Inappropriate laughter: The job interview

Smiling for the Camera

Hyena, not laughing (Image by Susan Renee via Flickr)

I recently was reminded of a horrifying event from my professional life. Actually, as I think about it, this one event should be enough to reclassify my entire portfolio of professional work as semi-professional. 

Let’s Set The Scene

A couple years ago, I was involved in the selection of some people for a highly specialized position. There were about 5 people involved in conducting a panel style interview of the candidates. We started at about 7:30 in the morning. 

Late in the afternoon we were getting a little goofy from being locked in the interview room, firing the same questions at people over and over. During a break, something that was mildly funny happened. It was one of those things that is only funny in the moment, to people who were trapped in the room that day.  We all had our laugh, it wasn’t even a big laugh. 

Then the next candidate came in for their interview. I had never met the candidate, but had heard great things about her from people I think highly of. This was the favorite to get the position. 

The person chairing the interviews introduced everyone, then said “Omawarisan has the first question.” 

And Then, It Happened

That is where everything when horribly, giggly, unexpectedly wrong. 

I took off my glasses, looked down at the question I had been asking all day, looked back up at the candidate and lost my mind. I started laughing about the weak joke we’d just pulled. I can’t explain it, I just started laughing…hard. Laughing until I was in tears. Laughing until my sides hurt. I could not stop for about fifteen seconds. 

I finally gathered myself. I apologized to the candidate and explained that I was laughing at something that happened before she’d come in. I looked down, started to ask the question again, looked up and went to pieces again. I laughed harder than the first time. 

I again got myself together, then lost it. Again. I was embarrassed, I felt awful for the candidate. I let someone else ask the question I was assigned. 

For the rest of the interview, I kept my head down and took notes. I pretty much got mauled by the other interviewers after it was all over. There really was no explaining it. We all knew what I was laughing at and that it was not really funny. To this day, I can not explain why switching two people’s chairs was that funny at that moment. 

Fortunately, the candidate aced the interview despite my performance. She got the position. I sought her out later in the week and apologized profusely. She was extremely gracious about the whole thing, probably more so than I could have been. We absolutely got the right person for the job, despite my meltdown. 

In The End…

Not surprisingly, I have not been invited back to help with candidate interviews for that particular section. I have successfully interviewed people for other positions without going to pieces since that very strange day. 

I started this out be referring to it as a horrifying event from my professional life. As horrifying as it was through my eyes, I can’t imagine how much more so it was for that poor woman sitting there wondering what she’d done. 

19 Comments on “Inappropriate laughter: The job interview”

  1. Glad that wasn’t me being interviewed, Oma! At least you feel guilty about it…

    When we were in college doing our Broadcast Journalism training, we used to try to break each other up on-air. One day, a story about Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble mysteriously appeared in the newscast. Another time, the script was set on fire (while the person was reading it). Inappropriate laughter was a way of life for me then…


  2. hippie cahier says:

    Unbelievable. I started a draft yesterday on a very similar situation. Are you peeking over my shoulder? I suppose not, because yours always come out funnier.
    Thanks for the laugh.

  3. Betty says:

    I love stories about inappropriate, uncontrollable laughter (after the fact, of course, when they involve me.) My most embarrassing was a few years ago at my grandmother’s funeral. Back in the late 80s, a feud divided our family. When Grammies passed away, relatives on both sides attended the services, but did not mingle. When it came time to move toward the vehicles and on to the cemetery, the funeral director first called members of the family in pairs to say their goodbyes at the coffin. For some odd reason, I was called to kneel at the coffin along with my cousin who was on the “other” side of the family and I hadn’t talked with her in nearly two decades. As I kneeled side by side with my cousin at the coffin, my uncontrollable laughter began….and continued to escalate. I can’t even offer an explanation of something funny happening earlier in the day. I’m sure the “other” side of the family felt validated that they no longer spoke with the obviously deranged side. I’m starting to crack up now just thinking about it.

  4. tsanda says:

    i get that same sensation when i read oma’s words

  5. It doesn’t sound like you should feel bad. In fact, you probably gave the interviewee an opportunity to display her poise and professionalism. You helped her get the job! Well done!

  6. Actually, uncomfortable as it may have been, this shows you are probably a normal human being. No one but an HR type can interview all day without losing their marbles!

  7. jammer5 says:

    I know the feeling from both sides of the table. I was being interviewed for a job once and the lead interviewer asked me if I played golf. It came out of nowhere, and I started laughing. I tried to contain myself as I knew it was as inappropriate as one can get. The guy that asked the question started laughing as well as the other two people looked on stunned.

    We both finally managed to stop, and finished the interview. Some how, I got the job, and the guy who asked the question and I became best golf buds.

  8. Todd says:

    I wonder what the candidate thought: Folks here seem really friendly, or, these people are nuts.

So, what's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s