“Why do you want to leave your current job?”
“What is your greatest strength?”
“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”
These are just some of the most common questions that you’re likely to be asked in a job interview. And while you should certainly prepare answers for these questions (even in the unlikely scenario that they don’t come up), it’s also a good idea to prepare for some less commonly asked curveball questions.
One example of such a question is “What kind of animal would you want to be?”.
While it might seem like it’s designed to throw you off your game, there’s method to the madness. And in this guide, we’ll explore what hiring managers are really looking for when posing this question, as well as tips on crafting a response and example answers for some inspiration.
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By asking you about the kind of animal you would want to be, hiring managers aren’t trying to make conversation. What they are, in fact, trying to do is to gain insight into your personality and assess whether you’re a natural fit with the position and the company. For example, if the position calls for someone who can work independently, a hiring manager will ask this question to determine if your personality traits and qualities match those required for success.
This interview question is also designed to help hiring managers assess how well you’re able to think on your feet and act in stressful situations. For example, if you’re able to provide a response off the bat, it will demonstrate your ability to come up with creative solutions and work under pressure.
Variations of this question include:
- What animal best describes your personality?
- What is your favorite animal?
- If you could be an animal, what would you be?
- What is your spirit animal?
- What animal would you be and why?
Here are our tips on how to best answer the question “What kind of animal would you want to be?” in a job interview:
1. Research the company
Every successful interview starts with ample preparation. Beyond practicing common (and uncommon) questions, one of the first things you should do is thoroughly research the company you’re interviewing with. This will help you tailor your responses to the questions you’re asked, no matter what they are.
For this question in particular, your research should focus on the company’s goals, values and culture. You can do this by examining the company’s website, specifically their “About” and “Careers” pages, where you’ll be able to get valuable insight into who they are and what they stand for — and, ultimately, what they want from prospective employees. For example, if the company uses language like “family” and “community” to describe their culture, it’s clear they want someone who is a team player.
2. Read the job description
In addition to describing the qualifications, knowledge and experience required for the position, the job description will also reveal the specific traits and qualities that employers are looking for in candidates.
Though, for the most part, you’ll be able to identify these traits by the choice of adjectives used in the description (such as “strong” and “independent”), you’ll often need to read between the lines. For example, if the ad describes the perfect candidate as someone who “asks questions and is open to learning new things”, it’s fair to assume that they’re looking for someone who is curious.
Make a note of all these traits and qualities — they’ll come in handy later.
3. Create a list of your own traits
Now it’s time for a little introspection. Think about what makes you, well, you — specifically, your own personality traits.
Whether you’re adaptable, decisive, organized, empathetic, cooperative, sociable or active (or all of the above, or something else entirely), create a list of all your positive traits and qualities, particularly those that best describe your work ethic. Reflecting on your professional goals and work habits can be immensely helpful here.
If you’re stuck, you could ask your family, friends and even your coworkers to see how they would describe your personality and work ethic. Likewise, reviewing feedback from past performance reviews can be a great source of inspiration.
4. Choose an appropriate animal
Keeping in mind your findings from your research, the traits the employer is looking for and the traits that you possess, think about which animal best brings it all together.
Google (or your search engine of choice) will be your best friend for this; simply use the name of the animal you’ve chosen with the word “symbolism” as the search term — for example: “cat symbolism” — to determine how it ties into everything. (We’ve also added a cheat sheet below for different animals and what they represent, which you can use for inspiration.)
The animal you choose, meanwhile, doesn’t even have to be a real one. Dragons, griffins, phoenixes and unicorns, for example, are all fine, as long as you can effectively relate your chosen animal to your personality and the job you’re interviewing for (more on this next).
Be mindful of which animal you choose. For example, though a snake historically symbolizes rebirth and transformation, the interviewer might be taken aback by your choice of animal. Indeed, even if you adequately explain your reasoning, they could (however unfairly) associate snakes — and yourself — with deception, which is bound to raise a red flag or two.
5. Connect the dots
Once you’ve chosen an animal and told the interviewer about it, be sure to expand on your answer. Don’t just say “I would be a fish”, for example, and leave it at that. Your answer should provide context and explain why you’ve chosen that animal. Essentially, it needs to be specific and tailored to the job.
Let’s say you’re applying for a journalist position, and you would want to be a cat. When giving your answer, you should mention the traits you share with cats and how those traits align with the job. For example, you could explain that you admire cats’ curiosity and that you yourself are driven by a desire to learn new things, which is essential in investigating stories and sources, researching and verifying facts, and exploring ideas from a variety of perspectives.
6. Be creative
Though interviewers mainly ask this question to better understand your personality and assess your ability to think on your feet, they also use it to assess your creativity and analytical skills. Hiring managers love candidates who can think outside the box, so don’t be afraid to show this in your response.
You can do this by choosing an animal that other candidates wouldn’t normally pick, for example — like a panda or a skunk. You can even focus your answer on unconventional traits that you share with your chosen animal.
You might also want to (carefully) inject some humor into your response. For example, if you’ve chosen an orangutan as your answer, you could jokingly mention that while you wouldn’t climb up trees to such great heights that these great apes do, you can relate to their persistence and ingenuity.
Need some inspiration? Use the following example answers as a guide to craft your own response to the question “What kind of animal would you want to be?”.
If I could choose to be an animal, I would be a cat. I admire their curiosity, which is something that I can personally relate to. I’m always looking to learn new things, and I strive to replicate this in my work as a journalist, whether it’s researching facts, investigating stories or gaining new perspectives. But don’t worry: you wouldn’t find me napping for 16 hours a day!
Although I wouldn’t bark up trees and chase after squirrels, I feel that dogs are my spirit animal. Much like a dog, I’m happiest when I’m around other people and I get to engage with groups — which is exactly what an office manager should look like. I enjoy supporting those around me as they carry out their duties and making sure my coworkers have the necessary information and equipment to do their jobs.
My supervisor and coworkers have often praised me for my ability to adapt to changing circumstances, which I think would make me a phoenix, a mythical creature known for its resilience and ability to transform. Even in the most challenging situations, I’m always able to push through and “rise from the ashes”, which is essential for working in such a fast-paced and volatile industry that is finance.
Having trouble choosing an animal to answer this question? Check out this non-exhaustive list of animals to see which personality traits they represent so you can craft a tailored response:
- Badger: cleverness, tenacity
- Bear: empathy, courage
- Bee: dedication, hard-working
- Butterfly: endurance, transformation
- Cat: curiosity, independence
- Crab: perseverance, tenacity
- Deer: intuition, quickness
- Dog: loyalty, protectiveness
- Dragon: strength, wisdom
- Eagle: intuition, loyalty
- Elephant: nurturing, strength
- Fish: independence, intelligence
- Fox: independence, protectiveness
- Giraffe: guidance, leadership
- Hyena: leadership, resourcefulness
- Lion: courage, strength
- Lizard: patience, determination
- Octopus: intelligence, wisdom
- Orangutan: ingenuity, persistence
- Parrot: devotion, sociability
- Penguin: adaptability, resourcefulness
- Phoenix: balance, transformation
- Skunk: creativity, hard-working
- Tiger: confidence, strength
- Wolf: loyalty, teamwork
As some parting advice, make sure that the animal you choose, and the answer you provide as a whole, accurately reflects your own personality. If you choose a cat, for example, and talk about how you relate to a cat’s independence, you better be independent yourself. If you’re ultimately hired by the company, it won’t take employers long to figure out that you’re actually not independent — and they may begin to wonder what else you’ve exaggerated on your résumé and in the interview.
Join the conversation! What animal would you want to be, and why? Let us know in the comments section below!
This is an updated version of an article originally published on 7 April 2017.