Small Talk

 

How are your ‘chit-chat’ skills?  

 

You arrive 5 minutes early, you look good, you feel good, and you’re well rested and ready for your interview.  The interviewer greets you and walks you to her office.  As you’re walking she asks casually, “So did you have trouble finding parking nearby?”  to which you reply, “Oh man, I hate coming to this neighborhood, parking around here is always a drag! I drove around for like twenty minutes then finally had to pay a fortune to park in the lot next door!”   Okay, whether you know it or not, you just blew your interview. No matter how impressive your resume or job history may be, by ranting about your parking problems, you just told your interviewer that you are a negative, ill-mannered person who is thrown off by the small inconveniences of life.

Never forget that everything that happens from the time you arrive for the interview to the time you leave the building is part of the interview.  When interviewers make small talk with you it’s not just to fill the silence, it’s an important opportunity to get a feel for your temperament and your attitude in general.  Using casual conversation to get candidates warmed up and talking in a more un-self-conscious way is a standard tool in every hiring manager’s toolbox.  In this way they can gain much more insight into a candidate’s personality and outlook then they can by the standard interview questions about work history and experience, for which the candidate has (hopefully) rehearsed their answers.  Since small talk is inevitable, use it to show the interviewer that you are a positive person who isn’t phased by the little stuff and would be a good fit within their organization.

  • Nothing is ‘off the record’.  It’s fine to be a bit more casual during small talk than during the formal part of the interview, but always be aware that everything that comes out of your mouth is telling the interviewer about who you are.
  • Take the initiative.  If there is time while you are being escorted to a room, or while waiting for others to join you, you can and should initiate some polite, friendly small talk.  Look around and find something positive to comment on.  If you see pictures of your interviewers children on his desk, make a comment about what a great smile they have and ask about their age- people always feel comfortable talking about their children.  Just make sure to keep everything positive, use neutral topics, and don’t talk too much.
  • Use the 80/20 rule.  Before or after an interview when there is small talk going on, you should aim to speak about 20 percent of the time and let the interviewer speak 80 percent of the time. This decreases the likelihood of getting nervous and rambling, and it increases the impression that you are a direct and effective communicator.
  • Always, always, always be positive.  Common traps in this area are commenting on a former boss whom you did not get along with, bad weather or bad traffic, or difficult subordinates who required disciplinary action.  No matter what you need to describe or explain, there is always a way to do with with a positive spin.