Many people hate small talk. They’d rather engage in “meaningful" conversation. However, if you think about it, small talk can be quite meaningful. It allows people a safe environment to find common interests, engage with people they don’t know well, and connect with others outside their immediate bubble.
If you aren’t sure how to begin a new conversation, try categorizing small talk into these three categories:
1. Personal — plans, ideas for activities, things to watch, etc.
"Any plans for the holidays?"
"I love exploring the outdoors. Do you have any recommendations on places to visit?"
"I've been watching this great new show _______. Have you seen it?"
2. Professional -- work, research, news articles, etc.
"What do you do?"
"I've been working on this project lately where _______. What are you working on right now?"
"Did you read that article on _______? I found it interesting how _______."
3. Location and environment — things in the area, events, the weather, etc.
"Have you been to any farmer's markets around here?"
"I heard there is a fair coming into town. Have you been before?"
"I love this time of year when it gets a little colder. Do you have a favorite winter activity?"
Now once you start a conversation, the trick is to keep the dialogue going. If someone isn't familiar with the idea you bring up, don't just answer "yes" or "no" and leave it there. Instead, find a way to continue talking until you find common ground.
"Did you watch the baseball game last night?"
"No, I didn't see it. I was busy testing out a new risotto recipe. Do you enjoy cooking?"
It takes a while for people to feel safe enough to open up. Small talk can be an incredible tool to use. You never know who you will meet and where that one interaction can lead.
The video interview is an integral step in the hiring process. Before your next video interview, please read these tips:
1. Have a clean background
You want the interviewer to focus on you, not what is happening around you. You don’t want your weird poster to distract the interviewer. It's always better to have a clean background so that you are the most interesting thing on screen.
2. Different screen widths
Even if you have a clean background, you should remember that Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime all have different screen widths. So, even if your background is clean on a FaceTime call, when you use Skype the blanket you have crumpled up in the corner of the room might be visible. Be sure your background is clean in all video mediums.
3. Put the computer at eye level
Most computer screens are below your chin, which is one of the most unflattering angles possible. Instead, raise your screen so that the camera is at eye level. You want to mimic an in-person conversation as much as possible. Real conversations happen at eye level.
4. Don’t wear stripes
Small stripes are hard to for a camera to capture. You don’t want to look like your shirt is vibrating on screen. Stick with solids or simple patterns over stripes or dynamic patterns. You want the interview to focus on you, not your wardrobe.
5. Plug in your laptop
Video streaming takes up a lot more battery than normal. The last thing you want is for your computer to die during your interview. Always make sure it is plugged in.
6. Have notes
Have your resume, information about the company, questions to ask the interviewer, and any other notes you need easily accessible. Be sure to take advantage of the fact that you can set up your interviewing space however it will benefit you the most.
7. Have water nearby
It’s always better to have water nearby. You don’t want to get a tickle in your throat during your interview and have to go into another room to get a drink of water.
8. Do a test run
Technology is amazing. It’s also notorious for breaking down just when you need it the most. Be sure to test your technology in the room (and in the clothes) you are planning on using for the interview.
9. Look friendly as the call connects
If you are staring at your screen and intensely watching as the call goes through, your face can look worried or frustrated. Instead, as soon as you go online, try smiling so that the first thing your interviewer sees is a friendly face.
10. Know how to share your screen
Sometimes people will ask you to share slides from a presentation. This means you will need to know how to give them access to your desktop. Know where this feature is, and how to use it. You also want to be sure that you minimize any tabs before sharing your screen.
I recently had the opportunity to sit in on 15 mock interviews for graduate students and postdocs. While a list of standard interview questions was provided as a resource, each interviewer was encouraged to bring their own spin to the interview process. I was able to take notes and compile the questions below. If you are a student who is about to go on the job market, hopefully these questions will help you prepare.
Questions About Previous Experience
Questions About Teams & Mentoring
Questions About Challenges
Questions About the Future
Networking is critical in today’s world. However, in a networking environment, many people don't know how to start a conversation. I've written out a number of options to help you get the ball rolling.
Cold openers are often the most intimidating. My advice is to keep it simple. Some effective openers are:
— Hello, I'm _________.
— Hello, I'm _________ and I'm here for _________. What brought you here today?
— Hello, I don’t know many people here, so I thought I’d introduce myself.
When you are at an event, it gives you a unique opportunity to connect over the specifics that brought you two together. Try commenting on the event itself by asking:
— How’d you hear about this event?
— Did you hear _________ speak? What did you think?
— What a beautiful venue, have you been here before?
Think about commenting on the environment you are in. Look around you, what do you see? Bringing up your environment can help you identify an easy way to open up a conversation. For example, you can ask:
— Have you tried the mashed potato bar (or any of the food at the event)?
— I’m going to go and get a drink, care to join me?
— It’s packed in here, mind if I join you over here where it’s quieter?
Breaking into a group is easier than you think. Look for groups where the conversation seems relaxed. These are the ones that it is easy to step into. When you do come up you can ask:
— May I join you?
— Did you all come together, or did you meet here?
— You seem to be having a good time, mind if I join you?
Keep these phrases in mind when you are at your next networking event. You never know what connection you could make.
Interviewing for any position is nerve-wracking. You are entering an environment where your abilities are evaluated, analyzed and scrutinized. However, it is important to not let that pressure affect you. Here are some ways to overcome the stress of an interview and showcase your confidence:
When you don’t breathe normally, your nervous system kicks in because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. This causes your heart to beat faster which can make you feel nervous. That is why proper breathing is so critical. Before you enter the interview room, take long deep breaths. Stay as calm as possible. Continue this awareness in the interview room. When you are asked a question, don’t hold your breath as you listen. Breathe the whole time. If you notice you are running out of breath when answering questions, slow down. Proper breathing is the first step to staying calm and looking confident in an interview.
You don’t have to speak to communicate. Body language is often much louder than words and body tension is often read as insecurity. Before you enter the room, stretch your shoulders, neck and back. When you enter the room, imagine you are taller and wider than you are. During the interview, don’t collapse down into a small ball. Stay relaxed and open. When you leave the room, stand tall, smile and look them in the eye as you thank them. Let your body tell the interviewer that you are ready and excited about this opportunity.
Many people enter “defending mode” in an interview. They feel they have to justify their history, experiences and goals. You don’t have to defend anything. You need to own it. You are there to give your qualifications a voice. If you get an interview, they are already interested in knowing more about you. You’ve done everything you can to prepare. Now enjoy the chance to share your thoughts with a potential colleague. This is the time to bring your ideas and passion to life.
When you breathe normally, have open and relaxed body language and own your ideas, you can show the interviewer how confident and excited you are about this opportunity.
Students are busy. Their schedules are packed and they are constantly struggling to meet deadlines. Due to this hectic lifestyle, many times job searches, professional development training and networking is put on the back burner. While this is understandable, it is also a mistake. Students need to realize that they can’t just be focused on their immediate projects — they have to focus on finding internships and jobs. Networking is a big part of this. It is critical in today's competitive job market. However, many people don't realize that it doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking.
Here are three easy ways students can start networking before they need a job:
1) Connect with Previous Mentors
Your mentors are already invested in your journey. They care about your career, your well-being and your goals. Far too often people only reach out to mentors when they need something. While asking a favor is perfectly fine, it shouldn’t be the only time your mentor hears from you. Instead you should:
2) Engage in Social Media
Interact with people who are invested in the same topics you are. Even if you aren’t looking for a job at the moment, you never know who you might meet and what opportunities will present themselves down the road. There are numerous ways to connect with others over social media:
3) Attend Events
While social media is incredibly useful, it isn’t a substitute for connecting with people in person. There are so many ways to meet people with similar interests. You can:
As a student it is easy to get overwhelmed and overlook opportunities. By taking some time to connect with mentors, engage on social media and attend events, you can easily expand your network. That way when you do need an internship or a job, opportunities will be much easier to find.
Once you go through the arduous process of applying for a job, you wait and hope for that glorious email or phone call informing you of one fact — you have an interview! Then, almost instantly, your excitement is replaced by sheer panic. Will they pick you? What if you get a question wrong? How are you going to get ready for this? Instead of feeling overwhelmed, take a moment and step outside of the powerless position that interviewees feel. In fact, the best way to prepare for an interview is to adopt the opposite role — become the interviewer.
Figure out where the interviewers are coming from. What are they looking for from each candidate? If the tables were turned and you were interviewing yourself for this position, what would you want to know? Go online and research questions companies ask people interviewing for this type of position. Take the time to brainstorm questions you would have for a future employee. Write them down.
Taking on the role of the interviewer answer the following:
Once you approach it from the interviewer side, you can then practice as an interviewee. Questions to help you prepare:
Practice answering them the way you would in the actual interview – say your responses out loud. Don’t just think about the answers, practice articulating your thoughts. Knowing the answers is not enough. You need to hear yourself saying them. Practice being succinct and to the point. Get comfortable answering questions in a clear and concise way.
Once you’ve come up with questions and practiced answering them, the next step is to let it all go. Don’t over-rehearse or become too obsessed with your preparation. As an interviewer, you want the person you are talking with to be genuine and honest. You don’t want to just listen to rehearsed statements. You want to get a sense of who that person is and if they will be a good fit with the team.
If you want to prepare for an interview, you have to think about the situation from the interviewer’s perspective. Put yourself in a position of power and think about the questions they will ask. Practice your answers and then let everything go. When you enter the interview, don’t think about the preparation. Pay attention to what is actually happening in front of you. Actively listen, be genuine and enjoy this opportunity to showcase what makes you stand out from the crowd.
Everyone talks to themselves. Whether you want to admit it or not, your mind is constantly full of dialogue. Sometimes this voice is helpful — like when you are about to leave the house and that little voice in your head suddenly reminds you that you forgot your phone on the dining room table. Other times, that internal voice can send you into a downward spiral. This commonly happens when you are stressed out and preparing for a large event.
That is why I always tell people to have a motto. Having a powerful motto is essential and finding the right one is a process.
Most people, before they go on stage to give a presentation, talk to themselves by saying a variety of things like:
"Don’t mess up."
"Just get through it!"
"I am going to get everyone excited about this."
The problem with these statements is that they all depend on the outcome of the presentation. You are measuring your success by the audience’s reaction. While everyone would love to believe otherwise, you have no control over what the audience does with the information you are giving them. You do, however, have control over what you do and how you approach the situation. Instead of thinking about the outside reaction to your material, find a motto that doesn’t depend on the audience. This motto is for you. This motto sets you up for your entire talk. What would be the best thing to say to make you feel like you were at the top of your game?
Great mottos depend on the person. They range from:
“I am calm, centered, and ready to have fun.”
“Let’s do this!”
My motto is, “I am amazing.”
Your motto will come in handy before you go on stage for a presentation or before an interview. You can use it if something unexpected comes up and you need to recenter yourself. Or you can say it whenever you hear the little voice in your head telling you how everything could go wrong.
It is worth your time to find the perfect motto. After all, “You are amazing.”
1. BE MENTALLY PRESENT
Be here now. It is the most important advice I can give. Miscommunications and missed opportunities occur far too often because people are distracted by their own thoughts and not focusing on what is happening in front of them. This is especially hard in an interview, when your body is filled with nerves and your mind is running through all the various ways this could play out. Instead of focusing on what could be, pay attention to what is.
2. CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
The first thing to do before entering an interview is to change your mindset. Instead of saying to yourself, “Don’t mess up!” or “Please pick me...” enter the room believing you are already on their team. You have to assume you and the interviewer are already colleagues. You are entering the room to get to know each other better, to exchange ideas and to see if you can work together to build something great. You are not entering the room to be grilled or interrogated. This is a supportive atmosphere where you can have a conversation and explore new topics.
3. INTERVIEW THE INTERVIEWER
It is important to remember that you are also interviewing the interviewer. You need to figure out if this is a work environment that you can thrive in. The last thing you want to do is move your whole life around for this job and find out that this is not a place where you feel you can spread your wings and fly. That is why an interview is a conversation. Go in excited to explore new possibilities. You are seeing if you can add to their team and if their team is the right fit for you.
4. GO WITH THE FLOW
People always tell me that their number one fear is saying the wrong thing. It is impossible to predict and prepare for every possible situation and question. Instead, breathe and be excited about this experience. Fun is the antidote to fear. I have my clients engage in various improvisation exercises to remind them that the unplanned can be fun.
5. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Even though you can’t prepare for everything, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare. Know the company you are interviewing for. What is their mission statement? What are they currently working on? Were any articles about them released lately? With the internet at your fingertips, you have many resources to consult before entering an interview situation. You also need to know why you are the best fit for this job. If you don’t know why you are ideal for this position, how can you expect others to believe you are? Figure out what makes you uniquely qualified for the job and why you would be a great addition to their team.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.