Before a big job interview, most of us will practice talking about our skills and experiences in ways that are relevant to the opportunity we're trying to land. We rehearse answers to the most common job interview questions about our greatest weaknesses and where we see ourselves in five years.
You know what? You can land or lose the gig before you get the chance to say any of those things. That's because the most important sentence you're going to say in a job interview often comes before you even sit down across from the employer. It's the very first thing that you say.
The hard technical skills and credentials in your resume are what land you the interview in the first place. Once you reach that step, however, it's your personality and your soft skills that will get you hired.
In a job interview, employers will be looking to see how savvy you are, how confident you are, and how personable you are. There will be some questions about your work experience and skills, of course, but if the prospective employer didn't think you could do the job, they wouldn't waste time interviewing you.
What they really want to see is how you handle pressure. How well you can communicate. If they like you. And that decision is made quickly, often in their very first impression. So, when the employer greets you in the lobby, shakes your hand, and says:
"Hi, thanks for coming in. Did you have any trouble finding the place?"
"Nice to meet you. How was the traffic getting in here?"
"How about that weather? The heat just goes on and on."
That is actually your first job interview question, and it's your chance to nail the first impression. Complaining about traffic, the weather, or getting lost finding the office is not the way to go.
Employers know that most candidates will have rehearsed their answers to the common job interview questions. The small talk, the banter before the formal interview even begins is their chance to get a feel for your conversational skills in a context you would not specifically have prepared for.
Do you sound friendly and confident? Are you upbeat and positive? Can you speak with ease to someone you've just met? These are all valuable for most jobs.
You can demonstrate these valuable assets with the first sentence you say. This is your first impression, and if you blow it, your interview can be doomed right from the outset.
Q: Hi, thanks for coming in. Did you have any trouble finding the place?
A: No, I looked it up in advance when I was researching your company. I love this neighbourhood; it must be great to work down here.
Q: Nice to meet you. How was the traffic getting in here?
A: Not bad at all, I'm parked just around the corner, but I see that you're just a block from the subway. I would probably use that most days.
Q: How about that weather? The heat just goes on and on.
A: I love it. I went camping over the weekend. I'm a little bit sunburned and have a few mosquito bites, but it's totally worth it.
The employer wants to see if you're friendly and personable and if they and the team will enjoy working with you. Because they know that whoever they hire will become a part of their daily lives. That's why your small talk matters.
Pro tip: Think of an amusing personal anecdote that you can share as an ice-breaker. Something funny that happened to you (or borrow something that happened to a friend and personalise it.) It doesn't have to be true, just true enough that it is relatable - and short and funny. In survey of over 2,000 hiring professionals, 27 per cent said that credentials being equal, they would be more likely to hire the candidate who demonstrated a sense of humour.
If you can share a laugh and get genuine conversation flowing, you'll greatly increase your chances of being hired. But don't start cracking jokes. That's too much.
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