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Survey Shows Executives See Having a Sense of Humor as Important for fitting into Company’s Culture

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Go ahead and laugh, but having a sense of humor could make the difference when companies are trying to choose between equally qualified candidates.

According to a new survey from the staffing agency Accountemps, nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) chief financial officers (CFOs) interviewed said an employee‘s sense of humor is important for fitting into the company’s corporate culture.

Now this doesn’t mean you should go into an interview cracking jokes. That could backfire. “Save the jokes for after you’re hired,” advises Ryan Sutton, Senior Regional Vice President at Accountemps. “From the feedback we’ve had,” Sutton tells eFinancialCareers, “jokes are appropriate when you’re part of the team, but less appropriate during the interview.”

When it comes to applying your sense of humor to the interview process, you should take a slightly different approach. “During the interview process, you need to separate humor from personality,” says Sutton, “and highlight your personality, your lightheartedness and your approachability.”

According to Sutton, one of the most important things Accountemps teaches candidates is something called “mirror matching.” That means trying to mirror and match the demeanor of the interviewer. “The odds of the person interviewing you cracking a joke are slim to none. But the odds are in favor of that person showing their personality and being approachable through their body language and tone to demonstrate they are approachable as a manager. So we recommend saving the jokes for when you’re part of the team, and in the interview, just focus on your personality, your demeanor and on how you would fit in the team setting.”

“Executives tend to pick candidates who they get along with,” says Sutton. “The manager is trying to build consensus and build a team that works well together. Personality is a huge determining factor in how people get along and how they work together as a team. When I interview a candidate, I try to envision that person at month end, or quarter end when we’re here at eight, nine or 10 o’clock at night finishing up the financials. Is this candidate going to get along with other team members? Are they going to make the team stronger and build on the foundation of what we already have or will they conflict with the culture of the team?”

Using humor in an interview

Andrew Tarvin, who lives in New York City and identifies himself as a corporate humorist for a Fortune 25 Company, believes using some humor during the interview is important.

“No matter how great your resume is, people still have to work with you,” says Tarvin. “By using humor during the interview, you demonstrate how well you’d fit in to their office environment, and showing you belong there puts you one step closer to being there.”

So when should you insert some humor?

According to Tarvin, a good place to use humor is with behavioral interviews. “Humor is a tool you can use to truthfully answer these interview questions while simultaneously avoiding negative behaviors like assigning blame or complaining,” said Tarvin. “When questions like ‘describe a time when you had to work in a challenging work environment’ come up (and they will), humor is an especially good way of discussing the difficulties in a positive manner. By showing you have a sense of humor about a situation that was likely stressful when you were in it, you clearly demonstrate that you have moved on from negative aspects of the situation and now see it as a learning experience.”

Another great place to apply humor is when you think the interview is going downhill or just feels wrong. “Rather than being bad, these moments are opportunities to show how calm and unflappable you are,” says Tarvin. “Being able to bring levity to a situation that would cause stress in other people provides a very concrete example of you handling a potentially frustrating or stressful situation without becoming unpleasant to work with.”

You can find more of Tarvin’s advice at his blog Humor that Works.

Comments (1)

Comments
  1. I very much agree with this approach. I’ve made jokes in interviews but only when the appropriate opportunity presents itself. Forcing humor is a very bad idea. During my first interviews out B-School I tried to show that I was a professional. I think I came off as stiff and impersonal. After some success and additional experience, I approach interviews much more relaxed and conversational. I finally realized that if you’re brought in for an interview they’ve already screened your resume for qualificaitons. I try to let the interviewer know that I can be approached, with criticism or praise, without them having to worry about my emotional state or our work relationship afterwards. I now get offered most positions I interview for which is a nice change from scratching my head and wondering what went wrong.

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