For many people, the thought of starting or participating in “small talk” is a nerve-wracking proposition. For those who have perhaps not heard the term before, “small talk” is a polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions. So, the opening and closing of your interview will mostly consist of what is considered “small talk”.
I am not sure what makes this banter so difficult, but there is no denying it can be a major challenge for some people. This seems to especially be true when the person is a stranger or not well-know to the individual. It is like the difference between going to a family event where you know most people and conversation will come easy, as opposed to an event with strangers.
If you think about the interview process for a new position, many people stress out more from the “small talk” then they do the regular interview questions. For the primary interview questions, you can somewhat prepare your answers by anticipating commonly asked questions. You are also talking about what you have done and learned, which often will come easier than having to make up conversation regarding a fairly random subject.
A person, however, should not have to fret much about “small talk” because, like the core interview, this is also something that you can prepare for. The key in your preparation is to not prepare so much that you come across as stiff or insincere in your responses.
Probably the easiest starting point to work on your “small talk” is to anticipate the topics that may be brought up. The primary topic (especially during the Fall and Wintertime-period) is the Buffalo Bills. You will most likely be asked a generic question such as “What did you think about the game Sunday,” or the proactive inquiry of, “How do you think the Bills will do on Sunday?” You can tell by these sample questions that you do not have to be a former player, or an NFL insider to be able to respond. It is also safe to assume, since we are in Western New York and the person is asking about the Bills, that you should respond positively, whether that is a “they looked great” or “they will bounce back”.
The most likely year-round “small talk” comment probably centers around the weather. Of course, in Western New York, the weather is always a point of conversation. It may be the big winter storm coming, or the heat of the summer. Whatever the season, you should know what the weather currently is like, so if you prepare a quick response during your drive to the interview, you should be fine.
Beyond the “Big Two” of the Bills and the weather, there are other “small talk” items to prepare an answer. One question to come up would be, “How was your weekend?”. This will be asked on Mondays, so if you are interviewing on Tuesday-Friday, you are probably clear of this one. You may be asked a variation of this on a Friday, which is “Plans for the weekend?” In these situations, you are not expected to go into finite details of your itinerary. If you are doing something of note (such as going to the Bills game), then mention it, otherwise a simple comment involving “family time” or “errands” will suffice.
Finally, you may be asked about your trip to the location for the interview. This is one where definitely less is more. Don’t get into construction, red lights, or do anything to place concern over the length of your commute. Consider referencing that you know the area, drove out the day before so you knew where it was, or mention GPS makes it easy. Whatever the answer, your trip in should be fine.
A small reminder, however, is that you don’t want to over engage in “small talk” beyond what is necessary to make a positive opening and/or closing impression. The more of this banter that you participate in, the less time you will likely have to explain why you are the perfect fit for this open position. Of course, you don’t want to be rude, but you want to make sure that if the “small talk” is encroaching into the main interview time, that you do a course correct with the Hiring Manager.
Making “small talk” is an area that can easily divide a population into two distinct categories with rarely a middle ground. There are those who are a natural at it and enjoy the conversation and those who find it difficult to respond or think of topics to discuss. The good news for those who find themselves on the side of struggling with the concept, is that you can become more comfortable and at ease with it by anticipating the subjects and practicing your “small talk”.
As always, the best of luck in your job search.
The following has been prepared for the general information of WNYJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.
Joe Stein WNY Human Resources Professional
Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at: Joe Stein