5 tips for successful interview small talk

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Interview small talk is the informal conversation that normally occurs before the actual interview. The interviewer could ask you questions like “How are you this morning?” or How was the traffic on your way in here?” It can even extend after the interview. This light banter is usually done to break the ice when you meet the interviewer (or to conclude the interview). It is an attempt to put you at ease. It also gives the interviewer a chance to gradually transition to the interview proper.

Why is it important?

Many of us dismiss interview small talk. We usually prepare only for the interview itself. This can be a mistake because small talk should be regarded as part of the entire process. It is important because:

  • It is a chance to establish a good first impression – According to personal success guru Brian Tracy, “when you first meet a person, he makes a judgement about you in approximately four seconds, and his judgement is finalized largely within 30 seconds of the initial contact” (The importance of a first impression).
  • It shows if you are likeable or sociable – small talk is an opportunity to build rapport with your interviewer. How well you get along with your interviewer can predict how well you will get along with co-workers and clients. Generally, the more likable you are, the better your chances of being hired.
  • It shows how well you deal with people – “people skills” is a highly valued soft skill in any workplace. It is important not only in sales or customer service jobs. All of us, regardless of the industry we belong to have to transact with others and work in teams.
  • It shows how you deal with stress and pressure – coming to an interview is one of the most nerve wracking experiences in anyone’s life. You can be nervous, worried and excited all at the same time. Showing that you can keep your composure by having a relaxed conversation shows how well you handle pressure.

Tips for making interview small talk

  1. Listen!
    The first thing to remember about making a pleasant interview small talk is to listen more than you speak. Always take the interviewer’s lead. He should initiate the small talk and signal the transition to the interview proper.
  2. It’s all about building a connection
    Be pleasant and sincere. Interviewees have a tendency to over praise in order to please the interviewer. But don’t be overly enthusiastic. It can backfire and sound insincere and unctuous. Sometimes being attentive is enough to establish the connection.
  3. Stay “on” in all conversations
    Avoid answering casually or flippantly when the interviewer veers off to small talk topics. Don’t ramble or provide an overly detailed account of how you overslept or missed the stop (which made you late) because you are trying to be funny. Have the same level of intelligence, attentiveness and enthusiasm in all conversations during the interview. Everything you say should show your professionalism and maturity.
  4. Talk about…
    …neutral topics like the weather, current events (except politics), or sports. The interviewer may also ask you about your plans for the weekend, or maybe how you like Manitoba so far. Have a clear, straightforward answer and try not to be too opinionated. Listen to the interviewer’s responses when you ask questions. For more small talk tips, read 5 big ideas for better small talk.
  5. Watch your body language
    When you first meet the interviewer, acknowledge his presence. Greet him, smile and give him a firm handshake. Maintain good eye contact. Avoid showing disinterest when he starts the conversation with small talk. An example of poor body language would be to look at your watch or look away while making small talk. You may be raring to start the interview proper, but these actions are quite impolite. Looking at your watch or away shows that you are not interested in connecting with the interviewer on a personal level. To know more about this topic, read Body language do’s and don’ts for a job interview.

Sources: Should you chat informally before an interview? Brian Swider, Brad Harris, and Murray Barrick, Harvard Business Review; 7 tips for chatting with your job interviewer, Karen Burns, U.S. News. Both accessed April 24, 2017.

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