In this last of a three-part series on humor and interviews, I want to focus on a background thought or assumption that’s important. It’s one that makes our hesitance to use humor clearer. Philosophers love to do this sort of thing. One of the main reasons people are hesitant to use humor at work and never in an interview is that humor, levity, and laughter are seen as the opposite of serious. If you’re laughing or enjoying yourself, you can’t be working. This can’t be further from the truth and you know why.
Look at how most kids learn. They engage in play. Play is the space where they can work on new ideas, thoughts, activities, without worry. It happens to be one of the most, if not the most, effective ways we can learn. If only I had found a safe way to play in chemistry class. We also know that when work is fun, when there is room to smile, that our work is much better. In another post I suggested that people take specific humor breaks when they’re dealing with tasks that are particularly annoying or difficult for them. For me it’s grading. Hence, when I grade, if I have a stack of 30 papers to grade, I take regular stops and make a moment where I watch a funny video. Some people may worry that I am causing the process to lengthen and it would be better to get it all done. But I’m not sure. I know that since I have used this method, I am less annoyed by the task, I don’t put it off near as much, and ultimately I think this actually saves time in the long run. Humor and levity are necessary parts of a good organization.
But wait, this post is supposed to be about humor in interviews. Not some self-indulgent look at what’s in my head. We don’t have time in an interview to argue the finer points of a workplace environment. That’s true. But what you do have time to do, what you need to make time to do, is find ways where you can, if the opportunity presents itself, to use humor to make your points. To tell the stories that show that you’re the sort of person people want to work with, will enjoy working with, and who has the skills to do the job well.
Think of the interview as a sort of performance space and in that performance you have to use all the tools that any good stage performer will need. Humor is one of them, as is maintaining eye-contact, speaking clearly and confidently, being open and forthright. But make sure that your humor is done in service of something you want to have done. Don’t drop a joke or make a witty remark just to do it. Make sure that witty statement relates to something that you’re talking about, or something that had been discussed. If you feel you missed an opportunity on a question, figure a way to come back to it. A call-back may help. You may even use a little self-deprecatory humor like, “You know how you come up with that line only after the time you needed it? Well that just happened to me. Let me try and go back and use it.”
Thinking of ways to find humor a space in your interview will also have the added benefit of making you think more about the interview—about what you want to say, why, and how you want to say it. You will be approaching the material and issues in a slightly different and new way, which may open up topics you might not have thought of before. The more “touches” you have with the material, the better prepared you will be. That you’re touching the material with humor in mind will open up your creativity to flow better.
Humor, laughter, levity, and mirth are not the opposites of work, they’re necessary for it. Humor isn’t going to kill an interview. It can and should help it. We hold having a sense of humor in high regard in our culture. Use that, rely on that, and your interviewing will improve as a result. And if you ever find yourself in an interview where you know it's bad, try ending it with the following riff. "If you have any additional questions, please hesitate to ask." Might as well leave with a smile on your face.