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Beware of the dangers of small talk in interviews

Posted by Scott Fiore on April 19, 2017

Most job interviews begin with a bit of small talk, and that’s fine. In fact, small talk before the formal interview serves several useful purposes. It helps candidates relax and express their personality before the questioning begins. It lets interviewers form initial impressions of candidates’ social and communication skills. And small talk offers both an opportunity to make desirable impressions and build an early rapport.

However, be careful. It’s often the seemingly harmless small talk that sometimes gets hiring managers into trouble. When two or more people are engaging in friendly chit chat, they can more easily let down their guard and say something they might not otherwise.

Minimize it and keep it light

There is good, acceptable small talk: “How was the traffic?” “Wow, that’s some rain we’ve been having.” “I’m still getting over the shock of Sunday’s big game.” Innocent questions and comments like these can sometimes lead to a few minutes of relaxed, harmless conversation. Traffic, weather and sports are usually safe topics.

Avoid small talk like this

But there is also inappropriate small talk: “We have the same alma mater. When did you graduate?” “You have an interesting accent. Where did you grow up?” “I see that you’re limping. What happened?” “It looks like you’re expecting. How many kids do you have?” Making observations and commenting on them can take you into forbidden territory. In these examples, you could be touching on age, ethnicity, disability and maternity. These are personal areas where interviewers have been known to discriminate against candidates.

To shield your company from the possibility of discrimination claims, avoid wandering into personal comments and questions during small talk or any other part of interviews. (See last month’s blog on the “dirty dozen” interview questions.)

Typically, an interview will begin with small talk, progress to information from the interviewer about the position and company, and lead to questions to the candidate on his or her professional skills and potential. Then, the candidate will ask a few questions as well. Finally, the interviewer might convey details about the recruitment process, and then all participants will exchange parting words.

Or just skip it altogether

Though small talk might start the interview, it isn’t a requirement. If you wish to express that your company is serious and all-business, then feel free to skip the small talk and conduct a serious, no-nonsense interview.

How we can help

If you are considering outsourcing your recruitment process to select professional candidates, talk with us here at TriStarr Staffing, Recruiting and Consulting. As an employment agency, HR consulting service and recruiting agency in Lancaster, PA, we know HR law, and we know how to ask the right questions to find the best candidates.

At TriStarr, we’re glad to compare the results of our “headhunters” with those of any competing recruiting agency. In fact, we back our results with our Good People Guarantee. If a client isn’t pleased with a new recruit within several months, our guarantee goes into effect. We will replace the person with another candidate at no cost or provide an agreed-upon, prorated refund.

However, our clients rarely use our guarantee because we almost always find them the “right-fit” candidates the first time. That’s because we have developed proficient skills and established successful hiring practices over the course of 60-plus combined years of recruiting and hiring experience.