The Dos and Don’ts of Using Humour During a Job Interview

A job interview is serious business and it needs to be treated that way – there are major issues at hand.

That said, finding the appropriate moment to add a touch of humour to the proceedings can lighten the atmosphere and facilitate communication with the recruiter.

Sharing a light joke also helps to reveal aspects of your personality and shows that you’re not too uptight.

Of course, there is always a risk involved when attempting humour during a job interview. If you lay it on too thick, it can be misinterpreted or make the situation uncomfortable.

I took inspiration for this article from the book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. In the book he shares career advice taken from his own personal journey.

Since Adams is an author making a good living by making people laugh, I thought taking inspiration from the chapter dedicated to humour in his book would be the ideal way to tackle this article.

What to do

According to Adams, having a sense of humour improves your relations with people by engendering sympathy and a sense of energy – something that a recruiter may well appreciate as they settle into their fifth interview of the day.

What’s more, people are generally more attracted to people who enjoy laughing. Adams even cites one study that suggests people with well-developed senses of humour are perceived to be more intelligent.

A good sense of humour can help compensate somewhat for weaknesses in other areas. It’s also a very accessible strategy: you don’t need to be beautiful or have a PhD to have a strong grasp of humour.

To help develop your capacity for humour, Adams suggests hanging around with funny people and watching movies or reading books that make you laugh. In this way, you will learn to be more comfortable and spontaneous with your humour, a skill that you can refine over time.

In an interview, however, don’t put pressure on yourself to be a comedian: you don’t need to be angling for laughs every five minutes.

Instead, let yourself smile every now and then. Adams also suggests using tongue-in-cheek humour, which is both discreet and sophisticated.

Also, be a good audience for other people’s humour, without overdoing it or course. Be as natural as possible; if you’re able to riff along with the recruiter’s pleasantries, all the better.

Humour also provides an opportunity to put your candidacy into plain language using a funny analogy, which will help a recruiter understand your proposal.

“In some ways, I’m kind of like a dating service for my different clients.”

What not to do

First of all, try to avoid laughing nervously when a question requires a yes or no answer. Just as nuanced humour can give the impression that you’re intelligent, laughing about nothing can risk doing the opposite.

For some people, laughing is an expression of a deep anxiety. This can lead some candidates to be constantly trying to make jokes or elicit laughter for no reason, or to laugh at their own jokes. In these instances, attempts at humour can come across as a nervous tic.

This can be irritating to a recruiter, especially if you have a loud laugh. Be aware of the level of noise in the interview setting and how you fit into it – for some people, being too loud is a deal-breaker.

It’s better to try to relax and compose yourself in the face of discomfort in the interview, rather than try to conquer your nervousness by acting like a clown.

Adams also suggests avoiding word games and puns. This type of humour risks falling flat and eliciting eye-rolls from a recruiter!

In the worst case scenario, humour can become a distraction to the real reason you’re talking to the recruiter and move the conversation away from the real subject: your candidacy.

In any case, avoid dark humour, especially if it involves mocking others. Even if your banter manages to elicit a few smiles in the moment, it’s possible that the recruiter remembers your sarcasm above all else – and maybe even a certain meanness in your humour.

Some job seekers try to show their humility by heaping self-deprecating humour on themselves. I had one client admit to me that they made a joke about their struggle with their weight in an interview, only to realize moments later that a member of the selection committee was more overweight than they were! Ouch.

Never forget that above all else, your goal during the job interview is to establish your credibility.

With this in mind, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Making a joke about how you have a hard time remembering names is fine, but don’t try to make a funny anecdote about how you have difficulty learning anything new in general.

Also, don’t try to use this strategy repeatedly throughout an interview.

Done correctly, making a joke about your own situation can be genuinely funny and acceptably self-deprecating.

“Yes, it’s true – I never finished my university degree. Maybe if I had pushed on, I wouldn’t be here now interviewing for this job!”

According to Adams, one remark can generate a smile or a laugh, but after five, they become heavy and may come across as self-pitying.

Also be careful about the references you use in your analogies.

“With my varied skill set, I’m a lot like Astro the little robot!”

I doubt that one recruiter in twenty would understand what you’re trying to say with that one.

In conclusion

Humour is just one way for you to communicate with a recruiter, and can be a means for you to establish a real connection in a short period of time.

To integrate humour into your interview process, start gently and gauge the recruiter’s reaction. Adjust your approach as necessary.

If you have any doubts whether or not using humour is appropriate, just abstain. Never force humour if it’s not coming naturally. When done right, humour always comes off as spontaneous; paradoxically, coming across as spontaneous takes practice!

By: Mathieu Guénette, Guidance Counsellor at Les Chercheurs de sens

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Mathieu Guénette

Mathieu Guénette is a self-employed Guidance Counsellor with over 20 years of experience, as well as an author and a lecturer. He has worked with a diverse clientele (teenagers, adults, managers, job hunters). In 2017, he has simultaneously obtained the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d'orientation du Québec’s Professional Award and the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés’ HR Book of the Year Award for his work Le candidat visceral. He provides services in Montreal, Lanaudière and remotely. His website is full of handy resources for you: Les chercheurs de sens.

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