Redwoods and records: interview questions to assess personalities

Kyle BentonManaging Director, SouthPosted October 1, 2020

One of the reasons I got into the staffing industry was that I enjoyed conducting interviews. As a retail manager, I was responsible for running and creating the interview process in my past life. Initially, we would ask about a candidate’s background and job history. Then, we would ask questions to gauge the candidate’s ability to influence change, exceed metrics, or impact struggling areas in our department. While this gave us insight into their performance, we still needed to assess their personalities. Because of this, I added two interview questions to nearly every interview I conducted:

  1. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

  2. What can your hobbies tell me about you that your resume cannot?

Why these questions? Typically, I would ask the tree question mid-way through the interview after getting an idea of their background. While there is no wrong answer to the question, the goal is to catch the candidate off guard and cause them to think on their feet (even if they’re not standing during the interview). Getting to know someone’s hobbies allowed me to learn what the candidate liked to do in their free time, but it would also shed some light on why they would be a good fit in this specific role or company.

It’s not enough to ask these questions and move on. A good interviewer will ask follow-up questions to give the candidate opportunities to expand. I would undoubtedly be a Redwood tree (because I am tall), and my hobby outside of work is collecting vinyl records (but not just because I like music). Just answering these questions isn’t enough to give someone an idea of who I am, nor does it help sell me as the best candidate for the job. If I were asked these questions during an interview, the conversation might go like this:

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

I would be a Redwood tree.


Not only because I am tall and old but also because I am dependable.

Why did you choose those things to share?

As far as the tall and old pieces, redwood trees are the tallest trees on earth and have also been around for over 200 million years. According to a recent Google search, they are also dependable/sturdy and resistant to insects, fire, and rot (according to a recent Google search).  I have experience supporting customers and team members in my past and current position, so I believe I could be a dependable resource to your team.  

What can your hobbies tell me about you that your resume cannot?

I like to buy and sell vinyl records.

How does this hobby reflect your interests and motivations?

I am money motivated – looking to purchase and sell records to make a marginal profit. This characteristic could translate well as a positive quality in metrics or sales-based roles.

That’s great. Anything else?

I have an attention to detail – methodically inspecting the condition of the records and sleeves for resale value. Also, I have experience maintaining and updating an e-commerce site – organization/data integrity skills. Finally, I have experience supporting customers, which would translate well to helping the company’s customers.

Personality-based interview questions are essential, but the follow-up is where you can better understand who your candidate is and how they can benefit your team.

Questions for everyone:

  1.  What kind of tree would you be?

  2. What can your hobbies tell a company about you that your resume cannot?

Kyle Benton Kyle is our Managing Director, South at Agility Partners. He oversees the growth of our sales and recruiting teams, working to be the most effective and productive partners within the employment solutions space.