Small talk gets a bad rap in modern times, but knowing how to engage in pleasant small talk is an extremely valuable interview skill. While you still need to have deeper answers ready to provide value, being able to excel with small talk builds a rapport with your interviewer and helps you stand out.
Standing out in an interview can be tough, but making an impression with small talk and finding a connection is a great way to stay relevant. Remember, an interviewer is investigating your personality to see if you’re a good cultural fit. Learn how to make a last impression by following these small talk strategies!
“Interviews are also pretty anxiety-inducing, so starting off with a little small talk beforehand is in everyone’s best interest.”-Maddie Lloyd, Zippia
Part of the reason small talk is often viewed with disdain is that boring topics often get repeated. Small talk doesn’t have to be deep, but it needs to have at least a bit of substance. Recall that you’re trying to stand out. Saying “Boy, how about the fact that weather exists?” isn’t going to help your case.
“I can’t imagine many hiring managers vouching for a candidate by saying, “Hey, how about the guy that complained about how rainy it’s been? I thought he was great!” –Kat Boogaard
Instead, LinkedIn’s Caroline Ceniza-Levine says to focus on topics like any hobbies you might have, any books you’re reading (a great way to show you’re into personal development), or discussing industry news. These topics are light, playful and show some insight into who you are beyond your resume.
Avoid inappropriate topics
You want to stand out in these windows of small talk, but you want to stand out for a good reason. While it’s good to be casual with your small talk, make sure you aren’t too casual or inappropriate with your chosen topics.
Top Interview’s Felicia Tatum lists the classics like religion, politics, and overly personal questions as things to avoid—even if you’ve researched the interviewer and know their stances. Also avoid being flirty, mentioning money, family topics, or bad-mouthing anyone.
Find a common interest
Your goal with small talk is to find common ground to build a solid foundation with your interviewer and stand out when it comes time to choose a candidate. One of the best ways to start is by researching your interviewer and looking for any common ground on their socials.
You don’t need to be digging through someone’s trash looking for deep clues. A simple quick search may provide you with some safe, surface-level interests. Even looking around their office can provide some easy clues.
The Muse’s Kat Boogaard lists someone running a marathon as an example. If you find evidence they’ve partaken in one, you might casually mention you’re a runner and had a nice run earlier in the day. You don’t need to awkwardly shoehorn the common interest in, you can casually bring something up when asked “How are you?” and see if they take the bait.
“For instance, you discovered in your research that you both like cooking. You may respond, “It was great! I took a cooking class at the <insert name of school> and learned the right technique for perfecting my Japanese souffle cheesecake.” –Lea C, Career Higher
Ask questions and be a good listener
The name small talk leaves out one of its most important aspects—listening! If you’re seeking common ground, you can’t just talk someone’s ear off. You need to ask questions and carefully listen to the responses.
Small talk can be awkward, but asking a question to fill the silence is a great way to both get new information and keep the conversation flowing. Kat Boogaard says that not only will this take the spotlight off of you but it will give the interviewer, who is likely asking you a lot of questions, a bit of a breather.
Forbes’ Jack Kelly says to practice active listening during these exchanges. Nod your head and react to what they say, use their name often, and let them be your center of attention. Keep your questions open-ended to allow the dialogue to flow.
Above all else, be authentic in your conversation attempts. Making a connection isn’t only valuable to the organization, but to you as well. If all goes well, this will be someone you’ll work with often in the future. Make sure you enjoy the environment and interacting with this person.
It’s generally easy to tell when someone is forcing conversation or if they aren’t interested in what you’re talking about. That’s why practicing active listening is so important. Even if you find the process daunting, with practice and a little extra effort, you’ll find yourself communicating with enthusiasm.
Small talk can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know the person. But learning how to engage with an interviewer and create a connection will be dividends in the long run. Stay relaxed and follow our strategies and you’ll create a natural conversation!