How to Make Small Talk Before Your Interview
September 11, 2018
You’ve practiced your answers, prepared questions you want to ask, and feel confident about going into your interview with a sense of direction. The only thing that’s got your nerves a little off balance is anticipating the small talk pre-interview—which interviewers often use to gauge your personality and get a sense of who you are, unrehearsed. In just a few short sentences of small talk, your politeness, positivity, and overall mindset can all be revealed.
If the prospect of small talk before your interview makes you anxious, that’s normal. It can be hard to know what to say and how to make this process smooth and less awkward. The good thing is there are ways to prepare for this initial opening of the interview so that you can walk in feeling ready to meet and greet from a confident, comfortable place.
Below are some tips to help you leverage this opportunity and leave an even stronger impression for your interview.
1. Be creative, not a cliché
Opening with a remark on the weather or traffic is fine but ultimately unmemorable. Small talk can be a way for you to assert your energy and a sense of who you are, and since most people stick to the safety of weather and traffic talk, you won’t stand out. There are so many other interesting ways to chat.
2. Find a connection
Research your interviewer on LinkedIn before your meeting to get an idea of what they’re like and to notice any common interests. You can formulate your own questions or areas to comment on that will seem natural and spark conversation. For example, if they mention running as a hobby on their profile, you could slip in that you started the day with a training run for your upcoming half marathon (if true, of course).
3. Stick to safe topics
Steer clear of politics and religion (unless it’s directly related to your role). Controversial topics don’t help anyone in small talk situations—there’s quite a big risk of saying something offensive. The same goes for negative news and events—keep it lighter.
4. Keep it professional, don’t get personal
Be relatable and friendly, but don’t get too personal. Stay away from topics like salary and marital status, and definitely don’t flirt.
5. Use more than words
Think about HOW you are speaking, not just what you are saying. Your expression, body language, and tone of voice are all ways that you express yourself. Be warm and comfortable—not too formal, but not too relaxed—and speak slowly and at a moderate volume, showing confidence but not arrogance.
6. Don't be afraid to ask, too
It makes you seem confident and strong (good traits for any prospective employee) when you lead with some of your own questions. For example, you could mention what a great location the office is in, and then ask your interview if they have a favorite nearby café or lunch spot. Or you could comment on the beautiful office space, and then ask how long the company has been there.
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