#TerribleTuesday and the Funny Question

“What’s the funniest thing that happened to you at work?”

I’ll admit it, I’ve used it, several times. I guess I needed to make sure it wasn’t working. And it doesn’t. 

This is why. The question is written to see if people can think on their feet, and to see if they have a sense of humor. It fails both tests.

The problem is people are zoned into what they can do for a company, not what has happened to them on the job outside of their control. Funny things are more a “hey, by the way, you’d never guess what happened to me today…” over a beer kinda thing. It’s not something on a list of goals and experiences that one relates to work.

I’ve gotten a lot of blank stares; I mean a lot. And one woman told me about how her big dog peed on the boss’s office floor.

Nope, nope, nope. Not going there again.

With that   question in mind, I thought I would share with you the funniest thing that happened to me while interviewing. I’ll say, it wasn’t funny at the time. But the immediate aftermath, there was definitely an interesting perspective that took place, that made me appreciate the richness and complexity of the work environment. 

I was doing an interview with my buddy who was a salaried Production Manager. We were interviewing a welding applicant; the interview went reasonably well. But it was over lunch time, and my buddy was getting quite restless due to hunger induced ADD. In an effort to expedite the end of the interview, I asked the candidate if he needed anything else “because I have to get this guy to lunch.” To which the candidate looked at me with a straight face and said “Oh, are you giving him a nooner?”

I looked at my buddy, who was in the same state of shock I was. I looked at the candidate who was waiting on an answer. I looked at my buddy who was now fighting a serious giggle, and he says “that’s a great question. Why don’t you explain to Daava what you mean?”

The candidate then tells me that when he was in the iron-Worker Union a nooner was when a manager had a crew work through lunch. The team was then due lunch on the clock and catered by the company. It usually happened in the offshifts. To which I asked if he ate a lot of pizza dinners. He confirmed he did. 

I was told I gasped. I’m sure I did. I was bewildered to say the least. 

Immediately following this incident, I went to my regularly scheduled HR Team meeting. I regaled the story, the room was five women, one man. The five women gasped. The one man? He started laughing. But when the reasoning came up, my VP said “Oh, male dominated union. Makes sense they would call it that.”

Each time I have told the story… Women are aghast, men laugh. It’s like a study in unconscious bias, in reverse. Would I ever tell that story in an interview? No. It’s not appropriate. The audience may not find it funny. It makes more sense in a union environment. And quite frankly, I’ve never been hired due to my sense of humor. I’ve never hired anyone for a sense of humor. 

I have hired people because they show the skills of flexibility, rolling with changes, accepting new protocols, and willing to let go of old ideas. And I am sure that is one of the reasons you would hire a person as well. But I’ve never heard an interview capped with “They have a great sense of humor! Let’s hire them.”

And that’s why this is a terrible question.