How To Master Small Talk During Non-Academic Interviews

As the days of your next non-academic interviews are drawing near, a great way to avoid anxiety and gain self-confidence is to spend time preparing for the big day. You might have prepared answers to the most common questions of non-academic interviews and come up with responses that will very likely impress the interviewer. As a good researcher, you might also have conducted extensive research on the organization to demonstrate your deep knowledge of its structure and culture. But, is that all? Is there any other aspect of the non-academic interview process you might have neglected to prepare for? How about small talk? Are you prepared for that?


Small talk is an essential element of networking your way through the job search process. Going on non-academic interviews means that you will need to exchange a few words with your interviewer for a few minutes before the interview starts or, you will very likely find yourself in the situation of having to fill the silence as you walk with him or her towards the conference room.


Let’s be frank. Most academics lack social skills. Being awkward or odd is very often the true sign of a great intellect. Is it the same outside of the ivory tower? Not so much. In fact, non-academic employers expect that you should be able to engage in that professional chit-chat we call small talk. Most importantly, this seemingly insignificant bit of conversation can play an important role in how you are perceived by others.


As annoying as this vague exchange of pleasantries might seem to you, there are ways to prepare for small talk and leverage it to your advantage to make a favorable impression on your interviewer while avoiding the stigma of being an “awkward” academic.

Here are few ways to prepare:


  1. Leave the weather to meteorologists.

As easy as it is to suddenly grow an interest in current weather conditions to dissipate an awkward silence, conversations about the rain are not the best way to engage with other people. Not only are these conversations not very original, but they are also the first thing people rely on when they have nothing to say! Your goal is to make an impression and be memorable. So, do yourself a favor and avoid these types of generalities and clichés.


  1. Look for shared interests.

You should spend some time researching your interviewer before you meet the same way your interviewer will very likely Google you or you look you up on LinkedIn. As you conduct your research through social media, look for interests you might be sharing with your interviewer. Does he or she practice a sport you also practice? Do you share an alma mater? Have you volunteered for the same cause? If so, bringing this information up is an opportunity to create an instant connection and stand out from the crowd.

However, there is a thin line between being a savvy networker and a social media stalker. Make sure to lower the creep factor by bringing up a shared interest about yourself as naturally as possible. Avoid at all costs to refer how you found this common interest by looking at their social media profiles!


  1. Let the organization help you.

Keep in mind that the main goal behind your presence in the waiting room of any organization is to demonstrate that you are a great fit. It’s important to show that you not only possess an interest in the organization, but that you also are already engaged with its culture.

Connect with the organization on social media to learn more about current activities. As you wait for the interview, look for any piece of information you can get about internal activities, awards, etc. that might be hanging on the walls of the lobby or the waiting room. These little insights into day-to-day life at an organization can easily become highly relevant topics of conversation with your interviewer.


  1. Don’t be afraid to ask

As over-prepared as you might be, small talk can still be painful. Especially if your interviewer is not socially inclined. Avoid the panic of realizing that you ran out of things to say by asking questions. This tactic always works. Not only do you shift the focus away from you but you also show your willingness to connect with others. And besides, who doesn’t like to talk about oneself?


As strange as spending time preparing for something that should be natural sounds, it is not a waste of time to think about small talk before non-academic interviews. While it is important to “go with the flow” and not become a calculating robot, every second you spend on non-academic interviews is an opportunity to make a positive impression and get one step closer to getting hired.


So, rather than wasting your time in meaningless chatter, seize the opportunity to show your interviewer that you are a person of substance by making small talk your best friend!


Need help preparing for non-academic interviews? We’re here to help! Pay us a visit and learn how we can provide the interview prep you need to shine and impress employers.

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