Personality-based questions are designed to see how you think on your feet. And, above all, to allow the interviewer to find out a little bit more about you as a person.
The interviewer can gain a fair bit of information from your answer, but what they’re essentially looking for boils down to these things:
- Your motivations and ambitions
- Your values
- Your work ethic
- Your awareness of your own strong points and shortcomings
- Your likes or dislikes
Here are 5 examples of the types of personality question you could find yourself coming up against, with some of the best answers I've heard in my time as a Recruiter:
1. “Who would be your ideal guest at a dinner party?”
This is a fun one, as it gives you the chance to talk about something you’re genuinely interested in - but make sure you keep things vaguely professional.
When I was asked this, I picked Daniel Day Lewis. I chose him because he’s generally considered to be the best actor of all time, he meticulously prepares for every one of his roles (two years preparation for each, if you’re interested) and he has the good judgement to have made very few poor films in his career.
But since then, I’ve heard much better answers.
One person chose the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart. She went missing and was never found, so this answer shows a curiosity to solve mysteries and an ambition to achieve things that might not have been done before.
Someone else said Elon Musk, on the basis that he’s the highest achiever of all time. This person was also an engineer; picking a titan of your industry really can’t hurt.
When approaching this question, pick something you love and find someone who excels in that area with traits that would benefit you in a role. Who can you think of that has a great work ethic, values that match yours, and who inspires you?
The person you name doesn't have to be famous - you might have met them before or even know them very well. It's all about the traits your chosen guest possesses, and effectively explaining what you're going to get out of chatting to them for a couple of hours.
2. “What animal would you choose to be and why?”
Believe it or not, this question is very common. So, if you’re going to prepare one answer in advance, this is probably a good one.
One person said a duck, because, whilst they look calm and composed above the water, they’re scrabbling like mad to get things done below the surface.
Someone else said a penguin, because of how they work as a team to survive the harshest conditions, looking out for each other and sharing their workload evenly.
To come up with your own ideal answer, start with a characteristic you’d like to exhibit, and then work backwards to select an animal that displays this most. Remember, the explanation and justification you give are much more important than the animal you choose.
But at no point does a sloth represent a good answer. Do not say a sloth.
3. “How would your best friend describe you?”
This one is much easier. If you haven’t worked it out yet, the interviewer is trying to ascertain how you think you appear to other people. They're asking how you feel you portray yourself to others.
Realistically, your best friend is unlikely to go on about your work ethic, or your values. So, try to detail some traits that will benefit you professionally and impress the interviewer, whilst keeping things honest.
Characteristics like loyalty, generosity and a willingness to go out of your way to help others are great. Perhaps you organise all the social events in your friendship group, showing a determination to get things done, as well as organisation and that you're comfortable with responsibility.
These are all good traits that can serve you well in both your personal and professional life. That’s the kind of thing you’re aiming for if this question comes up.
4. “If you could pick a superpower, what would it be and why?”
Really common answers to this question are flying and teleportation, which is reasonable, but if you can think of something more original, that's better.
If you’re looking for something that wasn’t picked by 99% of the people I asked, I did get a pretty impressive answer to this recently: the ability to time travel. The person I was speaking with said he would go backwards in time and see how people lived, as doing so would give him an understanding of the evolution of society, how that can be transferred to road mapping how the future will look, and how a company can adapt with this.
Another said infinite wisdom and knowledge, so that they could help everyone in the world with their problems. He communicated it so genuinely that I believed he meant it - if you can pull this off, it’s a pretty benevolent answer.
One person even said they’d want the power to increase productivity at a company by 30%. Certainly not one of the superpowers we hear about often, but it would probably work for you at interview.
5. “If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?”
Based on the answers I've been given to this question, a lot of families are getting their debts paid off if people win the lottery. What you do with the rest of the money (assuming your family’s debt doesn’t equate to millions of pounds) should reflect your passions.
Essentially, you’re being asked what you would pursue if money was no object.
It’s a great chance to show your interests and values. One person said they would start a charitable record label to help talented artists with no money. Another wants to start a women’s refuge centre.
It doesn’t even have to be charitable, someone I spoke to said he would just take on ad hoc projects that he found interesting, and hire someone to give him the general gist of what the project would involve.
The most important thing when answering this question, or any of the above, is that it's about you and finding out how much you'll enjoy the role and the company. So, if you get asked a question that doesn't appear on this list, don't panic, be honest.
How well your answer comes across is based entirely on your justification of it.
Tim Rigby is a Technical Recruiter at Smart Moves Recruitment and has guided several graduates through the application process to getting their first job. You can read more of his insights via LinkedIn.