Seriously — Should You Use Humor in a Job Interview?

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ComedyLet’s be clear: I am not talking about forced hysterical laughter in response to a mildly humorous statement made by the interviewer, or lapsing into giggling fits, or initiating slapstick jokes — but you probably knew that.

However, there is a serious case to made for injecting of humor into an interview to increase your chance of being chosen for the job. Of course, the type of humor that is deployed is very important.

Before we go on to talk about types of humor that may be appropriate and beneficial to interviewees, let’s look at some serious research which suggests that humor can make you seem like a more attractive candidate.

A study by the Hay Group found that “outstanding” executives used humor more than twice as often as average executives: 17.8 times per hour versus 7.5 times per hour.

The study, then, shows that a sense of humor in the workplace is correlated with success. If the following Robert Half study is anything to go by, it seems that interviewers may know this and could be using humor as a metric, to a degree — probably informally and in the sense of cultural fit. The study in question discovered that 91 percent of executives regard sense of humor as important for career advancement, and 84 percent believe that people with a good sense of humor do a better job than those without a good sense of humor.

It may be more important to use humor in interviews for leadership positions, as suggested by the findings of this Bell Leadership Institute study. The institute surveyed 2,700 leaders and found that the two most important traits of leaders were “work ethic” and, of course, “sense of humor.” Who can’t think of a president, prime minister, or top CEO who has not been served well by an appropriately deployed sense of humor?

There is, of course, a lot of risk involved in using your sense of humor to win a job — e.g., the interviewer may not find your jokes funny, or they might be offended by your jokes, etc. But it seems to me that, done well, it is right to use humor in any interview, and it could help you appear both more personable and more capable. This study from shows that 67 percent of the recruiters and employers surveyed felt it was alright to use humor in an interview because it made employees seem more personable; the rest said humor was a “maybe,” depending on the circumstances and the type of humor deployed.

So, it’s clear to me that there is a serious case to be made for using humour during interviews: it will help you to appear both more personal and more able to fit in, and it will show you to be a  more effective person who is able to use humor to defuse stressful situations.

Still, we must remember: the type, appropriateness, and timing of humor are all important, especially in the workplace. Both the Bell study and the Hay Group study found that the most effective performers use humor in a positive or neutral way to reduce hostility or put people at ease — they do not use it in a negative way. If you are going to use humor in an interview, always make sure it’s both positive and appropriate.

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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.