5 Ways to Use Humor Effectively in a Job Interview

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ClownI’ve read quite a bit of research that shows appropriate humor can make you appear like a more personable, effective, resilient, and engaging candidate in interviews, including a Robert Half study that found around 90 percent of executives regard “sense of humor” as key to career advancement. Additionally, this Bell Leadership Institute study found that a sense of humor and a strong work ethic were the two most important traits in leaders.

So, it seems that — when used appropriately — humor has a  place in the office and the interview, where it can make you more attractive to employers. With this in mind, I have outlined five ways to use humor effectively in a job interview.

1. Keep It Positive

The Bell study mentioned above found that top leaders who used humor effectively avoided put-downs and negative jokes, choosing instead to keep their humor positive. When using humor, then, you should focus on jokes that spark enthusiasm, reduce tension or hostility, or put people at ease. This will help employers see you as resilient, charming, and inspiring.

2. Show How You Made Light of a Challenging Situation

Let’s say you faced a very challenging personal or work situation: perhaps you adopted a slightly humorous or comedic perspective on the situation to help make light of the events and reduce the tension, enabling you to focus on getting through the situation with minimal emotional baggage and maximum energy and positivity.

3. Show How You Handle Embarrassment

Have you ever found yourself in an embarrassing situation, either in the workplace or in your personal life? You might not want to wheel out all your embarrassing moments, but if the situation presents itself during a warts-and-all behavioral question, you might be able to use a dose of self-deprecating humor, which Daniel Goleman sees as one of the five components of emotional intelligence.

4. Show How You Can Defuse Conflict or Reduce Hostility

Textbook conflict management skills and procedures great ways to demonstrate your ability to resolve conflict, but it doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that laughter is a great medicine and an effective way to cut through hostility, reduce tension, and open up the channels of communication again. Can you show the interviewer how you have used humor to defuse a conflict?

5. Motivate Teams and Create Enthusiasm

Apprehension, fear of failure, anxiety, and stress can all be barriers to action in a team. If used appropriately, humor can put people at ease and help them see levity in a tough situation. This can inspire and motivate them to act. Are you able to show how you have used humor to ease tensions within a team and encourage action?

These are five simple ways that you can use humor in an interview to help you appear like a more resilient, emotionally intelligent, effective, and attractive candidate. I’d love to hear hear ways that you have used humor to improve your chances at interview or to enable you to be a more effective professional.

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Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.