Job-hunting is never fun, and even just the thought of updating your resume can fill you with dread. But what if we told you there’s a way to hack your next interview, to strike that delicate balance of showing off your skills without sounding like an arrogant jerk? Well, luckily for you, psychologists might just have the answer.
According to a recent study, “humorbragging” is an effective way to highlight your competencies while making someone actually want to hire you. The trick is to blend all that bare-faced self-promotion in with some humor, to cut through the discomfort that most of us feel when forced to talk ourselves up.
“We realized that we sometimes use humor to overcome this awkwardness. Intrigued by this, we saw the potential of humor as a strategy to navigate the dilemma of balancing the need to demonstrate competence while also appearing likable and relatable,” first author Jieun Pai, an assistant professor in the Business School at Imperial College London, told PsyPost.
The study was divided into four separate investigations, with the first focusing on the dreaded resume. The team drew up two fictional resumes, identical in every way except that one included some humorbragging while the other was more straightforward.
The two resumes were sent out to 345 companies, and the researchers gauged the level of interest in their hypothetical candidates through website visits and contact from recruiters.
The resume that included the quip, “The more coffee you can provide, the more output I will produce,” got three times as many responses, suggesting humor might be an effective means of catching employers’ attention in a crowded job market.
The next part of the study focused on job interviews. Volunteers were asked to pretend to be a restaurant manager hiring a pastry chef, and were given two interview transcripts to assess. Again, one had a few humorous comments thrown in, while the other was a simple roundup of the candidate's experience.
The humorbragging candidate was perceived to be warmer and more competent, with the assessors being more likely to offer that hypothetical person a job. That’s not to say you need to be cracking jokes at every given opportunity – that would get old really fast, unless you’re interviewing for a job as a stand-up comedian. But even just one amusing comment could give you the edge.
“One of the more surprising elements of our findings was the significant impact a single line of self-enhancing humor could have on outcomes,” Pai told PsyPost.
The study then went on to look at entrepreneurial pitches from the TV show Shark Tank, looking at trends in investment offers as a function of humor in pitches. Focusing on male entrepreneurs only from the show’s first four seasons – 154 pitches in total – the researchers found that using humorbragging in a pitch was significantly more likely to lead to investment.
The final part of the study looked to differentiate between humorbragging and other types of humor in interviews, confirming that humorbragging specifically appears to be the magic formula if you want to stand out from the interview crowd.
Fascinating though these findings are, the authors acknowledge that the study has some limitations.
“While our studies show the positive effects of humorbragging, a major caveat is the context and execution,” Pai explained. Humor has to be tailored carefully to the situation, and what might work well in a job interview for one field could fall flat in another. There are also cultural and social factors to take into account – put simply, not everyone has the same sense of humor.
So next time you’re filling out a job application, you might want to consider dropping in a casual humorbrag here and there – just maybe not on every line, and maybe not if there’s potential for a misunderstanding. Unless, of course, you actually are interviewing to be a stand-up comedian. In which case, sally forth with our blessing.
The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.