Building Rapport: Making Small Talk Work for You
Every interview starts with a casual conversation; maybe it is about the weather, sports, or even traffic. The hiring manager wants to put you at ease and avoid any awkward silence before the interview officially starts. It’s pretty well-known that small talk is an essential factor in building rapport for a long time, but a Harvard Business Review article lays out exactly how important.
The researchers did a study of 163 applicants and interviewers to see how much a first impression influences the interview. Half of the interviewers spent 2-3 minutes making small talk with the candidates. The other half watched a recorded video of the interviews and provided ratings. The interviewers who made small talk wrote down their initial impressions before moving on to the interview phase. When researchers reviewed the notes about the first impression, they found that they were directly related to job-related attributes. The hiring managers are judging your ability to perform the job the moment you walk in the door.
The researchers also found that the first impressions had the most significant impact on the first few questions. Interviewers rated applicants higher than deserved if they made an excellent first impression, and lower than justified if they made a poor impression.
It only takes 5 seconds for someone to have a first impression of your personality, trustworthiness, and intelligence, and you never know who is providing feedback on your behaviors. Hiring managers may very well ask the admins or other staff for input on how applicants treated them. There are a few things you can do to build rapport and increase your chances of getting hired.
Strategies to Build Rapport
There are a lot of bad handshakes out there, so find a partner and practice. Match the pressure of the other person; your handshake should be firm, but not a bone-crusher. On the other side, if you don’t apply enough pressure, you’ll also make a poor impression. Do your best to make sure your palm is perpendicular to the ground. If you turn your palm up you’re indicating submissiveness; downwards communicates dominance.
Be aware of your body and the messages you’re sending. Crossing your arms tells the interviewer that you’re closed off. On the other hand, be mindful of the space you are taking up and avoid spreading out or slouching. Since the first impression happens so quickly so be sure you’re practicing this while you’re waiting. How you use your head can also help make a positive impact. An article by PsychMechanics explains that tilting and nodding your head slowly conveys that you are interested and agree with what’s being said.
An article by PsychologyToday recommends mirroring the other person to build a stronger connection. When you’re mirroring, you are subtly reflecting behaviors. This includes the language they use, their tone, body language, and energy level. If the interviewer is using a quiet voice and not making a lot of hand gestures, you would do the same. When you’re nervous, mirroring can be a tough task to master. Practice mirroring with your friends and notice your how your behaviors change when you are around other people. By working on it beforehand, it will come more natural to you at the interview.
Topics are relevant. When you are trying building rapport, you should be looking for common ground and asking open-ended questions. Do your research on the hiring manager beforehand. Scope out them out on social media and see if you can find any common ground. Then, when you’re making small talk, look for opportunities to bring it up, but not in the “I-stalked-you-on-the-internet,-how-was-your-cooking-class-last-night” kind of way. Stay away from controversial topics like politics and religion, even if you think they’ll agree with you. Bringing up sensitive issues at the interview is always a bad idea.
Open-ended questions are another excellent way to get them talking. Asking questions that begin with how, what, and why can get the interviewer talking. The next step is to be a good listener. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next, just focus on what they are telling you. Do your best to be friendly and comfortable in the conversation, but remember this person could be your boss, so don’t forget to stay professional.
Practice through Networking
Building rapport is a skill, and you will get better at it with practice. Every time you meet someone new, you have the opportunity to develop your skills further and build a bigger network. I know that for the introverts out there, this can be a daunting task but it will pay off dividends if it helps you get the job. You never know, the next person you meet could have an incredible job opportunity for you.