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True or False

Posted: September 6, 2011

Sure fire interview techniques that help separate truth from fiction
By Elizabeth Creith

Interviewing and hiring is my favourite occupation, next to having a root-canal done. After two years of fine-tuning my interview I thought I could tell a good hire from a bad one.

The wake-up call was the angry customer at the counter. His water dragon was obviously dehydrated; the reason was the black sand one of our staff had sold him as substrate.

Fortunately, a quick soak in warm water revived the lizard, and we sent the customer off with a free bag of bark chips. Then we asked our employee why he'd told the customer to use black sand for a rainforest lizard.

“I thought it was fine,” he said with a shrug.

A new hire is never alone in our store, and can always consult either a senior staff member or our extensive in-store reference library. In addition we have care sheets for most of the animals we sell, which answer basic questions. By refusing to acknowledge his ignorance and ask for help, our employee had just cost us money and maybe goodwill. How could I possibly test for that in an interview? In a flash of inspiration, I invented the BS Detector.

It's a list of thirty-four questions I ask every applicant. They're designed to test knowledge, common sense and, most importantly, the applicant's honesty about what he or she knows.

Before I ask the questions, I tell the applicant that I want him to answer to the best of his knowledge. I mark every answer: knows, doesn't know, BS. A correct answer or an admission of ignorance is fine, but if the applicant bluffs for more than one-third of the questions, aside from the three designed to detect myths, I stop the interview.

The average applicant bluffs on 11 to 14 questions and fails the interview right there. Some actually say, “I don't know anything about reptiles” (or birds or fish) and go on to guess at every answer. About one-quarter of the applicants pass.

The questionnaire does several important things. First, it winnows out applicants who can't hear instructions or can't admit when they don't know something. Second, it eliminates time spent assessing inappropriate applicants. Finally, it tells me what I need to teach this applicant upon hiring.

The pet trade is as much about information as it is about product. If we as employers acknowledge and convey that at the interview stage, I believe that it will give us better staff, and better service for our customers.

The BS Detector
Pretend you work for me and a customer is asking you these questions. Answer to the best of your knowledge.


  • What substrate would you recommend for an adult bearded dragon?
  • What substrate would you recommend for a baby bearded dragon?
  • What substrate would you recommend for a leopard gecko?
  • What substrate would you recommend for a mountain horned dragon?
  • How big does a water monitor get?
  • What lizard would you recommend for a beginner?
  • What snake would you recommend for a beginner?
  • What does a corn snake eat?


  • How long does a budgie live?
  • Do lovebirds have to be kept in pairs? (myth test)
  • What does a parrot eat?
  • How often do you have to clip a bird's wings?
  • Do finches have to be kept in pairs?

Small Animals

  • What do rabbits eat?
  • How do you pick up a rabbit?
  • Can you feed guinea pigs rabbit pellets?
  • Can you feed chinchillas rabbit pellets?
  • How long do chinchillas live?
  • How long do hamsters live?
  • What kind of bedding would you recommend for a rodent?
  • How long do ferrets live?
  • What do they eat?
  • Is there anything you can substitute if you run out of their food? If so, what?


  • What is the difference between a tropical tank and a goldfish tank?
  • What is the difference between a salt water tank and a freshwater tank?
  • What is a brackish water tank?
  • Can a betta be put with any other fish? (myth test)
  • If not, why not?
  • If so, what kind of fish?
  • When you change water in an aquarium, how much do you change?
  • How often should you completely clean out an aquarium?


  • What animals bite? (common sense test?)
  • What animals grow to the limits of their space? (myth test)
  • What animals can safely be left alone with a small child? (common sense test)


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