other Interview Questions)

"if you were given an elephant" interview questions
Have you ever wondered where interview questions come from, and why some of them are so strange?

I have a little secret to share with you. I cannot help myself—whenever I run across a post or article titled, “Questions every employer should know before they interview,” or anything remotely like that, I have to click.

Learn how to interview better and you will get better employees. Build your hiring muscle, and before long you will end up with incredible people working for you. They are out there, and they are looking for incredible employers. If you can think of hiring the right person as a process, then of course asking good questions can and should be one of your most useful tools.

Still, the interview questions some companies use are weirder than others. This is a situation where context really matters. Consider this question, which is part of a fascinating collection put together by Business Insider (I’ll give you the link in a minute):

You’ve been given an elephant. You can’t give it away or sell it. What would you do with the elephant?”

Bizarre? Sure—but if you happen to be hiring for a zoo, or perhaps looking for a person who needs to be nurturer as part of what they will do for you, then this might be a good question.

Click to download our free guide, "Making Working Interviews Work."

Here’s my answer: I would not accept the elephant. After all, the question says I can’t give it away or sell it. By not accepting it in the first place, I don’t have to give it away or sell it. It was never mine.

This might give you a hint that, as a manager, I am not prone to being coerced into giving a yes when the answer should be no. But if, as the interviewer, you insisted that I stop being so literal and answer the question, and I push back too hard and am NOT willing to play along, that might tell you I was inflexible. In that case, I might not be what you want in a manager.

One thing to remember: Behavioral interview questions cannot be answered with a yes or no. If your candidate can answer the question with a yes or no, then there must be a follow up question asking them to expand upon their answer.

Here’s that link to the entire BI article. I love questions 10, 11, 20 and 21.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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