This post is the third one in a four-part series on using humor in interviews. The first one just related a story of a time when I was put on the spot to use humor in an interview for a job I needed. The second one opened up and expanded on some of the things we want to see from folks in interviews and how humor can help. There are a couple themes from these and from my overall approach to humor. The first is that humor, while not the main tool in your interviewing toolkit, should be something you feel free to use. The second is that if you’re avoiding humor because you don’t want to seem not serious, this is a mistake. Humor and seriousness are not opposites. They’re partners. Finally, using humor well demonstrates things about you that are ultimately attractive to potential employers.
Humorous anecdotes are great ways to get a message across and get it remembered. It also happens to be helpful in making difficult topics seem less so. If you can find a clever story about your experience to demonstrate something about you, how you overcame a challenge, or how you manage time, then find a way to deliver some or all of that story with some humor. One of the things that I do when asked about my biggest “weakness” is relate that I once had a colleague state that I am either direct or impolitic depending on your perspective and I play up the seeming contradiction in the description. Humor relies on incongruity. The fact that I deliver it as a story a “close colleague” says about me makes it seem less a problem. And let’s be honest no one goes into an interview and describes they’re biggest weakness as the “inability to take deadlines seriously.” In the same way I just want to say, “I want this job because I like to eat,” I don’t. We joke about that response with our friends or in the memes on the internet, but not in a real interview. But my use of irony helps answer what is my strength and weakness with the same information.
Another way in which we can use humor is to reduce the negative feelings surrounding some issue. If you recall the last blog, I used a little self-deprecatory humor to dispel worries that I was unprofessional when a notification on my phone pinged mid-interview. It’s well known that humor makes physical pain feel less so, and helps us tolerate stress better, or make it go away. So how can we use that in an interview? Like any aspect of life, work has difficult situations. Since my job is in academia and I work with students, one question that comes up is how to deal with a student with issues. I have a go to line about students that I use that I think (of course I do) is witty and usually gets a smile. I will say that students are usually high-drive, goal oriented, high-achieving, and also high maintenance. When you burn the candle at both ends, you liable to run into issues. Also, we know how well 18-22 year olds are at dealing with stress. I say this with appropriate winks and nods so as to bring the other educators in on the joke. Students stress and they can be quick in the emotional swings. We know this. Our job is to get them to get a handle on their emotions and do so in a way that’s effective. We don’t want to meet their panic with panic. That wouldn’t be helpful. We want to meet it with assuredness or even a little humor to show them that things aren’t solvable. The humor serves as both a distraction and an emotional cue that we’re able to deal with these issues. When I make my little joke about student emotions, the other faculty get it; they know. They also know that I am not dismissing the problem. I am using a strategy to deal with it. It’s a strategy they appreciate. If we all met stress and panic with more stress and panic, we wouldn’t be able to survive all that well.
The main thing here is to think about your situation. The struggle I face when telling people how to use humor, is that I don’t know their history. I don’t know the things that might be apt for humor. But if you look for clever ways to describe things, witty ways to relate ideas, you’re going to find ways to use humor to deal with those sensitive situations. Trust me, I’ve practiced this for a while.
Next week we’ll wrap up this series by talking about how humor and laughter isn’t the opposite of seriousness. We’ll go through a few ways we can show this in our interviews.