Using Humor in a Job Interview

By Joe Stein

Since the origin of the job interview, using humor has traditionally been considered a big chance not worth taking. The thought being that this is a serious business type of conversation with little room for any light-hearted discussion. As interviews have progressed from more formal Q&A, to a more discussional type of discussion of your past experiences, one may naturally wonder if interjecting some humor into the conversation is acceptable.
 
The answer is not a simple one. Using humor can prove very effective if used properly. The challenge is many people do not know how to use it in the manner necessary.
 
There are some potential benefits to interject a little humor into the interview.
 
·         It allows the Interviewer to see the full personality that you possess. We virtually all have some level of humor, and this allows the person to see the more complete you.
 
·         Using some humor can take away some of the edge associated with the stress or pressure of the interview. Adding a little levity to the discussion can add to the conversational nature of the interview, and lead to a better session.
 
·         You want the Interviewer to leave feeling that you will be a good fit in the organization. An individual who can make you chuckle and appears a little self- depreciating can come across as someone who would naturally fit in. A recent study by the Hay Group found that 91% of executives thought that having a sense of humor was important for career advancement. To further support this topic, 84% of them also thought that employees with a good sense of humor would do a better job than those without this trait.
 
Like everything, there are some general basic guidelines around using humor. They are virtually all basic common sense, but worth reviewing.
 
·         The first is the most obvious…nothing offensive. If you have any doubt whether to say it…don’t! It is just not worth taking the chance. This includes avoiding anything related to gender, race, religion, age, etc. I would also avoid anything that is political in nature. You want to make a good impression, not turn someone off.
 
·         Gauge the interviewer when determining if the situation is right for some humor. If you are interviewing a person who has a more conversational type of style or has used some humor him/herself, then it should be a safer zone to proceed. If your first attempt at humor is not successful, then stick to business with your approach. If the current question or subject is quite serious in nature, then stay with that tone.
 
·         Do not overuse the humor unless you are interviewing for a comedy nightclub act. It is (after all) a job interview. If you are going to do it, then no more than a couple attempts should be interjected. You are there after all, to land a job not grab some belly laughs. If you find that the humor is distracting the Hiring Manager than stop immediately. The humor should not be the focus of the conversation and definitely not the only thing the Interviewer remembers when the discussion is done.
 
·         If you are not someone who naturally has a sense of humor, then don’t force yourself into the role. It will come across as staged and unnatural. I am thinking (as an example) of the recent movie The Imitation Game, where the lead character lacks any sense of humor and is coached on an ice breaker joke with his staff. Although, in the movie, they appreciated the effort, it clearly did not have its initially desired impact as he was extremely awkward when attempting. If humor is not your strong suit, then stick with your strengths.
 
·         There is a huge difference between telling jokes and using humor. Save your “3 guys walk into a bar” routine for open mic night and not for the interview. The idea is to weave your sense of humor into the conversation.
 
·         Don’t laugh at your own humor. You should smile or chuckle if the Interviewer weaves any humor into the conversation. It will not, however, win you many favors to overdo the laughter. Personally, as an Interviewer, I try to weave some subtle humor into the conversation. I have had candidates laugh themselves out of conversation as I thought what I said really was not that funny.
 
If you are like most people, you have completely avoided any attempt at humor when in a job interview. While this still may be the best approach for you, it also may be time for a quick review regarding whether you could use humor effectively.
 
As always, best of luck in your job search!