Mastering Interviews: Small Talk Techniques
Published on May 3, 2017 by arothstein
Everywhere you look, there are tips on nailing a job interview. From what to wear, to how to curate and maintain a perfect resume and portfolio, you can find guidance on just about every detail of making a great impression on potential employers. It is well known that one trait that interviewers look for, and admire, in job candidates is confidence. However, there is a similarly important character trait that virtually every employer values just as much as confidence—the ability to interact successfully with others.
Most jobs involve some sort of client or customer contact. Even those jobs that provide limited opportunities for employees to speak directly with the individuals to which the company is providing its product or service, employers want the relationships between its employees to be positive. In interviews, there is a tendency to focus only on your skills. However, in addition to selling yourself to your interviewers, you also need to engage them on a personal level. By making a human connection, you will be more memorable, and you will show them your ability to carry on conversations with individuals that you have just met.
Starting a conversation aimed at making a personal connection is much different depending on whether you are at a networking event or meet and greet or in a formal interview setting. During an interview, finding the appropriate time, and the appropriate context, to engage in small talk is a skill that you should practice. Here are some tips for successfully engaging in small talk during any job interview:
- Remember interviewers are people, too.
One mistake that is easy to make when interacting with interviewers is to forget that they are people! While it is important to defer to your interviewers to a certain level, especially when it comes to recognizing their skill and experience in a given industry, you need to remember that in the grand scheme of things, they are just as interested in getting to know you. If you are hesitant about answering questions about yourself because you want to make sure they will respond positively to your answers, you are missing out on an opportunity. Your interviewers have feelings, personalities, relationships, favorite sports teams, favorite TV shows, successes, fears, etc. just as you do. By allowing them to catch a glimpse at the real you, you can increase your chances of making an impression as a dynamic personality instead of just another easily forgettable candidate.
- Do your homework!
Before an interview, you should attempt to determine the names of the individuals who will be conducting the interview. Some companies are more open with this information than others, so if you are unable to determine the exact individuals who will be interviewing you, you will need to spend time researching as many people in the department as you believe could serve on your interview committee. With the increased popularity of LinkedIn and robust company websites, you should learn as much as you can about not only the company you are interviewing with, but the individuals who may interview you. Don’t forget to look for information available on support staff, too. Knowing that the receptionist’s name is Hannah when you arrive for interview will make an impression on her, and this information may find its way back to the individuals in charge of making the hiring decisions. The time investment you spend in learning about the people with whom you may soon work will be worth it even if you don’t get the job. Working in the same industry, you are bound to interact with these individuals on a professional level in other settings.
- Don’t miss an opportunity to make a personal connection during the interview opening.
Often, one of the most difficult parts of determining how to insert small talk into an interview is identifying an appropriate time to deviate from the focus on you and your skills. You obviously don’t want to derail the conversation when it is focused on the benefit you can bring to the company. The best time to make a quick personal connection with an interviewer is right at the opening of the interview. One easy way to do this will be available to you if the interview takes place in the office of your interviewer. When you are led into the office, do a quick scan of the room for something that catches your eye and that you can use to initiate a conversation while the interviewer prepares his notes and while you are getting out your portfolio and resume. You may focus on a diploma or a championship football on display that reflect that the interviewer has a connection with your favorite college sports team. You could notice a piece or artwork you are familiar with or like and can use the opportunity to ask them about it. If you see pictures of the interviewer’s family, children, or grandchildren, displayed around the office feel free to mention this point, but remember that if the interviewer asks about your own family status he or she could be in violation of federal law, so don’t press them on that issue or offer too much detailed information about your own family that isn’t relevant to the conversation.
Even if the interview takes place in an empty board room, devoid of any personal items, you can always comment on a noticeable piece of the interviewer’s wardrobe. From a lovely piece of jewelry to a funky tie, a quick scan of your interviewer can give you some clue about his or her interests.
- Connect while waiting.
Another great time to connect with interviewers is during any lull in the interview process. There may be a brief waiting time while copies of your portfolio are being made or while everyone waits for a member of an interview committee to join the full group. Use this time wisely and chat about the most recent high profile sports victory in your area or a popular TV show season finale that you are pretty sure your interviewer has at least heard of even if he or she didn’t personally watch.
As you learn to be relaxed and to engage in authentic conversation during your interviews, you will quickly excel in these stressful interactions. Hopefully, these strategies will provide you with a starting point to develop your own method of interview small talk.
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