Last year a major bank flew me across the country for a job interview. Things were going fine until the hiring manager asked, “Can you tell me a joke?”
I could have shared any joke. A cheesy one. A lame one. It didn’t matter. But instead, I froze.
I’d been ready to rattle off a list of accomplishments for the hiring managers; talk about my work experience; and make exaggerated claims about my enthusiasm for the role — but I hadn’t been prepared to act anything remotely like a real person … who tells jokes.
So I proceeded to disintegrate before the very eyes of the interviewer and his partner. I froze. I just looked at them with what was probably a very creepy, blank expression on my face. After sitting in silence for a few moments, they laughed awkwardly and moved on to the next question.
After that disaster, I was left wondering why he’d asked me to tell him a joke. Reflecting on the experience now, it’s pretty clear: The interviewer was seeking someone who was confident and could think on their feet. They wanted someone who wouldn’t fold under pressure. Asking for a joke was a great way to determine whether I possessed those traits.
But I failed this basic test pretty badly, and I didn’t land the job.
If I could somehow “Quantum Leap” myself back into that Los Angeles office, I’d keep these tips in mind during the interview:
1. Don’t take the process — or yourself — too seriously. Obviously, job interviews are important. But they’re also pretty weird and awkward, when you think about it. If you get too intense about being perfect in the interview, you’ll psych yourself out.
2. Act like a person. This can be difficult for people who are new to the interview game. Put yourself in the interviewers’ lavish leather banker shoes. Companies aren’t looking for sweaty robots that will parrot back responses calculated to please everyone. They’re looking for competent people that they will get along with in the office. Tell them how you can benefit their organisation and loosen up a bit.
3. It’s not the end of the world. Bombing an interview doesn’t feel too great, especially if you’ve missed out on your dream job or a really cool opportunity. You just have to move on and treat it like a learning experience. Plus, after a few years of healing, it might make for an amusing anecdote.
When I learned that I was in the running for an internship with Business Insider, I prepared for my phone interview by typing the phrase “good jokes” into Google. I clicked on one of the first links that came up, scrolled through the page, and found the following: “Can a kangaroo jump higher than a house? Of course, a house doesn’t jump at all.”
I wrote that gem down on a sticky note to ensure I’d get the wording right. I carried it with me throughout several subsequent phone interviews.
None of the interviewers here ever asked me to tell them a joke (thank goodness, because the kangaroo one was terrible). Still, I’d recommend having one at the ready before your next job interview. At the very least, it makes for an absurd but effective security blanket.
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