What is effective small talk?
Small talk is specifically light conversation that is easy to answer and doesn’t consume much time. With that in mind, you can guess what ineffective small talk would be. Small talk is also a way to communicate your ability to build connections and establish relationships. Building relationships in work environments is essential to any professionals career success, so in order to master this skill and turn it into a talent, you must first identify the difference between effective and ineffective small talk.
In an interview your hiring manager will most likely live, breath and love their work, effective small talk would be being able to capitalise on this career driven individuals interests and talents as they relate to their job. In other words you will want to make small talk specific to the business. This will show you have more then a verbally expressed interest in the company, by relating your small talk with the specific business you can open up the floor to genuine conversation that feels worthwhile and interesting.
Ineffective small talk can break the flow of an interview, by this I mean that if you find yourself having to force conversation starters then you may already have fumbled, it’s okay as mistakes are where significant lessons can be learned and no one is a professional small talker off the bat. To achieve small talk that isn’t ineffective requires specific research into the workplace and its practices, asking questions that are poignant but not pretentious, you’re trying to prove you are a work focused individual and asking questions not related to work practices could very well hurt your success. Small talk won’t feel effective when it isn’t bringing any benefit to the conversation, to avoid ineffective small talk you will want to really do your research, we’ve already mentioned it but that’s how important it is, if you do a little digging around online to see what the company does, in terms of interesting team exercises or awards they’ve attended. Learn to identify the business culture and build your small talk around that for optimal success.
Types of small talk at the start of a interview
This is where things get exciting and tricky, as small talk is very much dynamic. Meaning you won’t use the same tactics for every workplace you see, to understand the different types of small talk, we’ve selected the most commonly heard small talk conversation starters that hiring managers and recruiters alike end up hearing, what they mean/imply and how to enhance these very lines to support your interview.
How was the interviewers weekend? This one is quite a common one to hear, while there’s nothing wrong with this one, it even makes a great ice breaker, but it can be better, this type of question can be open to one word answers like “good” “fine” or at best “it was fun,” it is a good way to tell how talkative the interviewer is and if you need to be the lead in generating small talk.
How has your day been going? Although this one can be good, it’s better to know the business you’re going into, for example, this question to the hiring manager in an end of life care facility may find this question uncomfortable to answer. Using your rationality will help determine if and when this type of small talk would be effective.
Weather related small talk is, again, one that is situational, ideally you would use this for significant weather events, such as a particularly heavy storm or a heat wave, not necessarily if it was more brisk then normal this morning. Consider how this could support your interview, if your role is location or event based, then definitely ask about the weather. If you’ve got no reason to believe the weather effects your work, don’t bring it up! You’re trying to support your interview by keeping your small talk related to the job and the work environment.
Mention something from the interviewers Linkedin profile that is specific to their job, this is very good tip that’s almost always effective. You could even flatter them by tying what they posted to your search history. Making them feel noticed and providing conversation that’s still specific to the work. A simple “I was browsing Linkedin and your post from last Friday came up! How was it?” is non invasive, work related while still having that casual feeling that interviewers aim for.
Mention something about the company linkedin page that shows you are interested, an example is if they did a pizza Friday last week and did a post. You could mention this in a positive light to get them talking about what other benefits the company provides for it’s staff. Ultimately you are trying to support your interview and doing this research on the companies practice is definitely going to look better then going in with bog standard elevator small talk.
Showing your interest in the conversation
Now that you’re caught up on the basics, do’s and don’ts and a good variety of beginner and adept small talk practices, it’s now time to really sell it, small talk is more then just knowing how to ask relevant questions, it’s about showing your listening, not just waiting to talk. By using body language and eye contact you cement that you’re a good listener, not just a good talker. To do this we start with body language, when your interviewer is answering your question, use open and inviting body language, a soft smile and relaxed posture will hit off the interview on a good note. To do this, you will want to ideally not cross your arms, avoid performing distracting actions and maintaining a calm demeanour, you can practice positive body language with a friend or mirror, to get an idea of how your presentation appears. Then we have eye contact, while talking and listening do your best to maintain eye contact in this early stage of the relationship, it shows respect and a direct approach with people. If your someone who finds eye contact difficult, maintain eye contact with the centre of their nose between their eyes, avoiding traditional eye contact while appearing as the real thing.
There’s a lot to learn about small talk, but none of it is particularly complex, mastering small talk is complex because it takes time, many of us aren’t in situations consistently enough to practice this. So by getting in what practice you can where you can, gives you the support you need in an interview to impress the interviewer and practice this important skill set.