What's Your Spirit Animal? And 3 Other Curveball Job-Interview Questions

Shake Shack, HootSuite, and others spill their interviewing beans. Think these through if you want to impress the heck out of your future boss.

Okay, so we know the questions that applicants need to bring to an interview. But what questions should they expect from the folks that are doing the hiring?

Thankfully Jeff Haden at Inc. queried a range of higher-ups, from lunch-dominating Shake Shack to tweet-enabling HootSuite to candidate-spotting Bullhorn—and their questions reveal a little on the that makes some dates—er, interviewees—stand out from the rest.

Flipping philosophical burgers

Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti wants to test his subjects' psychic abilities. His question: If we're sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it's been for you in this role, what did we achieve together?

Garutti says that the most important things about interviews is that you—the interviewee—interview him. He needs to know that you've done your homework and "truly understand" the company and the role you're applying for.

"The candidate should have enough strategic vision to not only talk about how good the year has been but to answer with an eye towards that bigger-picture understanding of the company," he says, "and why they want to be here."

Our take: If bosses are giving workers free rein to test out and implement ideas, they need to have the trust that comes from having alignment between the ethos of brand, leadership, and workers. As a potential employee, this means doing your research on the company, on the folks hiring you, and on yourself—and seeing how that puzzle fits together.

For more on Shake Shack's culture, read our Q&A with founder Danny Meyer.

HootSuite's imaginative ask

HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes has two big questions: What's your superpower or what's your spirit animal? The question stirs the candidate's gift for metaphor, to say the least.

He asked the animal question to his executive assistant. Her answer: a duck—since while the birds are calm above the surface, their webbed feet don't stop hustling.

"I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA," Holmes says. "For the record, she's been working with us for over a year now and is amazing at her job."

Our take: Goofy questions are great because they break up the ice that builds during the ritual of the interview. Also, you get a chance to see the candidate respond to unanticipated situations—unless they had a premonition you'd be asking about spirit guides. If you are the interviewee, it might be worthwhile to think on different representations of your work style, waterfowl-related or not.

For more from Holmes, read his "The $1.3 Trillion Price Of Not Tweeting At Work."

Recruiting for the recruitment industry

Bullhorn is a company that provides a suite of tools for recruiters—so you can guess that they are intimately familiar with the hiring process. Art Papas, their founder and CEO, has an unassuming, yet revealing, query: What things do you not like to do?

People aren't going to enjoy every aspect of the job, so it's important to understand the pain points for a potential candidate. While getting an answer requires persistence, he says that after a few asks, he can get a worthwhile answer—like the sales candidate that didn't like meeting new people.

"My favorite was the finance candidate who told me he hated dealing with mundane details and checking his work," Papas says. "Next!"

Our take: Interviewees obviously have an incentive for presenting themselves in the best light as possible, so asking them to say something negative can be a sticky process. Still, this information can be immensely valuable—if candidate has a distaste for one of the cornerstones of the role, they're clearly not a fit.

Are the best questions indirect?

Le Bernardin chef and co-owner Eric Ripert resists naming one favorite question since quality interviews, he says, become more conversation than formalized process.

The qualities that Ripert's looking for are consistent: motivated, disciplined, spirited, and possessing of both skills and passion. To find clues to those sometimes-elusive characteristics, the chef keeps things open.

"I ask indirect questions about the creative process, about articulating and demystifying the process of creating great food and great service," he says, "Then I trust my instincts."

Our take: Ripert's questions are revealing of how many skills are pulled together in the best chefs—the same case for any other role that combines quantitative and qualitative reasoning. Open-ended questions also allow interviewees to be more of themselves during session, giving you a better read of who they are and their ideas.

What's your favorite question to ask during interviews? Share it with us in the comments.

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Nick Olejniczak]

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2 Comments

  • Jean

    Ice breaker questions can be useful at times, but interviewers need to be careful that they do not cross the line and unintentionally place the interviewees in a difficult position. For example, "what's your spirit animal?" seems innocent enough and "goofy", but it is actually a religious question. There are religions that believe in spirit guides and there are religions that strongly oppose the belief of spirit guides. For an interviewee who may have strong religious convictions, or for that matter someone who may have strong anti-religious convictions, may find a question such as this puts them in a very awkward position. If they laugh it off and go with the interviewer's flow, they may find themselves acting contrary to their convictions (religious or otherwise), which can cause internal turmoil. If they answer honestly (whatever their honest answer may be), the interviewer may interpret their honesty and uncomfortableness negatively.

    What is harmless fun for one person may not be harmless fun for another.

  • richard bubb

    Q1: Why are manhole covers round?
    A1: Easier to roll.
    A2: Any other shape could allow manhole cover to be dropped into the manhole.