Stephen Colbert: Have Fun In Interviews

Dawn Rasmussen asks a question of Stephan ColbertEarlier this week, I flew back to New Jersey to give a presentation, and came in early to spend a few days in New York City to soak up some culture.

What was originally going to be personal time ended up being a busy work trip filled with meetings with business contacts, recruiters, and social media community managers.  No matter; I was delighted at the prospect of meeting these folks in real life after connecting via social media.  It’s the personal connection that cements any kind of business relationship, and social media makes these in-person meetings possible whereas our paths likely would have never crossed otherwise.

But in the evenings, I had some downtime… and pounced on the opportunity to get audience tickets to the January 15th taping of The Colbert Report.

Being in the career space, I am fascinated with Stephen Colbert’s interviewing acumen.

He leaves no stone unturned, and is dangerously direct… much like many employers interviewing candidates for jobs.  Witnessing his process first-hand was something I always wanted to experience. (And hopefully, someday I’ll find myself in his interview chair talking about my book, “Forget Job Security: Build Your Marketability.”)

So I settled in, excited to be in the audience and watch Colbert work his magic with that day’s guest.

It came with a little shock, however, when I heard the audience coordinator announce that Mr. Colbert was coming out before the show taping to do 10 minutes of audience Q & A.  My mind started reeling.

So, what exactly WOULD you ask the master of interviewing?

Quickly, I formulated a question, and after the floor crew whipped the crowd into an energetic frenzy, Colbert came wheeling out from backstage and careened along the audience seating area.  He was every bit as engaging out of character as his “The Colbert Report” blowhard newsman alter ego. Only less blustery, and much more thoughtful and gracious.

He thanked the audience for being there, and then opened it up for questions.

And I have to confess, I was a little nervous, and let a few questions go by before my hand shot up.

He pointed at me to acknowledge my question. Deep breath on my end, then: “So, have you ever had any of your interviews completely melt down… where the person you were interviewing completely lost it?”

In my mind, I was thinking of how some of his interviews left the interviewee blinking like an owl when faced with a question that so completely escaped their comprehension, much to the delight of the people watching the show.

Any employer likely has tons of similar interview stories of candidates who had no idea what they were being asked… granted, Colbert’s character tends to mock guests (hopefully employers don’t do this to potential new employees!), but the root of the matter is the fact is that this person is appearing on this show… and means serious business. They have a concept to promote, and while Colbert’s interview can be quite entertaining, there is an underlying earnestness to this interview: to get their message across.

Similarly, in a job interview, job seekers are earnestly promoting the concept that they are the ideal solution to the employer’s needs.

So back to the show: What was Colbert’s response to my question?

He said that he tried to make sure that the people being interviewed have a good time… that he is in character,  and have fun. But a few people don’t get it and one person, after the interview, threw down the microphone and was very upset. He totally didn’t get it.

The truth is that we ALL should be having fun in interviews.  It is the apex of our efforts to get to that point, and something we should be exhilarated to discuss… whether in a job interview or discussing a concept in The Colbert Report‘s interviewee chair.

The interview experience should be fun… and we can make it so by having an attitude that allows us to adapt to the interviewer’s style to better relate to them.  Colbert’s best interviews are with guests who give as good as they get.  It creates rapport, and is clearly fun for both as it adds dimension to the discussion.  The people who are stiff come across as lifeless and without depth.

By taking the approach of making this a memorable and enjoyable experience, you can bet that your next interview will be much improved… and hopefully lead to that next job.

Photo of Stephen Colbert by David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons




Camille Roberts

This is excellent, Dawn…and so true. Interviewing should not be so stressful. One thing I REALLY love to do is change the mindset of my clients getting ready for an interview. Most of them say they are not too nervous, and I have others who are extremely nervous. In less than 60 minutes, I can change their mindset to be determined to have fun…and to approach the interview in a whole different way.

I do think there are some interviewers that really do not know how to interview and that can make for a very uncomfortable interview. Recently, I had a client interviewing at a place that will remain unnamed for this comment. =) There were 5 people on other side of the table and him on one side.

When it came time for him to ask questions, which was more than 1 hour into the interview, he did. He asked what 3 things they needed him to do in the first 60 days. The "chairman" of the interview panel could not answer his question. He said, "Ms. ____, can you take that question." She also could not answer it and said, "Mr. _____, perhaps you could best answer that." Sad, but true. He even nudged them along and asked them if they had employee issues, budget issues, project issues, etc. NO ONE on the panel could tell this executive what they needed done right away…much less after 90 days. Needless to say, he did not take this job.

Sometimes the interviewers really should prepare for the interviewees, aka, candidates. They, too, should be ready for the questions…and have well-prepared answers. More and more candidates are seeking professional advice and implementing it. These people missed out on a strong candidate that would have led this organization to success. When my client and I "debriefed" after the interview, It was certainly clear to me why they needed him. 😉

This was definitely a memorable interview for me. In fact, I have used it to prepare other clients in case the interviewers get stuck. My clients now have a 'plan' for when the questions cannot be answered.

Great job, as usual, Dawn!

Dawn Rasmussen

Thanks for a great comment, Camille. It is very true that having fun (and being prepared for interviews) is a two-way street. And when either party is either unprepared for the questions or is stressed out, the conversation isn't as productive as it could be.

Lauren Krasnow

Thank you Dawn for sharing this story about Steven Colbert (whom I also love!) It is nice how you tied in your experience to the job interview process. When nerves kick in it's hard to let your walls down and just be yourself. This is a great reminder to let ourselves shine during the interview, after all – people are people are people no matter what their job title is!

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