Everyone likes a good joke, especially with the silly season rolling around. Having a sense of humour is a really important personal attribute that helps people connect with one another and alleviate tense situations. Being able to find the funny side to awkward situations is a great skill to have, and laughing at yourself shows you have humility – it makes you more relatable.
As with most things, jokes are all about time and place. I mean, I’m no comedic genius, but there are definitely some moments in life when even the biggest jokers really have to reign themselves in. There’s nothing more awkward than witnessing a train crash of a conversation happen due to one person putting their foot in it by trying to be hilarious at the wrong time.
Prime example of a situation like this? Interviews. There are a certain set of unwritten rules that govern one’s demeanour in a job interview. They can be super intense, and for candidates, extremely nerve-wracking. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s literally a restricted pocket of time they’ve been given to prove themselves in order to attain their dream role. While it’s a great idea to encourage your candidate to find some common ground with their interviewer, to build a a memorable rapport. However, jokes should be treated with caution.
In job interviews, you never know who your candidate will be meeting with, how relaxed they are and how they view certain topics. Candidates should always be encouraged to be themselves and let their personality shine through, however if there’s ever a time to advise them against making daring / risk wise cracks, the interview is one of them. It’s not about getting them to come across as a prude, or making them conform to a boring sense of normality, rather it’s about saving them from being perceived as offensive and unprofessional. People say stupid things when they’re under pressure, so advise your candidate accordingly!
Here are the topics I’d discourage joking about, even if they judge their interviewer to be a bit of a larrikin or a joker!
*Interview commences. Slightly awkward silence.*
Interviewer: Hi Paul, how are you today?
Candidate: “I’m so hungover, big night last night! Just kidding, fine thanks.”
*Even more awkward silence, worse than before.*
This scenario is so easy to avoid. You might think ‘who would be so stupid so as to open their interview like this?’ but you’d be surprised at what nervous candidates can pull out of the bag when they are put on the spot. A candidate one of my ex colleagues represented once went to an interview absolutely stinking of alcohol, to the point where the interview was cut short and the hiring manager called to give the feedback, outlining how poor it was. Outrageous, I know. Drinking is a common way for adults to celebrate and socialise, however no hiring manager wants to hire someone who will turn up to work hungover regularly. Your candidate should avoid even putting such thoughts in the interviewer’s mind – joeks about drinking have no place in an interview.
Salaries are totally important when it comes to job-seeking, everyone knows that. People have to feed families, put food on the table, etc. When the interviewer asks your candidate about salary expectations and current situation, your candidate should not make any jokes. Saying things like, ‘how much is on the table?’ to the, ‘how much are you looking for’ question is just so obnoxious. Prepare your candidate with a succinct message about monetary expectations, and don’t let your candidate crumble under the awkwardness of the ‘money talks’ and say something that will make them look like a money-hungry fool, or someone who is completely unable to negotiate.
3. Gender, race & age
A guy I used to work with in my old recruitment agency was representing a candidate interviewing at a global, tier 1 investment bank a couple of years back. Said candidate had the most incredible CV and was a real people-person; he was a shoe-in for the role on every front. Unfortunately, in his final interview, he made a joke to the male interviewer about how he was pleased to hear this role reported directly into a male, as he wasn’t a fan of being managed by females, as they tend to be quite ‘bossy’. Can you believe it? The candidate maintained he was joking, but he didn’t get the job. The hiring manager actually reported it back to my colleague, saying it was not funny and showed an inability to judge what’s appropriate and what’s not. Another recruiter friend always tells the tale of the candidate who told his interviewer, ‘based on what I can see, the standard of women is better here than at my current place’. No comment required.
Let this be a warning to leave gender, race and age out of the banter bank – even if it is supposed to be a ‘joke’.
4. Politics & religion
People have different views on serious topics and are brought up with varying sets of beliefs and customs. Interviews are no place to make jokes about racial or political matters, even if there are things being broadcast that day in the news, condemning a particular person or group of people. Your candidates are entitled to their own opinions, but bringing them up in an interview just opens the door to being accidentally offensive or insensitive. The focus in the interview should always be on your skill set and abilities.
5. Reasons for leaving
I received a job application recently from a candidate who used their cover letter to slag off their current job, manager and team members. While it’s natural for people to want to move on from their jobs from time to time due to internal frustrations, talking bitterly about a current position has no place in the application / interviewing process for a new role. It is important your candidates are candid about their career motivations and decisions, but they should refrain from making jokes like, ‘my colleagues are pretty annoying, let’s be honest!’, ‘my boss is a drongo!’ or ‘the salary’s abysmal’. As with most jokes, there is always an element of truth and the hiring manager will likely feel awkward about how to respond to comments like this. The reasons they want to leave their current job are important pieces of information for any hiring manager to know and they’ll take what you say seriously, so don’t let your candidate make it uncomfortable.
6. Cheating, lying or stealing
The interview is a chance for your candidate to paint the best possible picture of themselves. Making jokes about morally wrong occurrences is just totally inappropriate. I heard a story once about a candidate who made sarcastic remarks about lying in the workplace, and it just came across like they were really shifty and not to be trusted – an immediate put-off to hiring managers.
Don’t let your candidate have themselves discounted from a process because of silly jokes that don’t need to have been made. I standby y comment about everyone loving a good joke – I like to consider myself a massive joker too, but over the past few years I’ve really learned the importance of picking your audience and time wisely. No one appreciates the fool who makes totally inappropriate wise cracks in an attempt to build rapport, trust me!