When Interviews Turn to Stand-Up: HR Pros Talk Jokes

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A good sense of humor is essential to keeping your sanity in talent acquisition.

But no matter how experienced you are in the industry, you can never prepare for some of the shocking responses candidates can drop on you during an interview.

We decided to collect a few of those responses below — with some commentary from the HR pros and hiring managers who heard them:

1. The Empty-Handed Philosopher

Cofounder of Discosloth  Gil Gildner had one simple question: “What about content writing inspires you?” He wasn’t prepared for the candidate’s answer:

“When a town in Greece was rummaged for valuables, obviously, everyone fled with their most valuable possessions. Then there was a philosopher who walked out empty-handed. Someone asked him ‘Where are your valuables?’ The philosopher answered, ‘In my brain!'”

Though the answer wasn’t specifically about writing, Gildner says he still gleaned from it some insight into what this particular candidate valued in life and work. It’s important to always search for the hidden meaning in a candidate’s answers, even if they seem like ludicrous tangents on the surface.

2. Keep Your Friends Close

Cristian Rennella, HR director and cofounder of oMelhorTrato, thought the question was straightforward: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

The candidate expressed an interest in being company president by that time. Moreover, the candidate added, “If I did not achieve that goal, I would create the company that will compete against this one.”

While it could be argued that such an answer demonstrates passion and determination, Rennella was turned off by the response. Be careful of candidates who are clearly only interested in their own success.

3. No Put-Downs

Collaboration is the backbone of any successful company. Employees must be able to accept constructive criticism and use that feedback to grow both professionally and personally.

That’s why Media Maison PR CEO Samantha Martin was surprised when a candidate said, “My parents used the encourage and nurture method. Criticism is not good for my self-esteem.”

pointThis response is indicative of a potentially disruptive employee. When a candidate resists opportunities for professional improvement and personal growth, it’s clear they won’t be a good fit for the workplace culture.

4. Take My Ball and Go Home

In another interview, Martin was willing to give a candidate the benefit of the doubt when it came to their job-hopping tendencies. The candidate’s explanation, however, was more than she had bargained for: “If I don’t like something or the people, I quit. I always find something else.”

Job-hopping in itself isn’t always a reason to disqualify an applicant, but the attitude this candidate displayed certainly is.

5. It’s Funny Because It’s True?

Job seekers and hiring managers alike often use humor to dispel the fear and stress associated with the interview process. It’s important, though, to keep the jokes light and appropriate.

Cofounder and HR director of 7 Charming Sisters  Kimmie Marek was taken aback when a candidate, trying to crack a joke, said, “I keep a collection of small doll heads in my basement.”

Candidates should be able to read how an interviewer will respond to these kinds of off-kilter comments. If the candidate cannot discern when a joke like this is or isn’t appropriate, it may be evidence that the candidate’s social skills are not refined enough for the office environment.

6. Major Red Flag

Equally inappropriate are inflammatory jokes and comments. Executive recruiter and career/business counselor  Bruce Hurwitz was not at all amused when a job seeker asked, “Are the women hot?”

The candidate was immediately disqualified. Such a response displays immaturity, insensitivity, and a general lack of judgment — characteristics with which no reputable company would like to be associated.

When it comes to interviews, you should cut candidates a little slack. They’re nervous, excited, and a little scared. Corny jokes and offbeat answers are to be expected. It’s your job as the interviewer to steer the conversation back to where it needs to be.

At the same time, if a candidate makes enough rude jokes and eyebrow-raising comments during the interview, they are likely to become a problem employee if hired.

Val Matta is the vice president of business development at CareerShift. Connect with Val and CareerShift on LinkedIn.

By Val Matta