I told Rodney Dangerfield a joke once and he laughed and said, "Good one, kid." I don't even remember what I said. I just recall he looked over during a break in the outdoor movie shoot we were on and acknowledged my attempt at humor.
Humor can be risky, which is why not everyone uses it. But those who excel at it usually have a crowd around them or have a reputation for being fun. Is the job interview a place to let potential employers know how funny you are? Can humor be an effective interviewing tool?
Without a doubt, the answer is, it depends.
There are opportunities where humor can be useful in an interview, but if you are not used to cracking one-liners, it can backfire, especially if you are nervous.
Moreover, you have to judge whether the interviewer has a sense of humor. A serious interview is certainly not the place for light-hearted banter. If it doesn't feel like the right crowd, trust your gut, and don't try to bust a gut. Otherwise, consider these pointers for using humor to your advantage.
Timing is Everything
I find humor is a great tool for showing humility. Although the point of an interview is to talk about how wonderful you are, it's also good to show you're well grounded. When we poke fun at ourselves, we let people know that we recognize that no one is perfect. Just don't undermine yourself. For example, joking about being a horrible typist isn't smart while interviewing for an administrative job.
Smoothing Things Over
Humor can be a good tactic for recovering from a faux pas. For example, if you arrive late to an interview, apologize immediately and sincerely. But as you leave, smile and tell them you plan to wear a watch on each wrist, set ten minutes fast, so you're never late for work.
Avoid high-risk humor
Never poke fun at anything that could be offensive to anyone and be aware that even a seemingly innocuous joke can fall flat. For example, a silly comment about cats can turn ugly if your interviewer is a cat lover.
Similarly, sarcasm can bomb in a huge way. As my colleague, Harry Urschel says, "I've seen people try to pull off some sarcastic comment, but it wasn't received as sarcasm and either fell flat or actually did damage."
Keep it Simple
Overdoing it can be another snag. There is creative wit, and then there is being the class clown, so launching into a whole comedy routine is a bad idea. A few light-hearted remarks are enough to build comfort between you and the interviewer. Anything beyond that is potentially overkill.
Be a Good Audience
A sense of humor works both ways. If your interviewer cracks a few jokes, laugh a little. This shows you're relaxed and comfortable with the people in the room. It also gives you the green light to leverage humor a little, too.
After all, you don't want to work for a boss who is a total stiff, and no one wants an employee who's humorless, either.