In a job interview, you have to be prepared to answer any question — even curveballs like, “what kind of animal are you?”
Popular creative interview questions like this one are meant to see how quickly interviewees can think on their feet. How you answer also indicates to employers how well you know your own strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s the secret to acing a question like this: It doesn’t necessarily matter what animal you pick, but how you sell the animal to your employer.
When HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes asked his executive assistant in her interview, “what kind of spirit animal are you?” her answer was a duck: a bird that is calm on the surface but always has its webbed feet hustling underneath the water.
We all have our preferences. I think I would pick a resilient animal like a cat. I’m curious, my career has nine lives and the times I’ve fallen, I’ve always landed on my feet.
Relating our personalities to animals has a long history, and is especially popular in science fiction series.
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series is an example. In the popular fantasy series, every person is born with a daemon, an animal that is the physical manifestation of a person’s inner self. Our inner animals are a feature of many stories of heroic journeys, from Harry Potter — in which the advanced Hogwarts students can conjure a “patronus,” or protective animal — to The Golden Compass.
As Jerry the able seaman told the young protagonist of The Golden Compass, “there’s plenty of folk as’d like to have a lion as a daemon and they end up with a poodle. And till they learn to be satisfied with what they are, they’re going to be fretful about it.”
I’ve researched some animals for you and I to use as answers the next time an employer asks you, “what animal are you?”
One note about what not to pick: Predators like hyenas and snakes carry stigmas of treachery, so be prepared to explain your scales and reveal your spots if you choose those. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson felt close to snakes and tarantulas as well as hawks and other raptors — which, for most job interviews, can signal too intense a predatory vibe.
Do you want to hunt for sales in a pack? Maybe you are a wolf, a fish in a school, or an Orca in a pod.
Animal behavior can be powerfully inspirational. Friendly manatees, the potatoes of the sea, have no natural predators.
Female bonobos apes are known for ruling through matriarchy. The females in this primate species form coalitions with each other that make them stronger than bigger males — like the Obama administration who purposefully amplified each other’s voices: “When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”
I would like to think I am a beagle as a journalist, always sniffing out my next story. Hound dogs think with their nose first and are excellent trackers: a good animal to be if you have a job where you need to sift through large amounts of data.
Another popular answer if you want to emphasize not only your smarts but your teamwork and your ability to find your way: dolphins.
You could pick a lion, but choosing the king of the animal kingdom is expected and boring.
Be a collie, the mountain rescue dog of choice, ready to swoop in and save the company from questionable business models.
Are you the mediator of your team of different personalities? You could share heart of a chimpanzee that will initiate reconciliation after fights. Or you could be a survivor of hard times like the hearty wood frog of Alaska that can survive long winters of being literally frozen.
African Grey Parrots are the most intelligent parrot species. They love thinking through hard puzzles and get dangerously bored without that stimulation.
If you have a long memory and keen intelligence, you could answer that you are an elephant. With your long life and years of experience, you plan on outlasting your competition.
Whatever animal best represents your career, have fun with it. Choose a metaphor that will explain your journey to where you are now.
As a career expert told BBC News, “remember that the interviewer is more interested in how you get to an answer, versus what the answer might be.”
Monica Torres is a reporter for Ladders. She is based in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.