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A survey of hiring managers dredged up these questions as examples of what they like to ask candidates in job interviews:

What kind of animal would you be?

How many flavors and what toppings would you make in an ice cream sundae?

Use an ad slogan to describe yourself.

There were more off-the-wall and, in my mind, mostly useless questions claimed as favorites by the interviewers in a survey recently sponsored by the staffing firm Accountemps. These are the kinds of queries that make qualified applicants stumble and take a stab with no idea if “a cat” or “a dog” was the right response in the interviewer’s mind.

Some human resource practitioners defend these questions as ways to explore creativity and the ability of applicants to think on their feet. I’d suggest that time is far better spent finding out if a candidate truly wants and is qualified for the specific job.

Here’s what I’d ask first: Why do you want to work here? Or why are you interested in this position?

If the answer is “I need a job,” “I need a paycheck” or something that reveals little familiarity with the job or the organization, it’s a sign of wishy-washy commitment and lack of preparation.

I would have scoured the applicant’s resume to find past experience that appears to qualify the person for the job and then I’d probe beyond the written words. Tell me about what you did in that role. What did you like about that job? What did you dislike about it? Why did you quit? Or, why do you want to change jobs?

To be sure, many competent interviewers ask these questions routinely. And they also know that digging into the applicant’s “soft skills” — personality traits and work habits — is every bit as important as the “hard skills” shown through prior experience.

It’s vital to try to get a measure of attitude, coachability, flexibility and ability to get along with others. Many job hunters rightly have had their candidacies derailed by revealing anger, inflexibility or an over-inflated sense of self.

But good behavioral questions — “Describe a time when you disagreed with your boss and tell how the situation was resolved” — are way more effective than asking about ice cream choices.

Those weird questions are too subject to personal whim. Who’s to say whether a charging bull or an industrious squirrel is the “right” animal? Sure, you can argue that having the applicant defend his or her choice is instructive, but it’s still playing a “what-if” game.

Then, too, if the goal is insight into personality, there are plenty of personality tests (some good, some not) available to administer. Those measures of candidate worth aren’t perfect, either. I’ve heard from despondent job hunters who were completely undone when told they failed personality tests for a job they wanted.

Job interviews are scary enough. Good candidates spend a lot of time worrying and preparing for expected, relevant questions. It shouldn’t be too much to ask that interviewers prepare the same.

stafford@kcstar.com

Twitter: @kcstarstafford

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