There’s nothing like the feeling of your heart trying to pound its way out of your chest every time you think about your upcoming job interview. And don’t get me started on the ‘what if’s’ and all the possible scenarios you can dream up about how badly you can mess this up. What if you get stuck in traffic? What if you completely choke on your words? It’s common to have these fears before an interview. To combat the sweaty palms, however, you simply need to plan ahead; prepare for common interview questions, do your research on the company, and pick out your attire the night before.
There’s one area, in particular, that job seekers tend to completely overlook when it comes to doing their pre-interview prep work. I’m referring to a good ol’ plate of small talk. Like most conversations, you’ll spend a small morsel of time shooting the breeze with your interviewer. Rather than enduring painfully awkward silence, you can keep a few professional talking points in your back pocket to not only engage, but impress, the hiring manager during your walk to their office.
So, how do you transform seemingly pointless small talk into something more powerful? Here’s what to do.
Highlight Shared Interests
You should always do a little harmless internet stalking on your interviewer ahead of the big day. By doing some digging through their LinkedIn and other social media sites, you can look for any common hobbies or professional interests you share with them. Whether you both volunteer for your local ASPCA, share an alma mater, or notice that they also are an avid snowboarder, these commonalities will help you form an instant connection.
Just for clarification, this isn’t an open opportunity to be super creepy – a.k.a. stay away from comments like, “I looked through your Facebook photos and noticed 4 years ago you had dinner at Capital Grille in the city, I love going there too!” The goal here is to be served a job offer, not a restraining order. Instead, if you see they are heavily into yoga or even teach classes in their spare time, when the hiring manager asks you, “How are you doing today?” you can respond with something along the lines of: “I’m feeling great, thanks for asking. I took a yoga class this morning, which always helps jump-start my motivation for the day.”
Make sure you focus on recent, relevant information that presents you as a well-rounded candidate. For example, if you both volunteer, you can bring up that tidbit of information later on in your interview to showcase some of the soft skills you’ve strengthened through that experience – like leadership, problem-solving, or communication skills.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
While you may be well prepared, it’s hard to plan for what the butterflies in your stomach may or may not be doing on the actual day. The nerves may kick in or you’ve used up your one shared interest talking point and you now feel like this:
Don’t worry! There’s another tactic you can fall back on – start asking questions. It’s ok to put the spotlight on your interviewer for a few minutes. After all, they will be doing a boatload of probing once you’re sitting in the hot seat for your interview. By asking the hiring manager, “How are you doing today?” or “Working on any exciting projects?” it’ll show you have a genuine interest in both the interviewer and the company.
Forget Overused Buzzwords and Clichés
It’s easy to resort to cliché topics…”Man, hasn’t it been hot out lately?” Stop right there. Yes, a conversation about the heat wave may be a no-brainer, but it’s not catchy or impressive. The hiring manager isn’t going to brag about your insanely accurate weather comments when it comes to deciding which candidate wins the job offer. What you need to do is ensure your conversation is memorable, helping you not only stand out, but stay top of mind for the hiring manager.
Show Your Knowledge of the Company
Doing research before your interview on the company is a must. Without doing a bit of internet sleuthing, you’re setting yourself up for an unproductive conversation that lacks substance. When you’ve filled your brain with information surrounding the employer’s product or service offerings, news and announcements, potential challenges they face, their overarching missions and values, and cultural details via their website and social media pages, you’ll be equipped to make intellectual and thoughtful comments throughout your interview that are guaranteed to impress the hiring manager.
Even when you have the opportunity to engage in a bit of small talk, you want to highlight why you’re such a great fit for the role. To come out on top, you want to demonstrate a high level of interest in what’s happening at the company. Whether you’re waiting in the lobby for your interviewer to call you in, or you’re walking to the conference room alongside the hiring manager, look for any conversation starters you can use to your advantage.
For example, maybe you saw some awards or magazine articles framed on the front desk. Or, perhaps you caught some of the employees chatting about the upcoming company outing. Whatever it may be, you can integrate these little peeks into the company into your discussion with the hiring manager.
Powerful Chit Chat
Interviewing takes preparation. There’s no way around this fact. What many job seekers forget, however, is that every minute spent with the hiring manager is a chance for you to separate yourself from the competition and make a lasting impression. So, ditch the need to talk mindlessly about the weather just to kill the silence, and instead, make each word count.