Ask Annie

A CPA and a tax analyst walk into a bar...

February 13, 2012: 11:29 AM ET

Number crunchers who enjoy a good joke are more likely to succeed, says a new survey. They may even make more money.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Accounting and the professionals who practice it don't strike most people as a barrel of laughs. Yet it seems that number crunchers who know how to lighten up are in demand.

That's according to Accountemps, a finance-and-accounting staffing firm whose researchers recently asked about 1,400 chief financial officers, "How important is an employee's sense of humor to fitting into your company's corporate culture?" An overwhelming 79% said a little levity is "very" or "somewhat" important. Only 20% said it doesn't matter at all.

"All work and no play can erode employee morale," observes Max Messmer, Accountemps' chairman, adding: "Job candidates should let their personality shine through when they meet with prospective employers. An interview is no place for a standup comedy routine, but it is the right time to show hiring managers you are approachable and will be easy to work with."

Another survey, this one by Accountemps' parent Robert Half International, suggests that lightening up might even help with higher starting pay: For candidates with the right skills and great cultural fit, about 40% of CFOs are more willing to negotiate bigger salaries than they were a year ago. Only 5% of CFOs said they're less flexible on compensation for top candidates than in 2011.

Messmer advises accounting mavens that "it's okay to laugh at yourself. Share a funny story. Kick off meetings with an amusing anecdote to put everyone at ease," before getting down to business.

A comptroller, auditor, or compliance officer cracking up the room? Well, maybe. In defiance of the stereotype of accountants as humorless drones, the Internet is awash in accountant jokes, most of them on accounting websites, and thus presumably written by finance types themselves. Like this one: How many accountants does it take to change a light bulb? Let me run some numbers on that and I'll get back to you.

Or this one: A surgeon, an accountant, and a lawyer are debating whose profession goes back the furthest. The surgeon says, "God made Eve out of Adam's rib, so obviously surgery came first." The accountant disagrees. "Before that, God created the universe by bringing order out of chaos," he says. "That's accounting." Then the attorney speaks up. "I've got you both beat," she says. "Answer me this. Who created the chaos?"

Actually, that's more of a lawyer joke, isn't it?  The verdict is still out on whether jocularity makes for better jurists.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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