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There’s a fire, and you can only save three things. What are they?

Short of starting a fire to see what you’d carry out with you, this is the one of the best ways the interviewer has of determining your values and priorities. It’s a similar question to “if you could choose one thing to have while stranded on a desert island, what would it be?”

Two elements are important when answering this question in a way that reflects positively on you.

• Items with more than monetary value
• Explain the reason you’d save these items

Some items are self explanatory:
“I’d save my baby, my husband and my dog. My dog is part of the family.” Maybe something else would be more important than the family pet, but if an interviewer needs an explanation for why you’d save your baby or spouse, you might be looking for a job in the wrong place.

Be prepared for a follow up if you mention people, like “Let’s say people and pets can make it out on their own, what things would you grab?”

Here again, it’s best to mention items with more than just a hard dollar value.

“My important files, a sweater, and the painting my mother gave us when we were married. It’s not worth much, and it’s not much to look at, but we always keep it in a prominent place because I loved my mother, god rest her soul.”

Sometimes sheer practicality is the best answer.

“Even if I could save three things, I wouldn’t. My priority is my family and myself. That’s what they say in fire safety courses, don’t worry about things, get yourself and your family out of there.” It may not stick to the spirit of the question, but with the explanation it shows preparedness and attention to expert advice.

Some other good answers include:

Good Health:
“If I could save three items I’d grab my son’s medicine, his jacket, and a blanket for my wife and I.” Talk about a father thinking about the family.

Nothing in the question suggests the fire has to be at home. For a fire at the office this answer works:

“I’d grab my laptop, my business cards and the morning’s printed reports.”

It’s OK to mention work items like a laptop in a home fire scenario, but unless the interviewer is a pretty callous work-a-holic they’ll consider personal things important over a 100% focus on work.

Nobody’s sure if this guy got the job, but his answer made his hobby, or obsession, clear. “My easy chair, the big screen TV and the cable box, I don’t want to miss any games.”

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