You have a job interview fast approaching, and that jittery feeling is already brewing in the pit of your stomach.
Sure, there’s plenty to be nervous about. You’re worried about being able to make it to the office on time without getting lost or stuck in traffic. You’re anxiously preparing answers to common interview questions so you can knock your responses out of the park. You’ve researched the company relentlessly, selected your perfect interview outfit, and even did a little innocent LinkedIn stalking of the hiring manager.
But, what’s one aspect you neglected to think about? Small talk.
It’s an inevitable part of every job interview. Whether you exchange pleasantries for a few minutes before the hiring manager jumps in with questions or you want to fill the silence during that shared stroll to the conference room, you need to be prepared to engage in some professional—and, ideally, impressive—small talk.
How can you leverage that seemingly insignificant conversation to your advantage to make an even better impression on your interviewer? Here’s what you need to know.
1. Skip the Clichés
Friendly chats about the weather are easy to lean on. However, I think we can all agree that they aren’t very impactful or memorable. 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!”
So, do yourself a favor and skip the generalities and clichés. You can bet that every other candidate is using those—and you want to be the one to stand out. Plus, unless you’re interviewing for a role as a meteorologist, the outdoor conditions are pretty irrelevant anyway.
2. Find a Common Interest
If you were thinking ahead, you’d have spent some time researching your interviewer before you arrived at the meeting. Whenever you’re doing that polite digging through his or her social media profile, keep your eyes peeled for any common interests you share.
Is she currently training for a half marathon? If you’re an avid runner too, that’s a great topic of conversation. Does he frequently post photos of his rescued mutt? That’s the perfect lead in for fellow dog lovers. Do you share an alma mater or volunteer for the same cause? Instant connection.
No, this doesn’t mean you need to segue into your small talk in a creepy, “Hey, I saw your Instagram post from three years ago that says you’re vegan—me too!” sort of way. Instead, bring up something relevant about yourself (as naturally as possible) when your interviewer asks that inevitable, “How are you?” question. If he or she takes that bait, you’ll be engaged in an interesting conversation about a shared passion in no time.
What This Looks Like: “I’m doing great, thanks! I started the day with a training run for my upcoming half marathon, so I really can’t complain.”
3. Comment on Something Company Related
Of course, you’re there to demonstrate that you’d be a great fit for the company. So, any time you can show that you have an interest and high level of engagement in what that organization has going on, that’s a win for you.
As you’re waiting for your meeting, be on the lookout for any clues you could use to start a conversation. Maybe the company has several awards hanging on the wall of the lobby. Perhaps the office dog came up to offer you a friendly greeting. Or, maybe you couldn’t help but to overhear two co-workers discussing the upcoming annual guacamole competition.
Those little snippets and peeks into the company can be an awesome and highly relevant topic of conversation with your interviewer. So, don’t be afraid to use them!
What This Looks Like: “I heard some chatter about a company-wide guacamole contest while I was waiting. It sounds like you guys have a really fun culture here, and I love guacamole.”
4. Ask Questions
No matter how much you prepare, small talk can still be awkward. In those moments when you’re feeling panic-stricken or fresh out of things to talk about, never hesitate to rely on this tactic: asking questions.
Doing so will shift the spotlight off of you. And, honestly, when your interviewer will be the one having to ask seemingly endless questions for the next half hour or so, he likely won’t mind a little bit of time to be on the receiving end and share a little bit about himself.
What This Looks Like: “I’m doing awesome, thank you! How about you? Did you work on anything fun this morning?”
It can be strange to think about preparing for small talk. But, when you’re at a job interview, every single second is an opportunity to make a positive impression and get yourself one step closer to actually landing that position.
So, rather than wasting that friendly chatter on the weather or pleasantries that don’t extend past, “I’m fine, thanks!” use these tips to best leverage that time to your advantage.
Photo of people walking courtesy of Paul Bradbury/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author