Testing job applicants… for sense of humor

In this short video Colleen Barrett, former president of Southwest Airlines, shares some of the tricky (and hilarious) ways they screen job applicants for sense of humor.

I’d love to see way more companies do things like this to ensure a good cultural fit for new hires. The fact is that not every person will fit into every workplace culture and there is currently way too much focus on professional skills and way too little on personality fit.

The Southwest hiring mantra “Hire for attitude, train for skill” has served them well over the years and we’ve seen many other happy workplaces introduce similar approaches.

British sandwich chain Pret a Manger put it like this:

“You can’t hire someone who can make sandwiches and teach them to be happy,” says Jay, “So we hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches”.

Your take

When you were hired was there any focus on cultural fit? Does your workplace generally try to hire happy people or is the focus mostly on professional skills? What mix do you prefer between professional and cultural fit when new people are hired?

13 thoughts on “Testing job applicants… for sense of humor”

  1. I think those tests are actually kind of mean. Honestly, I wouldn’t be laughing, mostly because I’d be worried that I went to the wrong room, that I’d messed up on the interview time, that something was wrong. This reminds of those tricks, like placing a large distance between the applicant and the interviewers to see if the applicant moves closer. Applicants are naturally nervous and manipulating them like this isn’t funny – it’s cruel.

    There are much simpler ways to tell if an applicant has a sense of humour: chat with them for a little bit before the interview formally starts and tell a light, non-offensive joke. Then see if they laugh naturally. This has the advantage of not making the potential employer look like a total dick.

  2. My company doesn’t have a need for a receptionist, so we “hired” a mannequin instead. She has several outfits that are changed regularly, along with some almost realistic wigs. How applicants respond to having a mannequin in the reception area gives us an idea of their temperament. Some are really nervous and talk to her before realizing she is fake, some ask about it in the interview. “Gwen” has become part of our company family, and we even celebrate her birthday each year.

  3. I love to laugh, and I love to make others laugh… but I’m not sure that I’d accept an offer from a company that began its relationship with me dishonestly. There are plenty of ways to see humor without the trickery.

  4. When you already have a job, even one that doesn’t thrill you, you tend to be more relaxed and not so desperately nervous during an interview. This new job is a possibility, not a source of financial salvation. So tactics that put applicants on their back feet don’t throw an employed applicant off so badly. They are more likely to roll with the good-natured tricks & think “well that was odd but at least I gave it a shot.”
    They might be vindicated in striking out in a new direction.
    Unemployed applicants are much more likely to have a meltdown, regardless of their desire or aptitude for the position because the stakes are much higher.
    Is this a sneaky way to weed out unemployed applicants? I’m not going to go that far, but I think it is worth considering that some of the people applying for the position might not be so happy & spritely because they have been out of work for a dismally long time.
    Of course in customer service, as in sales, you should never let ’em see you sweat.

  5. So what the hell happened to Southwest Airlines to make them so pesky about two people kissing each other?

  6. How often do you see just two guys named Said respond? Anyway did Kuri even watch the video. I can’t see how those actions could be mean.

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  8. Great article!! I am an avid reader of your site and all the articles here. Thanks for contributing such good advice to so many readers and career aspirants. I also read an excellent book recently titled “The Career Journey” by author Ram Iyer that is a beautiful complement to your article here as it talks a bit about how to build that brand whether it is an interview or the real job. And, humor is key.

  9. While I have a sense of humour, and would love to work in an office where humour is appreciated, I don’t think that practical jokes have a place in any work situation – especially in the interview process. And horseplay or practical jokes on (or around, or in connection with) an aircraft could be seen as setting a dangerous precedent.

    On the other hand, I might practice my juggling while the applicant is being shown into the interview roomt’s relaxing, improves concentration, and helps relieve repetitive stress. During an interview, I might ask directly about a sense of humour; I might have photos in the office showing humour and joy in the workplace; but I would never decieve applicants by hiding among them. They might wonder where else the company spies are lurking.

  10. Seems to me a few people are taking it too seriously! Congrats on being weeded out as not fitting that companies culture then ;)

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