Crazy Interview Question About an Elephant

by Satish Teddy
(Austin, TX)

I was once asked the crazy interview question "What would you do if I give you an elephant?"

I replied with a question "Is it black or white?"

The interviewer (IBM), did not expect the answer. She just said, "What?"

I repeated my question. My interviewer told me what has color got to do with it.

I replied, color has everything to do with it. A white elephant is a source of pain and I told her the story of how the King of Siam used to punish people by giving them white elephant(s) as gift.

My interviewer told me that this was the first time, a question was answered with a counter question and she did not expect that answer.

I did not get the job.

-Satish

Comments for Crazy Interview Question About an Elephant

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Unusual Interview Question
by: Lisa McGrimmon

Most of the time when employers ask a seemingly crazy interview question, like the one about having an elephant, it's because they are trying to catch you off guard a bit.

Employers may either be trying to assess how you handle a situation that is stressful and unclear. Or, they may feel that your answers are too rehearsed and they are not getting to know the real you, so they ask a crazy question to throw you off, hoping that your answers to subsequent questions will be more sincere.

You can read more about this type of question in my article about crazy interview questions.

I got this same question
by: Devin

I wanted to share my thoughts about this. I went to an interview today and at the very end they asked me this question about an elephant. I was not expecting it at all but I replied that it depended on what kind of elephant it was. I said that if it was a wild elephant I would try and release it into the wild but if it was a domesticated elephant that could not survive in the wild, that I would try to find a sanctuary for it to live at. The interviewer didn't really comment at all, he just wrapped up the interview and thanked me for coming. I was really wondering why they would ask such a question but after reading the thread about questions like this, I think it was just to shake things up and throw me a "curve ball". I haven't found out if I got the job or not but the rest of the interview went well enough that I think I did get the job. The job was doing Help Desk/Support at Northrop Grumman.

Cultural Differences and Job Interview Questions
by: Lisa McGrimmon

Satish, that job interview question and your answer is a really good example of how cultural differences can impact a job interview (you listed Texas as your location, so I'm assuming the job interview occurred in the U.S.).

It sounds like the interviewer wasn't aware of any special meaning behind a white elephant; likely it wasn't part of her culture.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with several clients in the Job Club that I used to run. We were talking about crazy interview questions, specifically the question, "If you were an animal, what type of animal would you be?"

Someone in the group suggested that you should avoid saying that you would be an animal that is considered to be too aggressive. He said a lion would be an example of an animal that is aggressive.

Another person in the group spoke up and said that she grew up in Africa, and she had a lion as a pet when she was a girl. She said her lion was quite lovable, and she didn't think lions were aggressive at all.

The point of her comment was not to defend lions, rather, she was pointing out that it can be very easy for cultural differences to enter into the job search process and cause misunderstandings.

There are some significant differences in expectations and work culture around the globe (the job search and career management tips on this site are all based on U.S./Canadian expectations), so if someone has moved, for example, to North America but grew up and started his or her career in another country, it can help to become aware of those differences.

Your interview question about being given an elephant is one that is so unusual, you simply could not have predicted or prepared for it. I can't say whether your response is the reason why you weren't hired; I don't have enough information to draw any conclusions.

Your story does illustrate a larger point, though, that can be helpful to a lot of readers. Cultural differences can have an impact on a person's job search. I don't know if this applies to you or not, but for anyone who has immigrated to a new country and is working toward launching a career in his or her new country, it is wise to learn as much as possible about work culture and job search practices in the new country.

Many lager cities have programs to support new immigrants with the job search process. For anyone who is looking for that support, simply contact your local employment resource center and ask about programs in your area. Even if there is no specific program for new immigrants, any good career counselor who has worked in a city with a large population of new immigrants will understand the specific needs of people who are job searching in a new country and will be able to provide good information and support.

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