No matter how much experience you have, interviewing potential new hires is hard. Assessing a baseline level of skill or intelligence isn’t that tough, it’s determining the intangible “cultural fit” aspect that is so difficult. After all, how well can you really get to know someone when they’re on their best behavior, and you’re conducting an interview?

There are, of course, countless strategies and clever questions that you can employ to try and get a feel for the true nature of the person you’re interviewing, but I’ve never had much luck with them. Instead, I’ve learned to look for a single trait that tells me whether or not a person is going to be a good fit: a sense of humor.

Humor may seem like a strange thing to look for when hiring, but I’ve found that it is an excellent indicator of a person’s intelligence, confidence, and overall temperament.  Over the years, it has been the people who can laugh and learn who have succeeded at BodeTree.

Humor requires intelligence and self-awareness

I’ve always thought that there is something somewhat melancholy about funny people. It is almost as though you have to possess the ability to see the world as it is, tragic flaws and all, in order to make light of it. It is that behind-the-scenes process that interests me and gives me a glimpse into the mind of a potential team member.

After all, it is the lethal combination of intelligence and self-awareness that I’m looking for when hiring. People who can quickly digest a situation and simultaneously reflect on their thoughts, beliefs, and actions are invaluable inside of organizations. Humor, particularly self-deprecating humor, is a telltale sign that a person possesses the skills I’m looking to cultivate.

Humor and empathy go hand in hand

Just to be clear, I’m not looking for a standup routine in an interview. Rather, it is the ability to seek out common ground and connect with another individual that I’m interested in seeing. When someone seems to come across as effortlessly funny and relatable, it’s because they’re demonstrating a form of empathy.

Leaders need to walk a very fine line here. There is a huge difference between emotional intelligence and pandering. If a candidate were to come in and slip in a joke about your Alma Mater’s rival school simply because he or she looked at your profile on LinkedIn, that would be pandering and should be dismissed.

Instead, you want to look for someone who can read a room and find ways to connect on a personal level. The ability to quickly connect with and reassure others is vital to working with clients, prospects, and fellow team members.

Humor helps diffuse stressful situations

Finally, I’ve found that people with a sense of humor manage stress much more effectively than their more dour counterparts. It doesn’t matter if you’re joining a startup or a Fortune 500 company, stressful situations will arise. As a leader, you want to find people who can keep things in perspective and not crumble under pressure. The best team members are the ones who can accept a situation and respond with a type of gallows humor that instantly diffuses the situation.

Take Benjamin Franklin, for example. After signing the Declaration of Independence and effectively marking himself as a traitor in the eyes of the most powerful nation on Earth, Franklin quipped to his fellow signers, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While this might not have calmed the fears of everyone in attendance, it’s easy to imagine that the comment brought a sense of levity to a serious and surely nerve-wracking situation. That same breath of fresh air is exactly what today’s over-stressed teams need when faced with tough situations.

When it comes to humor, there is often more depth than meets the eye. The ability to make another person laugh or feel at ease demonstrates intelligence, self-awareness, and empathy. Leaders looking to add new team members should pay attention and recognize the positive traits hidden behind a candidate’s well-timed quip. The candidate who makes you chuckle might just end up being the person you’re looking to hire.

 

This article was written by Chris Myers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.