Job Interview Filter: "What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you at work?" What kind of answer is my potential employer looking for?
June 6, 2011 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm completing a preliminary job interview form, and one of the questions asked is to describe the funniest situation that's ever happened at work. I know a lot of the tricks of these type of questions (when asked about your weaknesses, also explain how you compensate; when asked about your worst boss, briefly explain how you successfully managed the situation; etc.), but this one is stumping me.

Are they looking for evidence of a sense of humor? Proof that I have enjoyed past jobs? A brief sketch comedy? I'm not sure I have the anecdote they're looking for.

Thanks in advance.
posted by tempest in a teapot to Work & Money (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing I can think of is to get a sense of your personality. And to see if you would be a good fit with the work environment there... ?
posted by cheemee at 11:24 AM on June 6, 2011

Well, what was the funniest situation that's ever happened to you at work? I would think of it as weeding out people without enough of an ability to relate to others to know what would be funny and people willing to put inappropriate nonsense on an application.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:24 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the funniest thing is your own foible, you're able to admit mistakes. "And I accidentally transferred a MILLION DOLLARS into the wrong account." To a point.

If the funniest thing is someone else's foible, perhaps you're competitive or a little bit cruel.

If there are no funny things that ever happened to you at work, then you're a clockwatcher who flees from the scene at the word go or you have no sense of humor.

If you overthink what you think other people will think as funny, perhaps you won't be as loose or roll-with-the-punches that the work environment is looking for.

Or maybe they just want to be amused while looking through applicants because it's pretty dull work if you're lucky (because it's normally just the bad applicants that are funny).
posted by Gucky at 11:24 AM on June 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think it was the time on your birthday you were asked to complete a small project in an hour that should have taken two hours and told to bring it to an important meeting in the 14th floor conference room and when you got there, it was a surprise party for you!!

If something like this happened to you, use it. It shows you do have a sense of humor, don't take yourself too seriously and can do a large amount of work under pressure in a small amount of time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:29 AM on June 6, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure what type of job this is (office, travel involved, etc.) but I have a ton of funny work-travel stories: getting stuck overnight in cities, free upgrades for you and coworkers because of being nice, etc.
posted by anya32 at 11:32 AM on June 6, 2011

Oh, I'm sorry you're asked this question. Jeez. How ridiculous. If it were me, I would make something up. "We were trying to play a prank on a long-time vendor and we sent 100 rubber ducks to a new client instead -- marketing had to backpeddle and come up with a clever way to say we meant to."

On preview: I like JohnnyGunn's take.

The stuff I find funny at work is sort of like The Office funny. The British version.
posted by amanda at 11:35 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

If the funniest thing is someone else's foible, perhaps you're competitive or a little bit cruel.
This is the one trap I was thinking of--you don't want to come off as someone who laughs at his doofus coworkers.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:48 AM on June 6, 2011

I can only guess, but I'd suspect the question is at least partly intended to assess whether you respect the people you work with. Most people have funny stories about dumb or obnoxious coworkers/bosses/clients, but they won't reflect well on you in this situation.

If it were me, I'd rack my brains for a situation involving a wacky misunderstanding, or something beyond your/the company's control, like a fire drill in the middle of an important meeting. Bonus points for a resolution involving you banding together with your coworkers or figuring out a crazy workaround that ended up really well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:50 AM on June 6, 2011

Whatever your story is, the last line should be, "At the time, I didn't laugh. But later, I realized how funny it really was." That shows that you're the kind of person who solves problems instead of standing around saying, "Yep, this is a problem all right."
posted by Etrigan at 12:00 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

There might be an element of thinking on your feet. If someone asked me that question, I would have a hard time answering. But that has more to do with my internal search mechanism than any reflection on either my sense of humor or work situations.
posted by ES Mom at 12:07 PM on June 6, 2011

What industry or business are you in? For example, if you're applying for a client services position, you probably shouldn't write about how your whole team made fun of a client behind his or her back.

Without knowing the kind of company or industry, it's hard to assess how you should answer this question, but they're likely just assessing your people skills and ability to choose appropriate stories.
posted by glaucon at 12:07 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The job is an entry-level position at a credit union. It's not one that I'm very enthusiastic about, but I really can't be choosy right now.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 12:14 PM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: I was directed to ask this exact question during an interview round. I thought it was an idiotic question at the time, but it turned out to be instructive. One guy's answer involved a situation where he repeatedly humiliated a co-worker with a practical joke. This candidate took obvious pride in his ability to ruin his co-worker's day. He nailed every other question and had the right skill set. The committee hired the guy. He turned out to be a raging asshole and he was eventually exiled to a remote office to be an email-only employee.

Another interviewee responded with one of the dirtiest jokes I've ever heard. Another said that he had never witnessed any humor in the workplace because humor shouldn't be part of the workplace. I thought that was a joke in itself, but the person was quite serious apparently.

My favorite answer came from a guy that professed that he was terrible at telling funny stories, but that he had a great laugh. He promptly stood up and demo'd his awesome laugh. It was very endearing and he was hired for another position a few months later.

Personally, I was looking for someone that understood social boundaries and norms yet would be able to fit in with our existing team.
posted by foggy out there now at 12:15 PM on June 6, 2011 [26 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone. I've come up with a variation on JohnnyGunn's suggestion that I hope demonstrates that I'm a person others like having on the team AND that I have a capacity to perform boring tasks without complaint.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 12:22 PM on June 6, 2011

Err on the side of boring and un-funny, while minimally complying -- this is the kind of question that can only hurt you get it wrong, and not really help you much even if you get it right.
posted by yarly at 12:27 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here are some I can think of that might be reasonable examples (victimless):

On a April 1st there was a special training day scheduled at my first real job, they seemed serious right up until they started playing the movie Office Space and handing out candy and popcorn. It was a fun day during a time when we were working really hard.

Another April 1st at another job an email was sent out saying that since we would be localizing the product, every person would soon be assigned a language to learn.
posted by meepmeow at 12:38 PM on June 6, 2011

If I had to pick a story, I would probably tell one that happened recently, where a colleague asked what the "dougie dance" was, and this question opened a debate about the differences between "the dougie" and "the roger rabbit", complete with several people spontaneously doing demonstrations. Good times.
posted by netsirk at 1:23 PM on June 6, 2011

Ok I will tell mine, in case someone can tweak it and use it for something else. It is fairly recent.

On the first day of class I told the students to tell me what they wanted to go by when I called their names. When I got to a high profile student at my college, he said, "You can call me Dragon." The whole class laughed. I had no idea what was going on. I thought they were laughing because the guy is well known and funny. So I went with it and said, "Alright... Dragon! That's a good choice. You know that is actually a name in Japan!"

I started writing on the board the Chinese character for Dragon and chattering about Japan and some guy I knew named Japanese-Dragon. The class got really quiet. The kid turned white.

So after class the kid came up to me and explained that his name wasn't really Dragon and that was a line from the movie "Step Brothers." We all had a good laugh. But I kept calling the guy Dragon for the rest of the semester. So did the other students and it became a fun joke for everyone.
posted by vincele at 1:44 PM on June 6, 2011

Chiming in that this is a really great question to ask candidates because it's one of the best ways to weed out people who can't respect (or at least negotiate) social boundaries. I wouldn't use this question to "spin a positive" about yourself like some people advise doing with "what is your greatest weakness?" - that's not necessary and may even come off too strong in other direction. Have a personality, but stick to jokes or funny situations you could relate to, I don't know, the parents of someone you've just started dating.

I added a similar question to the application for a small members-only, family friendly videogame forum I used to moderate for exactly that reason - it solved a lot of our problems of figuring out whether prospective members were nice, but completely incapable of moderating language/content/etc.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:41 PM on June 6, 2011

« Older Which way should I learn web development?   |   Lifespan of autistic people? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.