Maxwell Stephens

Using humour in interviews - rapport-building or credibility-smashing?

Top Tips for interview

People buy people first. Or so the saying goes. For us here at Maxwell Stephens, our personal rapport with and understanding of you, our candidates, are massively important. The same goes for our clients.


We want all your dealings with us to be professional and fun. Candidates like you choose us time and time again to trust with your career because we know who you are. Our team members here are world-class people as well as world-class recruitment consultants. As well as sharing the serious stuff with you, we like to have a laugh with you too.


Speaking of laughs, should you bring your humour into the interview room? Should you crack a few jokes over the phone at telephone interview stage? Maxwell Stephens delves into this controversial topic.


For anyone over the age of 35 or anyone who enjoys watching classic comedy repeats on UK Gold, you’ll know who this is. It is, of course, Colin Hunt from the BBC’s “The Fast Show”.

Colin works in resources management for the local council. He thinks of himself as the office joker, shown in all manner of social situations (in the workplace, at the pub, on the street) endlessly cracking unfunny jokes and making tactless comments. He is genuinely convinced that he has a gift for cutting-edge humour and that all around him are desperate for him to make them laugh.


Of course, Colin’s actually got the job. He’s passed the interview and has worked for the council for a long time.


The reason we bring him up in this blog is his dress sense and his remarkable appearance. He’s wearing a comic tie, a multi-coloured & visually loud shirt, and his blazer and trousers do not work well together. He definitely doesn’t look the part. This is “peacocking” gone terribly wrong.

We can safely say, beyond any fear of contradiction from the valued readers of this popular blog, both candidate-side and client-side, that you should go into an interview looking like the business. For women, this is more complicated given that all men generally have to worry about is wearing a suit and women have far more choice open to them.


In management, in situations where you’ve got to work with and direct other people, humour can be a formidable weapon in your armoury for doing the job well. According to the Harvard Business Review, “(t)he executives who had been ranked as outstanding used humour more than twice as often as average executives, a mean of 17.8 times per hour compared with 7.5 times per hour.” Researcher Fabio Sala found that humour “appears to be a marker for a much broader managerial trait: high emotional intelligence”.


It’s therefore not unreasonable to assume that using humour in interviews will display that sought-after higher emotional intelligence. Also, that it will obey the fundamental rule of sales – that people buy people first. And an interview, boiled down to its core, is a sale.


In theory, it should be fine most of the time. As long as you steer away from sexy, religious, or political humour, giving funny workplace anecdotes that show you in an amazing light means you’ll have this nailed. 67% of recruiters and employers in a recent South African survey indicated that it was alright to use humour because it made employees seem more personable.


The theory can come crashing down though if your interviewer is like the famous Claude Littner from the BBC’s “The Apprentice” program. If your interview is very matter-of-fact and machine-guns questions towards you, your only real option is to mirror him or her.


According to Andrew Harvin, founder of Humorthatworks which seeks to “teach you how to be more productive, less stressed, and happier using humour at work”, the five main reasons to use humour during an interview are:


  1. To show you’re more than just a good worker
  2. To model how you’ll behave in the job
  3. To demonstrate your social skills
  4. To show you can roll with the punches
  5. To get to know the other person better

Want to talk to us about using humour during the interview process? As long as the joke doesn’t end “facilities managers do it better”, then we’re all ears!

Call us today on 0207 118 4848 or email us at

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