Small talk: It’s a part of life and the job search.

“What do you think about this weather?” is the most common example of small talk. It’s also pretty lame, don’t you think? If you were a recruiter, would you remember the applicant who spoke of the weather or the applicant who made you laugh? Or perhaps you’d remember the applicant who asked you about the picture on your desk. The question is — how do you become the applicant who doesn’t ask about the weather?

If you’re like a lot of people, small talk is awkward and nerve-racking. Preparing for an interview is enough to make anyone nervous, but add in the fact you will need to make small talk and a lasting impression? It’s tough for even the best interviewers. Below are tips and tricks on how to make small talk before an interview.

Why is small talk important?

Most people go into an interview full of nerves and anxious jitters about answering the questions, so small talk isn’t even on the nervous meter. It should be, though. Small talk can build rapport when done correctly. Finding common ground with your recruiter is a great way to make them remember you, make you stand out even more, and to help make an okay interview a great one.

A company gets approximately 250 resumes per job posted, according to this study. Of the candidates interviewed, only one gets the job. Killing your interview with strong answers and a great personality will up your chances of being that one applicant.

What are safe topics for small talk?

Generally, you want to keep the topics non-controversial, but semi-personal. What does semi-personal mean? Well, when you walk into the interview, look around. Do you see a picture of a pet? Or perhaps an award on the wall? You can find out a lot about the recruiter by doing a little surveying, or at least enough information to come up with a great small-talk topic. See a picture of a cat? “Oh, I love your kitty! I have one, too! What’s its name?” Or maybe you see where they went to school and you know someone who went there, or maybe you attended the same school.

If you know who will be interviewing you before you get there, you can research them on LinkedIn beforehand to come up with a few questions you can ask. You really only need one strong question or comment to get the other party talking. Once you have something going, the small talk becomes a conversation and it will be much easier.

What topics should I avoid during small talk?

You don’t want to offend a recruiter. It’s a recipe for disaster! There are common topics you shouldn’t bring up, such as religion, politics, or asking personal questions about the recruiter. Everyone has an opinion about religion or politics, but you do not want to talk about these during an interview! Even if you’ve researched the recruiter and know their stance, you still shouldn’t bring it up.

Definitely don’t flirt with your recruiter, no matter how attractive they are to you. Definitely don’t ask them about how much money they make, either. Steer clear of talking bad about a previous employer, or anyone for that matter, because you never know who the recruiter has in their network. It’s not a good idea to talk about your family or marital status, medical problems, or any screen-out factors, as well.

How do I overcome nerves when initiating small talk?

When dealing with interview jitters, it’s best to fake it until you make it. Pump yourself up before an interview, practice with a friend or family member, and go in saying you’ll do your best. If you’re an introvert and it all seems impossible, try making small talk with a stranger in the grocery store or at the post office. A simple hello followed by a question is a great way to help overcome nerves. You don’t have to make a lasting impression on this person. You can ask about where they got their bag, or shirt, and go on with your day.

The more you do something, the more comfortable you will be with it.

What are a few conversation starters I can have to fall back on?

Icebreakers should be questions requiring more than a yes or no response, or a statement to open up the conversation. Below is a list of a sample conversation starters you can use to break the ice with your interviewer:

  • “How is your day going?”

  • “I enjoyed reading the [article, blog post, interview, etc.] about the company in the [name of publication or website] last week! It must have been exciting for you.”

  • “This office location is amazing! Are there any great restaurants nearby?”

  • If you’re interviewing in a new town, “This city seems great. What fun activities have you found to do on the weekends here?”

In conclusion, conversation starters are a great way to start making an impression on employers before an interview begins. Be aware of your surroundings, go into interviews with a few icebreakers prepared, and let your personality shine. Small talk can be something you loathe, but with a little practice, it can be a great interviewing skill.

Best of luck in your next interview!

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