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I wonder if it's a good idea to be slightly funny during a job interview. I don't mean to try to tell a joke, but just to insert a humourous thought, related to the question or the theme we talk about. I often use humour when I feel that there is too much stress or when people are not "connected" and the ambiance is frozen. I don't know if I can use this trick to have the thing going smoothly.

Is this something to avoid at all cost ?

PS / This is more a question asked to "heavy-duty" interviewers than to job seekers.

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closed as off topic by bigown Dec 29 '10 at 17:22

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In order for humor to be pulled off, you need a common connection. Something that you know you can both relate to. If your joke falls flat, it will widen the gap between you instead of joining it. –  Macneil Nov 18 '10 at 14:10
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I don't see that this is programming-specific at all. –  David Thornley Nov 18 '10 at 15:52
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@David: Computers are cold, rational, emotionless slates and it is naive to think none of this brushes off onto the programmer. See? Humorous AND relevant! –  sova Nov 18 '10 at 21:34

18 Answers 18

Be yourself. Just keep it mostly to the point.

People are different, but if your interviewer gets upset by an occasional humorous thought, it's a warning sign to you: you probably don't want to work with such people. I think job interviews should be considered as a dialogue. You're not only "trying to get the job" - you should also probe the interviewer and the company whether you actually want to work there. It's not arrogant; in the end it's better for both you and for the company that your chemistries match.

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Nicely put! ` ` ` ` –  Pekka 웃 Nov 18 '10 at 15:17
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+1 for be yourself. I always use humour, but that's just who I am and how I [like to] communicate. If you're not used to it (i.e. it's "not you"), don't try it during an interview, you will fail, awkwardness is always obvious. –  dr Hannibal Lecter Nov 18 '10 at 20:19
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+1 Nice answer. I've had a couple of job interviews where I had really bad "chemistry" with the lead developer who would be my boss if I got the job. It was bad enough that I wouldn't have taken the jobs even if I got a good offer. And this was in a bad economy when I was outright out of work after a redundancy. –  Bobby Tables Nov 18 '10 at 20:55
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+1 Exactly. I always figure that if I feel uncomfortable during a job interview it's a good sign that I don't actually want to work there. –  Anne Schuessler Nov 19 '10 at 7:01

If it gets a bad reaction, are you talking to somebody you really want to work for?

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I once had a hard technical interview with a finance company and after the technical questions, the interview asked, "I bet you are going for a few drinks after this interview aren't you?", to which I replied "I had a few before, actually". The interviewer laughed, I got the offer but didn't take for another job. But it was nice to know that people doing serious work don't necessarily have to be serious all the time themselves. –  Kirk Fernandes Nov 19 '10 at 4:29

Be very careful - especially when dealing with people from another country.

Humour is one of the most difficult things to translate across cultural borders, and you should be aware that what one person considers very witty sounds downright stupid or obnoxious to another person, and you should know the recipient well enough to be sure that you go in the first category.

Since at a job interview you are rarely knowing the others well enough to be sure, you should - in my opinion - remain serious and calm. If the others are casual, fine - go with the flow - but if not, then keep fun stuff to later.

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+1: remember cultural differences. –  Nivas Nov 18 '10 at 13:25
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Who are you, Human Resources? –  Stephen Nov 18 '10 at 17:36
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@Stephen, a Grey-beard programmer in a multinational organization giving first hand experience ón this subject. Was the question your idea of funny, because if so you've proved my point. –  user1249 Nov 18 '10 at 18:00
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I think Joonas has the right idea: Thorbjørn and Stephen would probably not have great chemistry, so why would they want to work together? If you're really desperate for "a job" that's one thing, but with the current market for programmers you can generally afford to pass by a company where the boss won't appreciate your sense of humor. –  StriplingWarrior Nov 18 '10 at 22:51
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@StriplingWarrior, hard to say if I have good chemistry with Stephen or not, based on a single comment from him. We might, we might not. I work in a very informal place with close to an even distribution of men and women, where humour is very welcome, so the odds are good. But, we are not talking daily routines here, but interviewing and I maintain that until you are certain that it is ok, you should remain serious and calm. In other words, professional. –  user1249 Nov 19 '10 at 21:46

The use of humour, I'm pretty sure, once got me a job.

Q. Have you used Crystal Reports before ?

Me. Yes, I've used it extensively.

Q. And do you like Crystal Reports ?

Me. Nobody LIKES using Crystal Reports...

Caught the interviewer's mood perfectly, and got offered the job soon after.

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+1 for "nobody LIKES using Crystal Reports..." –  GWLlosa Nov 18 '10 at 14:37
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+1. I had a similar experience where I was casually asked, towards the end of the interview, "what do you like to do on weekends.", and I said something like "I like to go out and get smashed". This is in Australia, mind you, and I had a feeling this would catch the mood of the interviewers, and it did! Definitely was a risk though, but they were young Aussies and I was 95% sure this would make us click. :) –  Bobby Tables Nov 18 '10 at 21:00
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@MAK: then you don't want the job! @confusedGeek: my mind replaced "Have you used Crystal Reports" with "Have you built Facebook apps" –  Carson63000 Nov 19 '10 at 3:11

I've found that humour works well once you've established yourself as being clearly capable of doing the work. It's not appropriate to just go in to the interview cold and start making wisecracks.

One excerpt from an interview of mine went like this:

Them: Have you had any experience with version control?

Me (deadpan): What's version control?

Them (horrified): ....

Me: Only kidding. I personally favour git for distributed version control, but Subversion is more than adequate for most environments (etc etc)

Got some laughs at the time. Nice tumbleweed. I'll get my coat...

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Subversion is more than adequate! ROFL! –  Yar Nov 19 '10 at 6:49
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This may not have worked because it may have embarrassed the interviewer, by causing them to think you considered their question stupid. –  NickC Nov 23 '10 at 17:53

I would say feel the atmosphere and go with majority.

If you are nervous do not joke since it’s too obvious!

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Correct, match the tone of the interviewer and location. –  Nick T Nov 18 '10 at 16:35

Keeping all the other answers in mind, being humorous can make you much more memorable, especially when there are lots of other candidates. No one wants to work with a stick-in-the-mud!

Just an example from my interview for my current job:

"So I notice on your CV you said you play guitar?"

"Yeah, I've been playing for about 10 years. It's always something to fall back on if the whole programming thing doesn't work out!"

I got the job, so I guess they liked me..?

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No. Don't use humour. do not attempt to insert humour when it is obviously not appropriate. So if you are in the middle of explaining a design pattern on a white board, or proving you know the correct syntax for x - don't tell a joke.

But, if there is a witty resposne and the atmosphere is relaxed, why not.

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Spot on. Definitely don't try to be a comic. –  EricBoersma Nov 18 '10 at 13:47

I would say yes if it comes naturally, but the biggest thing to consider whenever using humour is to know your audience. Don't be inappropriate, don't make them uncomfortable. Here's an example of how not to do it from my life:

Interviewer: Why did you leave your previous job after just two months?

Me: I had some personal family issues to deal with.

Interviewer: I see. Are they likely to be a problem again in the future?

Me: Well, my grandmother can only die once!

*tumbleweed*

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A little humor goes a long way - a lot of humor or inappropriate humor will kill your chances many places.

For instance the "nobody likes crystal reports" comment that @Matt wrote about is the perfect amount. It relates to the topic of the intereview, it isn't offensive (unless you got a person who actually liked Crystal Reports and even then most would think it funny) and it doesn't take a lot of time.

But when a manager is interviewing you, don't makes jokes about Dilbert's pointy-haired boss. And no sexual or bathroom humor, no long drawn out joke stories, no joke every other statement no matter who is interviewing.

Most of the time when humor is appropriate in a n interview it will arise naturally from the conversation. A planned humorous story is more likely to fall flat.

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Well I can't tell you what most people are like but for me: As a hiring manager I'm looking for people that can do the job but also people that I would like to work with. So a sense of humor would help, all things being equal. Sometimes I will even crack a joke myself but I often find they don't work that well because the applicant is not expecting it and is desperately trying to figure out what I'm talking about so they can give "the right answer". See, the atmosphere is a little artificial on both sides; I'm just as aware of it and I'd be just as likely to miss a joke myself because its just not a context where I'd expect to hear one.

Still, if you can break the ice and establish some connection with the other person you have done yourself a great favor and you will have an easier time with the interview most likely.

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Good Question.

On the basis that you are confused about whether or not to use humour, I would suggest its not soo much the humour itself but more how you come across are a person.

Are you approachable? Are you willing to work in a team? Can the team work with you? Are you interesting? (ie. What do you do outside of work).

For the past 3 months we must of interviewed over 20 candidates for the role of Senior Software Engineer. Virtually all the candidates that possessed an impressive range of experience and knowledge have been turned down simply because they weren't 'people friendly'... in other words the candidate was not willing to work with others or was a bad communicator.

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Using humor in an interview falls into the category of high risk/high reward. If your humor hits home you will leave a memorable impression and humanize yourself for the interviewer. If you screw up, you may really offend the interviewer which is rarely a good idea if you want the job.

You have to assess yourself honestly and figure out if you can really trust your judgement on what people will find funny. If you sometimes have to explain your jokes or if your jokes have ever made somebody feel uncomfortable, then stay far, far, away from humor in the interview. It doesn't matter if the person was being a total prig, the point is that you mis-read the situation and their likely reaction.

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It all depends on the confidence of the interviewer if he is confident and humorous he might like it. If he is touchy and has a lot of self pity he might hate you for being a happy go lucky person :-) It is also a cultral thing IMO.

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I played with a yoyo as part of an interview. I got hired.

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@Jon Hopkins, I agree with your point, but I saw the interviewer was quite open to creativity so I thought it was a good idea showing creativity myself. Obviously I wouldn't have done it on another similar occasion. I just felt the moment was right. –  Federico Culloca Nov 20 '10 at 9:32

If the humor is appropriate and in line with the conversation I think it is fine. Don't try to tell jokes unless you are interviewing to be comedian.

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Job interviews are like a date between you and the compagny. They're judging your professionnal skills and personnality and you're judging their stability or your possible carriere in it.

So it's mostly based on human relationship. As any human relationship, your actions will have to target their interrest according to the general mood. It's something you need to feel and not do it automaticaly...

That's said remember : "Programmers are destinated to rule the world, users just don't see it yet... :D"

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When I went for my very first interview my CV was being thoroughly checked and they spotted some random certificate that I had. They asked me what it was and I openly said to them "I basically talked about sex for 4 months and managed to score a certificate from it".

They found it hilarious and they hired me. They are a very large company. Interviewers are human too.

(of course the rest of the interview contributed to me being employed by said company)

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