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How to make small talk and increase your chances of getting the job

Dive In
  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Bromstein

When you arrive at a job interview, how do you start the conversation? Here’s how to make small talk and increase your changes of getting the job.

There was a post on LinkedIn this week about the “underrated interview skill” that is small talk.

The Chicago-based recruiter who created the post noted that most job interviews start with banal pleasantries like simple greetings and exchanges about the weather before getting down to business, and pointed out that this is a big missed opportunity. He is right. Almost all interviews probably begin this way and allowing yours to be one of them is a great way to be easily forgettable. Don’t do that. Instead, use these first few moments to create a connection with your interviewer. You do this through making good small talk.

Small talk gets a bad rap. We often hear people saying how much they hate making small talk and what a waste of time it is. But these people are missing a crucial step in relationship building. Small talk is a valuable way of making connections and getting to know people. You need to make small talk before you can make big talk. Not everyone wants to open up about their innermost feelings when they first meet someone, nor should they. This is why it’s a good idea to plan your small talk beforehand and come armed with some great conversation starters.

Here are some tips on how to prepare and make small talk.

Gather intel on potential conversation topics

Find out who you’re interviewing with and research them online. See if you can learn about their hobbies and interests. Do they play golf or tennis? Are they an avid Raptors fan? Do they enjoy knitting, cooking, travel, wine, or fishing? Do they post pictures of their families and children? Find out what you can, and use this information to make conversation. Don’t go overboard and comb through their entire history. Stick to the most visible Instagram or Facebook posts. You don’t want to say, “I combed through your last eight years of online posts and saw that you went golfing once in 2014. I like golf too!” That’s weird. Choose the topics that come up regularly so you come across as having Googled them and visited their online profiles, which is normal, rather than having stalked their online profile, which is weird.

Look at their career history and education and see if there’s common ground there. Did you go to the same school? Do you have mutual friends? Have you both worked for the same company at different times in the past?

Don’t be afraid to reveal something about yourself

Telling them something about your own life opens up the floor for further conversation and makes things easier for the other person too. When you’re asked “How are you?” which is a pretty standard opener, instead of saying, “Fine, thanks,” offer some more information. Like, “I’m great! My daughter just aced her driving test this morning!” Or “It’s been a crazy few weeks, we just moved to a new house.”

Then they can ask about your daughter or where you moved from.

More examples of things you can say to make small talk:

“I see that you moved from a career in television into human resources. What prompted that change?”

“I saw on Instagram that you like to travel. Are you excited for things to reopen?”

“I’m great, thanks. I’m prepping for a big hiking trip this weekend. I saw on Instagram that you also enjoy hiking.”

“I was reading this book on the train on the way here. It’s all about (insert industry related topic). Have you read it?”

“I think you know Mary Patel. She’s a great friend of mine!”

“I spend the morning taking a course on (industry-related topic) so I’m having a pretty great day.”

Avoid traffic and the weather

Frankly, we love talking about traffic and the weather but they are not going to make you stand out, as these are the biggest small talk cliches.

Avoid controversial topics

This isn’t the time to talk about politics or religion, unless you’re interviewing for a political or faith-based organization and you’re certain these are things you have in common. In that case, have at it.

Remember that the point of all this is to prompt them to continue the conversation, share something about themselves, and ask you about yourself outside of the typical job interview questions. If you see they aren’t interested, pivot, and change the subject. Not everyone is going to receptive and, if someone isn’t interested in establishing a rapport with you or makes it difficult, that might be an indicator that they will not be pleasant to work with. Or not. Maybe they’re just distracted.

Still, you’ll find it’s worth the effort to prepare and make small talk.

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