How to Use Humor in a Job Interview, with Loren Greiff

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 327:

How to Use Humor in a Job Interview, with Loren Greiff

Airdate: December 22, 2021

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. 

Get a free review of your resume today. Go to macslist.org/topresume. 

Humor is probably not the first word that comes to mind when you think about your job search.

But used properly, humor can build rapport with a hiring manager and make a big difference in your next job interview. 

Loren Greiff is here to talk about how to use humor in a job interview. 

She’s the founder and president of PortfolioRocket.com. Loren teaches her clients a search process to find and land positions in the hidden job market. 

She joins us from Chicago, Illinois. 

Well, let’s jump right into it, Loren. Isn’t being funny the last thing you want to do in a job interview? 

Loren Greiff:

Well, ironically, and maybe not even so funny, humor has been shown to be an incredible way to suss out leadership qualities and is considered to be one of the most important traits for marking high emotional intelligence. It’s also a wonderful way to bust through stress and unify and bring together audiences. So, it may not necessarily be the first thing that you think about when you’re, you know, in the middle of an interview, but it’s certainly something that can set you apart, done properly.   

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about how to do it properly, but I’m curious about your point about leadership qualities. Is that something universally recognized by hiring managers when they’re talking to candidates, and a candidate uses humor, or do they expect a little more somber approach? 

Loren Greiff:

It’s noted to be that humor increases likability. It creates an opportunity for you to level the playing field and also remove any kind of, you know, maybe anxiety or tension within the rooms, and all great leaders, and a leader is not necessarily somebody with a big title – it means that you have leadership qualities. You’re able to help people see your vision or persuade them to join in a mission that you might have, and that can be done very effectively with humor, and this is from studies that have been done and conducted. It was noted in a Harvard business school review and a number of other studies that were done by Robert Half.  

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned Loren, likability, and persuasiveness, what a difference humor can make. How about in building rapport? Is humor useful there?  

Loren Greiff:

A hundred percent, I think the way that I may have touched on rapport building was leveling the playing field. Right? In a way that makes things comfortable. It cuts through a lot of the kind of, very formal, hello, and how are you doing, and all that kind of very structured conversation. But again, I just want to put a caveat around that and say, you know, it has to be done using some of the things that we’re gonna be talking about forthcoming. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s jump into that and how to use humor effectively. I know there are a number of steps you recommend to your clients. The first one is to know your audience. Why is this important, Loren?  

Loren Greiff:

Well, this is not a performance. You’re not getting up there on stage, and understanding who your audience is, especially in whatever, you know, process, or stage of the hiring process you’re in, is going to be very important.

So if you’re in a very final interview and you know that there are a lot of, maybe, C-suite level folks, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t incorporate humor, but by that time, you may have had a chance to do a really good job of finding out whether they’ve been on YouTube, or listening to any of the other videos, or seeing them, or getting some intel from other colleagues to understand what their humor tolerance is. Are they funny people? Do they appreciate a, maybe less formal approach, or are they all business all the time? So you must understand who that audience is, so you are reading the room, and so that you are calibrating to the amount of humor you want to include in your responses.     

Mac Prichard:

When you have that understanding, you’ve done your homework, and you’re paying attention to the room, give us examples of the kind of humor that might work. I mean, you’re not encouraging your clients, for example, to write jokes or bring jokes into an interview. What are examples of good humor? 

Loren Greiff:

Good humor is about being natural and personable and engaging with other team members. So there’s a level of levity. There is also a balance. So, you know, you’re not gonna throw out one humorous thing after another, after another, after another; you’re going to pepper it in where it’s appropriate, and you can use it as a way of maybe talking about some of your skills, or to be able to give a more well-rounded impression of you as a total package.  

So, it can show that you can think on your feet. It can lighten up something that might be, you know, very heavy or loaded, but it’s there to be creative and endearing.  

Mac Prichard:

And again, just looking for examples here, what are you looking for? Is this self-deprecating humor that is gonna work in a high-pressure situation like a job interview? Or can you share a story perhaps of a client who’s used humor successfully in an interview? And what that person did?

Loren Greiff:

Sure. So, I have a client who very much wanted to work for a gluten-free food company that makes mixes for cookies and cakes and all of that, and as part of her in-person coffee, she created a cereal box, or actually, it was more like a cake mix box, and she used herself as part of the recipe for the cake. 

So she took herself, and it was very tongue-in-cheek, but it was light-hearted. It wasn’t making fun of any of the ingredients. It was just in a very playful, and it was charming. It was certainly a level of uniqueness and disruption, but not in a way that would ever be seen as offensive. 

Mac Prichard:

And how did she know that would be effective? What kind of research did she do, for example, to know her audience to know that that would not land flat?  

Loren Greiff:

Great question. What she did was she had seen some of the other marketing material that they had put together, and it all had a wink to it. It all had this kind of little charming and very personable wit to it. So that gave her the permission to go ahead and do that herself. So, it was well matched. 

Mac Prichard:

And I’m curious, what kind of reaction did she get?

Loren Greiff:

So she is currently working for that company. She absolutely is. They found her approach to be refreshing. I think that they loved that she wasn’t taking herself so seriously. I mean, you’re talking about cakes and cookies. So, it’s probably a good thing that she wasn’t all, you know, stiff. But I think that it certainly gave her a way to differentiate herself amongst her peers and to be able to strike the right humor tone. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. Well, Loren, we’re gonna take a quick break. When we come back, Loren Greiff will continue to share her advice on how to use humor in a job interview. Stay with us. 

Good humor and a great resume make for an unbeatable combination.  

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Loren Greiff. 

She’s the founder and president of PortfolioRocket.com. Loren teaches her clients a search process to find and land positions in the hidden job market. 

She joins us from Chicago, Illinois. 

Now, Loren, before the break, we were talking about how to use humor in a job interview. I love the story you told about your client who was looking for a job in the food industry and baking and cakes.

I’m curious, do you have an example of someone who’s looking for a position, perhaps, a more straight-laced environment, like a bank or finances, but nevertheless, your client was able to use humor effectively in that situation too.    

Loren Greiff:

Yes, and those are much more of an opportunity to build in some practice. So, I do wanna just make mention that if you are going to be using humor, and you want that piece of yourself to be front and center and incorporated as you, as your whole self, I fully applaud that.

Of course, you’re gonna know the audience, and in this case that I’m about to share with you, the candidate was interviewing with the Chief Information Officer of an incredibly large IT company, I think number three or four on the Fortune 50, and fortunately, he did a similar thing, and he noticed that this CIO, he had a deadpan affect. He was as tight as a drum. Very hard person to read, and so he realized that while humor was important, that he wasn’t going to go all in. So he really, again, was able to size up his comfort level to not sacrifice who he was and who he is in his career, but also make sure that it was well matched to this person’s affect in the way that he conducted business, which is very much a heads-down approach. 

So it ended up, he was using humor in less frequent portions of his storytelling and in his experience sections, but also mostly when it came time for things that were a little bit more on the rapport-building or Q and A side. So, he left the meat, which was hardcore information without the humor-wrapping, and used it more on the more personal ends.      

Mac Prichard:

What did he do or say when he was using humor? 

Loren Greiff:

What he used was something about the weather. 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 gave him a little bit of a –

Again, 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 suit wet. 

Mac Prichard:

I love that example because some people in that situation might worry that they’re making a terrible impression, and there’s no way to recover, and for him, it provided a fresh start, didn’t it? 

Loren Greiff:

Totally. Because everyone’s been there. Everyone’s been there. We’ve all had an umbrella break or something happen where you want to look your best, and you show up and don’t necessarily feel your best. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, we talked about knowing your audience. That’s an important step you recommend to your clients when considering how to best use humor. Another step you recommend is to show up as yourself. What do you mean by this, Loren? Why is this important? 

Loren Greiff:

Because they’re gonna hire you, first and foremost. You never want to pretend you’re somebody that you’re not, and also because it gives them an opportunity to find out how your chemistry and how you might deal with very intense situations. Every work environment is going to have periods of time where it is especially deadline-driven, or there’s a lot of pressure for one reason or another, and the humor can also help to send a message that even as bad as X, Y, Z could be, that you still are able to deal with it with a level of grace and, you know, without the doom and gloom. So it really is a wonderful way to demonstrate that you have a resiliency and also that it’s, you know, a good role model for people to see that you, as the leader, are not getting overly stressed.  

Mac Prichard:

Can you share with us an example of someone you’ve worked with who, in a job interview, used humor to show their own personality and what made them unique? 

Loren Greiff:

I would say that the best examples that I have seen humor as themselves haven’t necessarily come in the interview; they have been used in video thank you notes and follow-ups. So, these are times where people are in their homes. They are in different, you know, personal surroundings, so they are clearly themselves, and maybe there is a cat, or maybe there is something, you know, around, and they are able to talk to a hiring manager or a recruiter, or somebody on the team and say their thank-yous or offer a follow up in a very comfortable environment and use humor, you know because it’s real-life, something’s gonna happen. So, maybe they’re drinking their coffee in the morning, and they’re saying, yeah, I’m already on my first cup, or I’m on my third cup. So they’re using it as a way of removing the barriers between yes, this is a hard-core interview or a formal thank you note, to we’re gonna have an interaction in a way that I would thank somebody I might know.    

Mac Prichard:

Final point I want to make sure we get to is that you encourage the people you work with to recognize that humor is different in different cultures. What might work in one setting doesn’t translate over to another. Talk more about that. Why it matters, and how you should handle humor in different settings. 

Loren Greiff:

Yes, humor is not received the same way in every single culture. So you don’t necessarily want to use it as an icebreaker. You want to keep it light. You’re gonna have to do a little bit of temperature-checking. But if you know, for example, I currently have a client, right now, at this very moment, and he’s interviewing with six folks who are Japanese, and there’s a translator there. So this would not be a good time for him to test out his humor.

First of all, he’s never worked with Japanese people before, and so, he doesn’t really have a comfort level to be able to understand how they might receive it. He has been working with a number of other folks that I have been helping him with that will understand what’s important in the interview with somebody who is Japanese, but the point is, is that he’s going to play it very conservative for this. He’s not gonna run the risk at this point because he’s very far into the interview process, and to be honest with you, he’s not really a funny guy to begin with. So that would be so counterintuitive to who he is, and that wouldn’t be him showing off as his whole self. 

So I think that it’s just as important to know yourself and what your tolerance is for humor, period. 

Mac Prichard:

I’m so glad you made that last point because I know there are people who, they’re not comfortable telling jokes, but they are who they are, and they have so much to offer. So, in the end, it’s okay to be yourself and not worry about using humor if you’re not comfortable doing that, isn’t it?  

Loren Greiff:

Absolutely, know yourself first. If you’re not a funny person, and you’re not, you know. Well, I shouldn’t say not funny. But if you don’t feel comfortable using humor, don’t. It’s not a requirement. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. Well, Loren, it’s been a great conversation. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Loren Greiff:

Oh, so much. It’s the end of this year. So many things that are going on. My one-on-one coaching program has been just going so well. My clients are landing in incredible opportunities, and I am expanding my coaching program for 2022, and so many wonderful speakers have come as a way to augment the curriculum. So definitely lots going on.

Mac Prichard:

Well, congratulations. I know listeners can learn more about you and your services by visiting your website; that’s portfoliorocket.com. Now, Loren, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to use humor in a job interview.  

Loren Greiff:

Absolutely, what I want you to walk away with is, assuming that you want to incorporate humor in your interview, practice. Practice it. Don’t wing it. Know your audience, and make sure if you run it through a couple of times with your friends, family, a recruiter, somebody, just so that you’re not doing it for the first time in the interview and running the risk of it not landing. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Renata Bernarde. 

She’s the host of The Job Hunting Podcast. Renata is also the creator of Job Hunting Made Simple, an online course and coaching program for executives.

We’re approaching the second anniversary of the COVID-19 virus. And Renata says the pandemic has permanently altered how to look for work.  

Join us next Wednesday with Renata Bernarde, and I talk about three ways job hunting has changed because of COVID-19. 

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job, 

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Will Watts. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week. 

 

If you have a tendency to feel anxious during interviews, maybe it’s time to incorporate some well-timed humor. Humor can alleviate stress and help build rapport with others, even hiring managers. Find Your Dream Job guest Loren Greiff says you need to strike a balance between using humor and trying to be a comedian. You want to be yourself, not making jokes for the sake of getting a laugh, but taking advantage of an opportunity to lighten the mood. Loren also says it is crucial to practice your humor before any interview to be sure it lands well. 

About Our Guest:

Loren Greiff is the founder and president of PortfolioRocket.com. Loren teaches her clients a search process to find and land positions in the hidden job market.

Resources in This Episode:

  •  If you’re ready to leave the job scene behind and embark on your dream career, find out how Loren can help by visiting her website at portfoliorocket.com
  • From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of TopResume’s expert writers.