Terrible Small Talk You Should Avoid in Your Next Interview

Nancy Anderson
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Learning to make small talk in interviews is one way to sell your personality to hiring managers, but you can also talk yourself out of a job. Interviewers are highly critical of behaviors they might normally overlook, so awkward statements stay on their minds even if the rest of the meeting goes well. If you want any chance to make a good impression, avoid using these terrible conversation starters.

1. So, What Does This Company Do?

No matter how friendly and relatable you sound, no hiring manager wants a candidate who doesn't bother preparing for interviews. Showing up with no knowledge of the company or position makes you seem lazy and indifferent about where you work. Once you ask this fateful question, hiring managers write you off as a waste of time.

2. A Funny Thing Happened Today...

This statement could end in countless ways, and most of them are inappropriate for a job interview. A crazy story might go over well in some circles, but it's best to avoid sharing incriminating details about your personal life when you have no clue what an interviewer is thinking. While you may imagine yourself as the endearing protagonist of a comedic tale, most hiring managers assume you don't know basic rules of professionalism.

3. You Have Great Facebook Photos

Flattery is dangerous territory, especially when the subtext reveals how much time you spent stalking the hiring manager on social media. Obviously, both candidates and recruiters screen each other online, but referencing a stranger's personal details crosses an unspoken boundary. Not to mention, complimenting an interviewer's physical appearance can come across as sexual harassment if you aren't careful.

4. What Do You Think About the Election?

Substitute any topic for "election," and the verdict is the same. Controversial topics have no place in job interviews. Hiring managers want to understand your qualifications, not listen to spirited rants on politics, social justice or religion. Managers have plenty of time to learn more about your personality if they decide to hire you.

5. Can We Keep This Brief?

Asking to cut a meeting short for another appointment is like telling the hiring manager her time is worth nothing to you. Find out the tentative timeline when you first arrange the interview to make sure you don't schedule multiple engagements close together. Always arrive early and leave extra time in your schedule. After all, interviews can easily go over time when you have good rapport with the hiring manager.

6. Here Are My Must-Haves and Deal Beakers

Confidence is a virtue, but only when it's balanced by humility and common sense. Reputable employers understand that hiring is a two-way street, but they prefer to find out whether you're a good fit for the job and culture before discussing details about benefits and working conditions. Leading with a list of demands makes you seem selfish and arrogant, so wait to find out what the company offers before launching into negotiation mode.

Keep it simple when it comes to conversation starters. Ask too many questions, and you sound annoying. Say anything negative about past jobs or the horrible commute, and you sound like a complainer. Hiring managers look for reasons to reject you, and you make their job easier by working too hard to fill the silence.


Photo courtesy of Susan Bates at Flickr.com

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  • Diane P.
    Diane P.

    Nancy's advice is spot on. If it is such a pain to narrow down the field via interview, why not state the salary and/or working hours in the job post? That would eliminate pain on both sides of the process.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Michael Urban thanks for your comment. I agree that salary and benefits should be transparent. Why play games? But they do. They want to hire the best person for the least amount of money. I think that salary and benefits should be listed on the job posting. Companies would get far fewer applications if they were only up front from the start.

  • Michael Urban
    Michael Urban

    I am making this comment and I know others may and will disagree with it. Why is talking about or even listing a salary range for a given position not proper. The company and hiring manager know what is budgeted for the position, why is such a big secret. Yes, a potential job candidate should know or have an idea of the salary that should be offered but I have seen some companies over ridiculously low salary ranges for very skilled positions. Think about this, your looking for a new car but they won't tell you the cost or even the range for the specific vehicle until you go the dealer and go thru the sales process with them. Companies and hiring managers would save a lot of time (and money) by stating the salary range for any given position. The candidate can then decide if he wants to pursue working for that company and proceed with application process. Why does HR make this into such a big secret.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Mel S thanks for your comment. So very true and we truly try to get this word out. Do NOT ask about salary and benefits right off the bat. Talk to the hiring manager. Find out what the job is about. Think about whether or not you would be able to work with this person. Is the job what you are looking for? If it's not, you aren't going to stay no matter what the compensation might be. So yes - find out about the job first and then you can ask about benefits and salary if the job is a good fit for you. @Beverly B. you would think that your comment was common sense and was practiced but it's not. Amazing how people act when they are on an interview or even on the job! Truly a sad commentary on our times.

  • Mel S.
    Mel S.

    Sound advice all around. In conjunction with these comments, I can add that as a university instructor, one current trend in cultural norms is the immediate attempt to reduce time spent on potential jobs that don't meet the applicant's expectations, as explained in #6. To that end, many try to cut to the bottom line first. For some reason, this has become a "norm" among the new job seekers, who often don't realize management doesn't view their approach as they intend.

  • Beverly B.
    Beverly B.

    Courtesy and politeness are always appropriate in any business/social situations.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Dianne J. being too early could go against you - especially in a smaller company. When you arrive early, it can put undue pressure on the hiring manager to be ready for you. So, yes you can arrive early just to make sure that you are on time but don't go into the building early. Sit in your car and go over your notes. Breathe! Then, about 10 minutes before your interview, you can go in. Oh - and please note that it's possible that you are already "on display" while you are sitting in your car. Companies have cameras everywhere today. So don't smoke, either. Just relax, breathe and go back over your notes. @Kelly D check our site for an editor position. Remember, new jobs are posted daily.

  • Kelly D.
    Kelly D.

    Do you have an opening for an editor? I agree with Linda S., typos are a deal beaker and you lose credibility for them.

  • Dianne J.
    Dianne J.

    Being early for your interview means that you will not late

  • Dianne J.
    Dianne J.

    I do find it interesting. Thank you for the information

  • Linda S.
    Linda S.

    Typos are also a deal beaker! Show some attention to detail.

  • Arnold J.
    Arnold J.

    I concur with your last paragraph, Miss Anderson which states "Keep it simple when it comes to conversation starters. Ask too many questions, and you sound annoying. Say anything negative about past jobs or the horrible commute, and you sound like a complainer. Hiring managers look for reasons to reject you, and you make their job easier by working too hard to fill the silence."

  • Chris Knapp
    Chris Knapp

    I agree with Julia N - these are just plain common sense. Guess it isn't as common as it once was - sad.

  • Julia N.
    Julia N.

    All of this is just plain common sense

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Damian T thanks for that valuable information!

  • Damian T.
    Damian T.

    Silence is golden, but appearing unresponsive leaves an impression of how you may be at work w/ your co-workers. Utilize body language ex. a healthy nod to confirm you agree, practice before a mirror revealing your response to the open-ended question. Use open-ended questions to learn where your research conflicts with info. they provided. You're interviewing them as they interview you. Simple notes for yourself buy time if they are willing to entertain any questions that might arise afterwards. Avoid repeat questions or you'll appear as if you haven't been paying attention or even wasting time. Many want to see how you value your own time to be convinced you'll value their time in return. Giving you all the time you need to ask your questions tests your utilization of time. Time is money. Take the interview as a "test run" vs. the hyperbolic "I've got to land this job!" an example of you're desperate. Some employers say "No", testing your flexibility. Avoid sudden reactions they're unexpected, but can blow your interview, but reveal a serious clue to their daily workplace style.

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