“If you were an animal, what would you be?”
It’s the kind of question you might hear from a friend after a few drinks on a Friday night. Or perhaps on a first date, as an awkward ice-breaker.
But it’s also a question that occasionally comes up in job interviews, so let’s delve deeper into how to effectively answer it.
Variations Of This Question
The first step is to identify the different variations of this interview question, as it can be phrased differently from one interview to the next.
- What is your favorite animal?
- If you could be any animal, what would you be?
- If you could come back as any animal, what would it be?
- If you describe yourself as any animal, what would it be?
- What animal best represents your personality?
- What is your spirit animal?
Know The Lead Up Questions
Typically, the following questions will come before the “what animal would you be?” question, setting a tone for the interview that will increase the likelihood of getting this particular question.
These lead up questions are:
- “Describe your work ethic?”
- “Describe a challenge you overcame?”
- “Who inspires you and why?”
- “What do you hope to gain from this position?”
- “What is your greatest weakness?”
What The Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Interviewers don’t ask questions for the hell of it (well, usually). There’s almost always a reason; something they’re looking for in your answer in order to understand who you really are.
So, when an interviewer asks what animal you would be, what they really want to know is:
What Qualities Do You Feel You Have?
Rather than just straight up ask what you think your qualities are, this question adds another layer to the thought process by using an animal as a proxy, which also makes it slightly harder to lie.
This framing even gives some insight into the qualities you feel you don’t have, though most interviewers aren’t likely to read that far into it.
Are Those Qualities Beneficial To The Role?
You might have the memory of an elephant or the strength of a gorilla, but those traits aren’t necessarily relevant to the role.
The interviewer wants to see not only can you identify your own qualities, but that those qualities will help you excel in the position you’re applying for.
Many candidates won’t think this far ahead when giving an answer, locking themselves into an animal choice that doesn’t highlight the appropriate areas of their personality.
How to Answer: “If You Were An Animal, What Would You Be?”
Your answer to this question should have three crucial components:
1. Choose A Suitable Animal
It’s easy to fall into the trap of naming the first animal that comes to mind, but this decision shapes the rest of your answer as you’ll soon need to explain the choice in more detail.
One way to approach this is to use an online quiz that maps your personality to the most suitable animal, like this one.
Another approach is to study a list of animals and their well-established qualities, look for a quality that best matches the job role, and try to make connections between your personality and that animal.
Some good animal choices include:
- Dogs for their unwavering loyalty
- Ravens for their ability to plan ahead
- Honey bees for their navigational abilities
- Rabbits for their situational awareness
- Dolphins for their intricate communication skills
- Cows for their maternal nature
- Mice for their ability to adapt to any environment
- Squirrels for their resourcefulness
- Goats for their inquisitive and intelligent nature
- Hummingbirds for their flexibility in flight
- Dolphins for their altruistic nature
2. Explain The Qualities You Share
Ensuring you’ve picked an animal that actually aligns with both your personality and the role, you’ll need to elaborate on why you feel you share those traits.
After all, anyone can say they have the loyalty of a dog, but what experience in your life can help validate that? What can you share with the interviewer to help them make the connection?
This is where you’ll need to include a short story about yourself to showcase the quality or personality trait you described. Bonus points if you can directly tie that story into the role (we’ll cover some examples shortly).
3. Consider Throwing In A Negative Quality
Interviewers always appreciate a healthy dose of self-criticism.
Not just because it demonstrates other qualities like honesty and integrity, but because they rarely get to hear such truths in their line of work. This will help you really stand out as a candidate.
This question provides a creative (albeit slightly risky) opportunity to throw a negative trait in the mix, once again using the animal you chose as a proxy.
If you do decide to go for this, make sure you don’t highlight a weakness in yourself that may potentially disqualify you from the role.
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
Here’s what your interview answer might look like, based on everything we’ve covered so far.
Example #1: Travel Agent Role
“If I was an animal, I’d probably be a raven because they’re known for having excellent planning skills.
Even as a young kid, when we went abroad as a family, I’d research and plan many of our excursions. My parents were always surprised that I managed to find hidden gems other tourists had never heard of.
I also love flying, and I doubt I’d have the travel experience I currently have if I didn’t.”
Example #2: Translator Role
“I’d be a dolphin because they’re highly sociable animals with an intricate communication system, so much so that we still don’t fully understand it ourselves.
I think the mystery around that speaks to my passion for linguistics and language learning, which is why I was able to speak 3 languages fluently by the time I left school, including Thai – a Sanskrit language.
Dolphins also rely on the nuances of communication for their daily survival, and I can certainly relate to that as someone who is pursuing a career in language.”
Example #3: Childminder Role
“I would be a very maternal animal, like a cow. Although hopefully a slim cow.”
Growing up I always knew I wanted children, and after having my two girls I couldn’t imagine them not being such a huge part of my life. They mean the absolute world to me and I cherish every second I get to spend with them.
I feel those maternal instincts carry over well to a career in childminding.”
How NOT to Answer
As with most interview questions, you have more than one approach when it comes to answering.
Let’s talk about the ones you should avoid.
No Animals With Undesirable Qualities
Some animals get a bad rap. That’s just how it is, and your best bet is just to avoid them when faced with this question.
Even if you are able to make a positive connection, just the very fact that these animals are commonly associated with negative traits can leave subconscious doubts in an interviewer’s mind.
Here are some examples of why you need to be careful:
- Snakes are known for being slimy or deceptive
- Racoons are known for being crafty or thieving
- Monkeys are known for being mischievous
- Hyenas are known for being opportunistic
- Fox’s are known for being sneaky or sly
- Spiders are known for being creepy
No Animals You Just Personally Like
This is similar to the last point.
Everyone loves kittens, but do employers want kittens leading sales calls, managing a team or controlling company finances?
Unless you can make a legitimate, desirable connection between yourself and your favorite animal, don’t get yourself caught up in this one either.
- Learn the different variations of this question
- Familiarize yourself with the most likely lead up questions
- Pick an animal that represents your own qualities
- Make sure your choice reflects the job role in question
- Explain those qualities by giving a real-life example
- Avoid selecting animals with poor qualities
- Avoid selecting animals based on personal preference