Is It Okay to Joke in an Interview?

There are many lists of job interview tips. But is it okay to joke in an interview?

Is it okay to joke in an interview?

Here’s a joke. A recruiter says to a job applicant, “In this job, we need someone who is responsible.” The candidate replies, “I’m your guy. In my last job, every time something went wrong, they said I was responsible.”

Here’s another. A recruiter says, “How well do you perform under pressure?” The job applicant replies, “Not bad, but I do a great Bohemian Rhapsody!” These are examples of responses you should definitely not say to an interviewer. But if you’re preparing for a job interview, you might be wondering if there’s an appropriate way to incorporate humor into your responses. You may be wondering how to sprinkle in a few interview puns or interview jokes into the mix. In this article we will discuss whether jokes for an interview are a do or don’t.

Is it Okay to Joke in an Interview: Yes or No?

Short answer: no. Long answer: maybe, but probably not. It’s a very high-risk, low-reward proposition.

Definitely stay away from any scripted jokes. You don’t want to sound rehearsed or fake. You should be “real” in a job interview, so that you can find out right away if you and the employer mesh well. If you can whip out an off-the-cuff pun, that could be an inoffensive way to lighten the mood. But if you are not naturally funny, it might be best to stay serious. Don’t try to be funny. There are plenty of other ways to connect with and make an impression on your interviewer.

The Case for Job Interview Jokes

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, executive performers who were considered outstanding were twice as likely to use humor as their less successful colleagues. In the study, outstanding executives used all types of humor more than average executives, though they favored positive or neutral humor. A sense of humor was the second most important trait (after work ethic) for impactful leadership and suggests a high level of emotional intelligence. This is because a person with high emotional intelligence will be able to read the room and deliver a joke in the right way so that it will land and defuse tension – rather than causing it. Humor, a great defusor of pressure, can show that you would be a good person to work with during a high-stress or anxiety-producing time.

A joke may also help establish a rapport between you and the interviewer, writes Ask A Manager’s Alison Green. A well-placed joke can lighten the mood and help calm your nerves (thus helping you to perform better in general). Humor can show off positive personality traits: sociability, intelligence, and quick thinking. It can also show that you are not too uptight.

An important thing to remember is to read the room. Gauge the waters and try to determine if the hiring manager has a sense of humor or not. Some interviewers are all business and may see the use of humor as unprofessional. Remember that a job interview is a formal setting, not a chat with a friend. Also remember that this is not a performance, and you are not getting up on stage, and it is important to understand who your audience is. If the interviewer has a more conversational style, and does not seem all-business, an appropriate sense of humor will probably be well-received. If it is a final interview, and there are a lot of C-suite level interviewers, you will likely have had a chance to do some research on them. You can find out through YouTube videos or listening to interviews to figure out if they are funny people, or if they will appreciate a more informal approach. Test the waters by tossing out a light comment – if you encounter a chilly reception, it is best to stick to the serious approach.

When you tell your joke, pay attention to body language. Don’t push too far. And practice your humor first. Practice the interview in front of a friend, and if they do not laugh, tweak it a bit. Practice will help you deliver a self-deprecating remark or other funny comment naturally, without sounding awkward or offensive. 

You may even want to hire an interview coach who can guide you on how to weave being funny into your responses. 

“Throughout the interview, balance humor with statements and examples that paint the perception of you as a smart, results-driven team player who can roll with the punches,” Recruiting specialist Yolanda Owens told CBS News. “Then deliver a good punch line when appropriate.”

Well-timed, occasional humor can be a boon in an interview scenario. However, bear in mind that humor is just one tool in your professional toolbox. Do not neglect your other attributes – knowledge, conscientiousness, integrity, respect, intelligence. Coming off as a pure clown will not help you.

The Case Against Job Interview Jokes

The joke has to be delivered in the right way at the right time, writes Green. And you have to be careful about how your joke may be interpreted. It could come across mean or as a dig at the interviewer even if it was meant as a dig at yourself. 

Being funny has the potential to alienate or offend your interviewer. This isn’t just a personal issue: an employee who tells inappropriate jokes is a potential legal liability. Being funny may appear unprofessional or disrespectful. It can even give the impression that you aren’t taking the interview seriously. Even if it goes over well, it likely will not be the thing that gets you the job; however, if it goes over poorly, it could easily be the thing that costs you the job.

Appropriate Kinds of Interview Jokes

There is a way to incorporate humor in your interview while being seen as professional. One appropriate way of using humor in an interview is self-deprecation. Self-deprecating jokes show humility. The target of the joke is you, so you are less likely to offend other people. However, tread lightly: too much self-deprecation can be dark or off-putting. A good example of work-appropriate self-deprecating humor comes from career coach David Couper. If you are asked about your competency with technology, you could reply, “Technology? Yes, I just hooked up my cassette tape player last week.”

Loren Greiff, founder and president of PortfolioRocket.com, gave a great example of humor that one of her clients used on a podcast

“He was in Seattle, and apparently, he had to go buy a poncho in order to get to the interview, and he showed up and, you know, he wasn’t exactly dry, and so, he made a joke about how he didn’t realize that a poncho wasn’t really a tent. I mean, it may have been just a note to the fact that he wanted to explain why he was even wet. So this [was] a self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek way of handling the fact that he did not look like the most professional person in the world with his wet suit.” 

The goal is to come across as a personable and engaged potential team member. The key is balance: frame a light moment or joke with an accurate assessment of your skills, qualities and experience to give the recruiter a holistic, well-rounded view of yourself.

Inappropriate Kinds of Interview Jokes

A joke in an interview should be funny enough to show you have a personality, but inoffensive enough not to widen anyone’s eyes. Obviously, steer clear of racist, sexist, homophobic or other bigoted jokes – even if you belong to the group that is targeted by the joke. Or even if your friend who belongs to the targeted group thought it was funny. Seriously, this is a hard no. And don’t tell bigoted jokes elsewhere, either! They have no place in a job interview or in the world. 

Definitely avoid gross out and macabre humor. Unless you are interviewing to be a stunt person, gross out humor will not work out for you. And black comedy specifically plays with subjects that are taboo – and these subjects are taboo for a reason! They have no place in an interview setting.

Lastly, avoid political humor. Even if the interviewer agrees with your politics, they may not consider it appropriate. 

Remember that your goal in employing humor is to be seen as a personable, relatable person, not to generate gut-busting laughs in your interviewer. Humor used subtly and with good timing can put everyone at ease and show the recruiter your personality and what you would be like to work with. 

“Tell Me a Joke”

In rare instances, a recruiter may ask you to tell them a joke. The tell-me-a-joke question is used to weed out candidates who might use the opportunity to say something racist, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise inappropriate. If you say something off-color in an interviewer, this is a clear indicator that your conduct in the workplace will be similar. The joke question can also be used to see what you have in common with the organization. In this case, it is best to have something prepared. Pick something light and innocuous. For example: “Two antennas met on a roof. They fell in love and got married. The wedding wasn’t much but the reception was great.” Or perhaps: “What do you call an illegally parked frog? Toad.”

Interested in other career paths? Read: