9 Tips For How To Make Interview Small Talk

By Maddie Lloyd - Feb. 15, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

If you’ve got a job interview coming up, there’s a lot to think about.

We’re sure you’ve already started preparing to answer all of the most common interview questions, researching background information about the company, getting together a professional job interview outfit, and gathering samples of your best work.

Dang, you’re so prepared, you’ve got this interview in the bag, but wait! There’s something you may have forgotten to prepare for — and that’s small talk.

Here’s the kicker: As painful as it is, small talk is an inevitable part of every job interview.

Whether you exchange lighthearted banter with your interviewer before jumping into the real questions or if you just want to fill any possible awkward silences, you should be prepared to engage in professional (and impressive) small talk.

Here’s everything you need to know about small talk in an interview.

Why Is Small Talk Important at a Job Interview?

Small talk before an interview is important for building rapport with the hiring manager or recruiter. An interviewer may even remember candidates best by looking back on the informal chats she had before the actual interview questions and answers.

Interviews are also pretty anxiety-inducing, so starting off with a little small talk beforehand is in everyone’s best interest. Do what you can to relax before the interview, and be prepared for a little warm-up conversation that will set the tone for the rest of the interview.

Without further adieu, let’s get into the 9 tips for successful interview small talk:

How do you research an interviewer before an interview?

Greta R Schneider
Professional Resume Writer | CEIP | CCS
Sharp Career Image

Be sure and gather the names and titles of the hiring manager and all interviewers from the recruiter in preparation for the job interview. You can leverage the company website and LinkedIn to review the interviewer(s) profile and gain understanding of their career bio, work experience, and any personal interests. This additional information will help you refine your answers to interview questions to be more relatable to the company and the interviewers.

Being familiar with your interviewer’s background will also help you feel more at ease with casual conversation and ultimately improve your ability to build a strong first impression and connection with your interviewers.

1. Ditch the Small Talk Cliches

This isn’t a RomCom where unimaginative cliches are what makes people interested in you. Friendly chatter about the weather or the awful traffic in the area is easy to lean on, but it’s boring and won’t make anyone remember who you are or anything you say.

We recommend you avoid the uninspired generalities. Everyone else is probably going to fall back on these topics, and you want to be the candidate that stands out against everyone else — it’s hard to stand out when employers are trying to differentiate between all the candidates who said they “love sunny weather.”

2. Find a Common Interest

When doing your research before the interview on the company’s history, do your best to find out who your interviewer is going to be and try to learn about them on LinkedIn or the company website — and keep your eyes peeled for anything you might have in common.

Do they spend their spare time volunteering with an organization you’re passionate about? Voilà! Instant connection. Do they seem to have a love of animals? Mention that you enjoy caring for your dog that you rescued from the shelter.

Make sure to rein in it and avoid being creepy. Don’t say things like “Oh my gosh, I saw on your personal Instagram that you like to bake dog-friendly vegan cupcakes. I also love to bake with my dogs! His favorite is cupcakes!”

Instead, you should try to bring up relevant information as naturally as possible. For example, if the interviewer asks “How are you?” you could say something along the lines of:

“I’m great, thanks! I started out the morning with a smoothie made from fruits and vegetables I grew in my own garden, so I can’t really complain.”

Easy as pie. Or smoothies.

Remember that the goal here is to show the employer that you’d be the best fit for their company, so you want to take every opportunity you can to show that you’re interested in their successes and current projects.

While you’re waiting for your interview to begin, try to look for something that could help you start a conversation — maybe the company has awards on display, or perhaps you overhear a few co-workers talking about their annual holiday gingerbread house competition.

These little pieces of info about the company culture can be a great topic of conversation that you can make work in your favor, so don’t be afraid to use them. You can bring them up by saying things like:

“I couldn’t help but overhear some talk about a gingerbread house competition. It sounds like you guys have a great office culture here — and I love making gingerbread houses.”

4. Ask Your Interviewer Questions

No matter how hard you try to prepare for small talk, it can still be super uncomfortable. Sometimes when we’re nervous, all of our small talk social skills can go right out the window. In these moments of anxiety when you run out of things to talk about, it never hurts to ask the interviewer questions.

Not only will this take the spotlight off of you, but it will give the interviewer to tell you a little bit more about themselves. You can ask questions like, “Do you have any fun projects coming up this week?” or “What do you like most about working here?”

Asking questions will also show that you’re interested in learning more about the company and what a regular day at the office looks like. It’s a win-win situation.

5. Convey Your Interest

Small talk serves a few purposes — it can help put you at ease, allow employers to judge how you act under pressure, and help employers judge your people skills.

We may be stating the obvious here, but even if the topic of conversation isn’t one that is particularly interesting to you, you should still try to pretend that you care. If you try to act aloof and mysterious, the interviewer probably won’t care to learn any more about you.

Put your phone away from the get-go. Even though it seems clear-cut here and now, it can be tough to remember to keep your devices out of sight for the duration of the interview process — even the small talk part.

It’s nearly impossible to come off as engaged or enthusiastic if you’re giving even a fraction of your attention to a device instead of your interviewer.

6. Stick to Safe, Uncontroversial Topics

Sorry, but this isn’t Facebook — that means no talking about politics or religion. It might be hard for you to keep from spewing your heated opinions about reproductive health and gun control to yourself, but please, an interview is not the time or the place.

If the interview brings up a controversial topic (e.g., “How do you feel about that new healthcare bill?”), don’t fall for it. Just smile and say nothing, or change the subject. If you feel that you absolutely must respond, calmly say something along the lines of “I haven’t read the details, but what do you think?”

No matter what they say, try not to get all fired up — they might be testing you, or maybe you’ve run into an interviewer who has no filter or asks illegal interview questions. In that case, you might want to reconsider how badly you want to work there.

Of course, one caveat to this piece of advice is if you’re applying for a job somewhere that deals explicitly with controversial issues.

For example, if you’re trying to get into a job at a political think tank that focuses on the climate change issue, it’s okay (and probably encouraged) to have an opinion on the government’s role in combatting climate change.

7. Be an Active Listener

We all know someone who’s more interested in hearing themselves talk than listening to someone else. Don’t be that person.

Make sure to pay attention to your body language by nodding and maintaining eye contact so that your interviewer knows that they have your undivided attention.

Show that you’re listening by asking insightful follow-up questions or simply making comments that demonstrate that you’re following along.

Give your interviewer ample time to speak and avoid interrupting them. Try not to go on any rants yourself, but if the interviewer feels the need to ramble, let them vent. Being a good listener can make all the difference in someone’s impression of you.

8. Esnure That the Conversation Makes You Look Good

Make the small talk work in your favorite, or at the very least, don’t make it work against you. If the interviewer asks how you are, try to avoid saying things like “Ugh, I’m awful. I hate when the sun is out. I always get sunburned.” This won’t make anyone like you.

Everything you say during an interview should be focused on selling your strengths and qualifications. Make sure that what you say while engaging in small talk makes you seem intelligent and sane — not air-headed, grumpy, and crazy.

Speak with positivity and enthusiasm, and interviewers will pick up on it. People feel happier after talking to visibly happy people, and it’s never a bad thing to leave your interviewer in a good mood.

That being said, don’t go over-the-top bubbly, especially if your interviewer strikes a more sober tone. Personality mirroring is a safe way to establish and build rapport.

Knowing a bit more about your hiring manager or recruiter’s personality will also help you frame your answers throughout the interview.

9. Use Appropriate Body Language

Small talk doesn’t just include the things you say; it also includes how you communicate with your body. Make sure to maintain good eye contact, keep your chin high (but not too high), and smile when appropriate.

Avoid doing things that seem unprofessional or show that you’re nervous. Don’t jiggle your knee, pick your nose, check your phone, scratch your butt, etc. You get the idea. Basically, act like an adult who’s confident and prepared for an interview, and you’ll be golden.

Final Thoughts

Small talk is a great way to form a genuine connection with your interviewer and show them that you’re friendly, intelligent, and a perfect fit for the position.

Every part of an interview is a chance to sell yourself and leave a positive impression on an employer, and preparing for small talk is a great way to get a lead on everyone else.

Good luck with your next interview. I hope the weather is clear and the traffic is easy-going — just try not to bring it up to the interviewer.

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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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