- Official GDC/flickr
You may think of the small talk before a job interview as idle chitchat at best. Perhaps you even find the whole experience excruciating.
But research suggests that building rapport with your interviewers before getting into the nitty gritty details can give you an edge over other candidates.
For those to whom small talk doesn’t come naturally, we asked some career experts to weigh in on some of the best icebreakers you could use to get the conversation going.
“The secret is to have one to two good open-ended questions that require the person to talk – it lets you show you are a good listener,” says J.T. O’Donnell, founder of career-advice site Careerealism.com and author of “Careerealism: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career.”
She suggests paying attention to your body language and eye contact to better show the interviewer that they have your undivided attention.
Here are 11 brilliant conversation starters to use in your next job interview:
‘It’s a pleasure to meet you. How was your weekend?’
“While this isn’t necessarily the most creative opener, it demonstrates to the interviewer that you’re confident, proactive, and friendly,” Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, tells Business Insider. “Also, it allows you to segue into a little chit-chat without getting too personal.”
‘What was the most pleasantly surprising thing about working here that you learned once you were on the job?’
O’Donnell says it’s a good idea to keep the conversation focused on the interviewee and their positive experiences with working at the company.
‘Congratulations on winning that big award! How did your team come up with the concept?’
Sincere compliments are always welcome, Augustine says, and not only will you start off your interview on the right foot, but you’ll also demonstrate you’ve done your homework and get to ask valuable follow-up questions.
‘Oh, what an interesting piece of art’
If you spot some cool art on the wall, you could discuss that, suggests Vicky Oliver, author of “301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions” and “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions.”
She says it’s not so much what you talk about and more about how quickly you can break the ice and form a connection with your interviewer. Plus, showing an interest in art shows you to be more multidimensional.
‘I really enjoyed your company’s latest blog post’
Amy Glaser, senior vice president of Adecco Staffing USA, says compliments are always better when they’re focused on the company or interviewer’s recent achievements and not someone’s personal appearance. This kind of statement will show thoughtfulness, congeniality, and that you did your homework.
‘What’s the most memorable thing that has happened to you since joining the company?’
O’Donnell says this type of question shows you are a positive person and have the emotional intelligence to ask others about themselves.
‘I read a really compelling article this morning on the way to the interview’
- Matteo Merzi/flickr
“The trick is to be poised and easy in your conversation,” Oliver says. “If the interviewer seems to respond, pursue the topic. If she doesn’t, then quickly move on to a new topic. Don’t monopolize the conversation. Remember, this is a quick, easy icebreaker. Nothing more, nothing less.”
‘I really enjoyed your webinar/talk about X — this is something I’ve been working to achieve at my current company’
If you know the names of your interviewers in advance, research them online and use this information as an opportunity to discuss your own work or thoughts on the topic, suggests Augustine.
“It’s a great way to transition into a productive conversation that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for, while still getting to know your interviewer better and build rapport,” she says.
‘I believe you’ve worked here for about five years, is that right? What do you like most about working here?’
Thanks to LinkedIn, you already can learn someone’s tenure at the company, Augustine says, and ask questions that will inform you about the company culture. This questions also reveals your genuine interest in the job.
“In general, leverage online research to create conversation openers that demonstrate your knowledge of the industry or current events, and also allows you to bond with your interviewer over a shared value or interest,” Augustine notes. “These are the most effective ways to advance your candidacy while getting to know your prospective teammates.”
‘I read X about your CEO in Business Insider. Can you tell me more about this?’
- Business Insider
Oliver says questions like this simply show you’ve done your homework and are genuinely interested in the company and its leaders. (It doesn’t have to be Business Insider – any reputable news provider will do.)
‘What’s one of the most interesting projects or opportunities that you’ve worked on?’
“I like this question because it gets me thinking about my own experiences, and my response changes depending on what I was or am working on – and in theory, should always be changing if I’m challenging myself and advancing,” Becca Brown, cofounder of the women’s shoe-care company Solemates, tells Business Insider.
Brown says that by asking for a specific example, candidates can get a better picture of what the job entails and how people function in certain roles.
“I always liked getting this question because it would make me reflect on what experiences I was excited about or proud of at the time, and it would make me want to create more of these types of opportunities and experiences,” she says.