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Just Joking in an Interview

by Beth Deison Smith

posted in Business

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In a recent interview, we asked candidates some questions about project management to help fill a position that would require detail orientation and an exemplary customer service skill set. One of our candidates was talking about how their part of a project was completed on time when their bosses' portion had not been finished as promised. I said to the potential employee, "What would you do should this situation happen again?" Without missing a beat, he said "I'd chew her out. Just joking!"
After the interview was over, I said to my client "You know that we cannot hire that candidate based on that statement."
The client responded, "But he was just joking, Beth."
I replied, "Maybe so, but chewing out your boss? That's not funny."
In an interview, our job as hiring managers is to listen actively to the exact words of the candidate's response. Remember, a job seeker will attempt to put their very best foot forward to impress a potential employer. If you listen to the actual language they are using within their finely tuned responses, you can identify personality traits, core values and work ethic. Through this knowledge, you can identify how a person will fit into your culture, what type of management style they will thrive under and how they will interact with you and the team. Therefore, if you are going to listen to the candidate's "just joking" comment, then you also have to pay attention to the "chewing out" part. Even when the candidate presents the information as a "joke," there may actually be some truth to be heard.
So why do we readily dismiss comments like "just joking?" When we are conducting interviews, we tend to listen to what we want to hear because we want to hire someone. We want the candidates to succeed and become our next new employee! And we are often willing to do whatever it takes to make the candidate ideal, including dismissing a comment like "just joking."
We do not know what the candidate meant when he said that he was just joking. Maybe he was. But maybe he was not. Can you take that chance with a critical function like a new hire? If you do take that chance and he was not joking, do you want to work with an employee who will "chew you out?" While it may appear the language being used was positioned as a joke, hiring is no laughing matter.
About the Author: Interested in hiring more effectively? A-list Interviews provides training and hiring services to empower employers to more effectively interview. Our 7 step interview process using the Response Analysis System™ is highly effective, with a 91% success rate of hires still employed by the company after 12 months. - Learn more at
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