Few of us pay attention to the importance small talk plays in the interview. Instead, we worry about responses to interview questions and ignore one of the best tools for building rapport with our interviewer.
Small talk is a critical part of the interview and how you handle it will factor into whether or not you make it to the second round.
Why small talk is such a big deal
The most qualified candidate does not always get the job. The candidate who uses small talk to build a relationship with the interviewer stands a much better chance of landing an offer. Small talk is all about building rapport and relationships.
Astute interviewers will use small talk at the beginning of the interview to assess your people skills. This is when candidates are typically the most nervous and feeling under pressure, so it’s the perfect time to see how you handle yourself. Interviewers will also be looking at your body language to see if your non-verbal communication is congruent with your verbal conversation.
Mastering the gift of gab
Becoming a wiz at small talk is more about making a connection with the other person than it is about content. First of all, try to view your interview as a conversation rather than an evaluation. This should help you relax a bit.
Keep on a safe topic like weather, traffic, sports or a recent event (avoid politics or tragic events). If you know who you will be interviewing with, check them out on LinkedIn, Facebook or Google+ and look for commonalities (schools attended, hobbies, interests, locations, etc.).
Striking up a conversation around a topic you share in common will help break the ice. Even if the topic bores you look interested anyway. Listen to what the other person is saying and try to identify ideas or areas of interest that the two of you might share.
Practice in a safe environment
Try practicing small talk on a stranger. This isn’t as weird as it sounds. The other day my husband and I were walking along the bike path near our home in Santa Cruz. He happens to be a photographer. We get a lot of foreign tourists this time of year and on this particular day, a fellow walked by carrying the same camera my husband uses. The next thing I knew George struck up a conversation with this person about cameras and photography. Twenty minutes later they were still talking.
I am not suggesting you spend this amount of time engaging in small talk when you are interviewing. However, making a connection with your interviewer around common interests is a great way to connect.