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Do You Do ‘Small Talk’ in Job Interviews? Here’s What Recruiters Really Think About It

Don’t be fooled, your casual comments are being assessed.

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BY J.T. ODonnell - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

For most people, interviews are not fun. It's a stressful time where you're doing your best to make a good impression, while simultaneously trying to sell yourself to the recruiter. Unfortunately, it's also where most people go wrong.

As a former HR and recruiting executive, I became a career coach after watching far too many talented people crash-and-burn the interview. Especially, when it came to small talk.

Recruiter's Golden Rule: 10X Is What You Get

Very early in my recruiting career, a mentor told me, "Whatever you see in the interview, multiply it by ten, and that's what they'll really be like on the job." This was stunningly accurate. For example, if the person was highly talkative and gave long-winded, all-over-the-map answers, you could expect them to be a chatter-box on the job. And, potentially distract their co-workers. Even worse, their excessive talking might make them fail to get the work done.

On the flip side, if the person barely spoke and gave short answers, you could expect them to be shy, withdrawn and tough to get information out of. Their aloof behavior making it awkward for a team that needed teammates to be highly communicative. They also might struggle to share when they were falling behind or failing.

In short, if anything about their personality and responses to interview questions made my gut flutter, I would explore what the concern was. Often times, determining they weren't a good fit for the role.

Small talk is the dead giveaway!

One of the techniques recruiters use to assess your personality is small talk. Asking you simple questions like, "Did you find us okay?" and, "How is your week going?" are used to gauge how you present yourself. Oversharing, ie. "It took me forever to get here. My boyfriend made me late, and the directions your receptionist gave me were wrong," isn't good. But, not sharing at all i.e. "Fine," is just as bad. You have to find the right balance of revealing your personality. Here are my top three tips:

  1. Positivity and politeness NEVER go out of style. You are a business-of-one trying to sell your services to the employer. Nobody wants to buy services from someone who doesn't seem happy and grateful for the opportunity to partner. Keep your troubles to yourself.
  2. Politics and religion are ALWAYS a no-no. Talking about anything controversial is playing with fire. Until you know the opinions and beliefs of the person you are talking to, you're at risk of saying the wrong thing.
  3. It's not what you say, it's HOW you say it. Your eye contact, facial expressions, voice tone and body language say more about you than what you speak. Conveying warmth, confidence, and humility can be done more though your actions than your words.

PS - Bone up on your knowledge of 'Interaction Styles.'

Finally, at Work It Daily, one way we teach job seekers to improve their interviewing and small talk skills is to better understand the Interaction Styles of themselves, and the people they interview with. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your preferred way of communicating, while simultaneously identifying the similarities and differences between your style and the interviewer's can dramatically help you adjust your small talk accordingly.

In summary, getting any type of job interview is tough today. If you're lucky enough to get your resume read and impress them with your cover letter, then why risk blowing it in the interview stage? When it comes to recruiters and interviews, small talk is necessary. So, learn to use it to your advantage!