22

How does one handle this question in a typical software firm interview scenario ?
I think something off the hook from Bill Hicks (love him to death) or Mitch hedberg would be a very humorous ice breaker to the person who likes their genre of comedy however many may take offense to slapstick humor. It is difficult to gauge the interviewers flexibility in a telephone interview, just 2 minutes into the phone call.
How would y'all advise on answering such a question ? Any personal experiences ?
P.S: More importantly, how do you know where to draw the line. What is the safest joke ?

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  • 16
    At a software firm? Take your pick! stackoverflow.com/questions/234075/… – RYFN May 3 '13 at 13:34
  • 1
    I don't know about actual interviewers, but if I were conducting interviews and thinking about using this question, the primary purpose would be for weeding out candidates who would be a liability for their misogyny or similar. – R.. Aug 22 '14 at 21:10
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    am I the only one who's never heard of this? What's the point of asking the interviewee to tell a joke? – zfrisch Jan 12 '16 at 2:26
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    @zfrisch - it's generally either trying to see how you handle unexpected questions, show that the company is "fun" and "off beat" (blah blah), or just see how you handle random "personal" or relaxed interactions in a professional environment: eg a consultant or salesman may find it useful to make small jokes in conversation etc. Personally, I think this kind of interaction can be gauged better by having, for example, a short walk to the interview room and chatting informally to them. – Jon Story Jan 12 '16 at 11:03
  • 1
    Just say "your interview process". The employer will appreciate the classic bantz. – Pequod Jan 13 '16 at 10:34
35

Tell a joke and keep it clean.

Telling a joke that you might find funny could get your interview shortened very quickly if the interviewer doesn't share your sense of humour. Try to stick with jokes that would suitable for children in grade-school, or in a PG-rated movie. Probably a good idea to avoid jokes the interviewer might take personally (eg. no fat jokes when the interviewer is very fat). As others have mentioned, you're not going to be evaluated on how funny your joke is (except perhaps if it's an interview for a comedy writing position).

If you're worried that you won't be able to think of something appropriate on the spot, have a canned, rehearsed joke ready. For example, I saw this on the menu-board at a brunch place near me:

Q: How did the eggs get off the highway?

A: They took the eggs-it ramp!

It's short, silly and cheesy and probably won't offend anyone; and with the right delivery, it could work quite well.

  • 13
    I wonder how many upvotes you got for the joke alone, so here is mine. It was egg-celent! – Burhan Khalid Sep 3 '14 at 7:16
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    Stop, you're cracking me up. – turnip Sep 3 '14 at 10:53
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    If you only eat one egg for breakfast, you need to stop being so egg-oistic... – Juha Untinen Sep 3 '14 at 13:23
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    you've really come out of your shell – nurgle Sep 4 '14 at 15:33
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    @blankip, that's not fair - you can't pun-ish someone for liking puns! – Meelah Jan 12 '16 at 9:52
22

I wouldn't consider that a "normal" interview question by any means. In fact I suspect it's being done deliberately not to be normal - to knock you out of a scripted scenario and show who you are. If you accidentally blurt out something very offensive, or go into a long rambly shaggy dog joke that uses up most of the interview, they would learn something about you for sure.

I'm not sure you can prepare for "thinking on your feet" questions like this, but if you don't happen to have a list of relatively snappy non offensive one liners, may I offer:

  • A man walks into a bar. Ouch!
  • A rabbi, a priest, and a construction worker walk into a bar. The bartender sees them and says "what is this, some kind of joke?"
  • Knock knock! Who's there? Interrupting Cow. Interr -- Moo!

The thing is, we all know a joke. At least one. But when pressed, can we find one quickly? Will we find something actionably offensive, and say it out loud even though we should know better? Will we choose the 10 minute joke in a 30 minute interview? It's a stress test. In an interview to be a trainer, I was once asked "tell me how to get here from your house, or from a landmark along the way if you don't want to talk about where you live." It wasn't a question I could have prepared for, or was expecting. But it was a great question - how much detail do you provide, what's your speaking tone like for a number of sentences in a row, do you get up and go to the whiteboard to draw a map, and so on. I watched many people answer that question over the years and saw people lose the job (become no-hire) as they answered it. Typically the interview continued and they showed the same poor behaviours in other answers that I first saw in that one.

If you're being hired for confidence, quick thinking, and social skills, it's a pretty good question to ask. If they just blurt it at you - tell me a joke - they are partly testing what you do when people break the rules of a script. One possible response is to tell a joke, to do what the "customer" wants even when there's no good explanation for it and it's not what you expected. But there's also the response of

Really? I wasn't expecting that. I have tons, but I'm curious why you would ask that?

Might cost you the job, but if you think quickly and relate it to a software development practise (asking for a joke in a job interview is like changing all the colours during final acceptance testing, or asking for a joke in a job interview is like working out the fonts on the sales reports during the first architecture meeting) there are probably ways to decline the question and still do well.

13

Well, you just tell a joke. If you can't think of one, then say so. This is the type of question which is designed to gauge how at ease you are interacting with others.

I don't think it is a very good question, nor do I think the interviewers are necessarily prepared to be able to interpret "the answer".

Whether this is question is so bad that it makes you walk out is up to you, but I would assess the interview process as a whole rather than base a reaction on just one little thing. From the point of view of the interviewer, one bad answer or a punt is not going to have much impact on the interview as a whole, so don't worry about it too much.

It could very well be that they're trying to get "clever" with their interview questions and this is just an attempt that failed.

6

They likely want to see if you're a good fit for the team you'll be working with. One company I worked for gave me a second interview that's started with two people (not including myself), and ended with about 10 (again, not including myself). They brought the majority of the team in to see if I'd be a good fit.

This is a subjective question if you're looking for the joke to tell, all in all you'd have to go with whatever truly shows your personality, personally I'd say

I really don't want to work here.

I have a really dry satirical sense of humor. Don't know how well that would play out on the phone, or any joke for that matter, since they can't gauge your facial expression, but phone is better than email and they could at least get some emotion in your voice.

0

Pick a clean non offensive joke, practice it over and over so you can deliver it in a calm, confident and humorous manner and use it at every interview.

The one I use is:-

A horse walks into a bar and the barman asks "so, why the long face ?".

-1

Tell a joke such as.

Joke: Why did the programmer go crazy and keep running around in circles? Why? No one ever gave him a break!

Something on topic for the interview subject to show you can find humor at work will go a long way.

I try and show humor at the interview anyways in the right amounts and have been known to tell a joke while waiting for other staff to show up for the interview. It's a good ice breaker.

  • 1
    This doesn't attempt to answer the question. – Jane S Jan 12 '16 at 8:14
  • Good joke though. – Meelah Jan 12 '16 at 9:56
  • I think my answer does answer the question. I edited it to better express the intent of the answer and give a bit more background. – Nick Young Jan 12 '16 at 11:52
-4

Try to use an unoffensive joke. Racist jokes, sexist jokes, and jokes that hurt other people most likely won't work. Try something that's simpler, like the "Why did the chicken cross the road?" joke. If I were in an interview, a joke that I would use would be a punny one. You can impress them with your cleverness while also humoring the interviewer.

  • 4
    You are essentiallly repeating the top answer. – Jan Doggen Jan 12 '16 at 7:53
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    Agreed with Jan. Please remember to Not repeat others. – David K Jan 12 '16 at 13:21
-5

It's a great question. Because if you weren't asked it, you might get the job & end up hating everyone & vice-a-versa. It could also win you the job when you're losing the rest of the interview. There's no rules to this question. You could play it safe. I would choose to play it risky, in an effort to find out what sort of people I'd be around. It's an inter-view. You're supposed to look at them as well.

A man & a woman are walking past a mental asylum & hear voices. They are saying 13, 13, 13, over & over again. There's a small slit in the fence. One of them pops over to see what going on, & gets a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. What was that for? The voices continue - 14, 14, 14.

The subtext here (for after the interview***) is that I didn't say whether it was the man or the woman that went to the fence. I like this joke & if it offends anyone then they take themselves too seriously for me. But I did remember to not pick a gender***. That could be expensive.

  • 1
    this doesn't seem to add anything substantial over points made and explained in prior 5 answers – gnat Sep 3 '14 at 7:37
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    Jokes about mental illness or inpatients of psychiatric care are always a terrible idea. – Meelah Jan 12 '16 at 9:57

protected by Jane S Jan 12 '16 at 8:14

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