Are you looking for ways to ingratiate yourself with an interviewer? Vicky Oliver, author of five books on career development, including The Millionaire’s Handbook (Skyhorse, 2011) and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005) shares her expertise on this topic in her guest blog
By Vicky Oliver
The elevator door opens, a pleasant receptionist smiles up at you from behind a large bland desk, and then it starts. The heart palpitations. A bead of sweat forms at the back of your neck. You briefly wonder if there’s time to duck into the Ladies’ Room or Gents’ to check your appearance but decide against it. The receptionist has already buzzed your interviewer and if there is no one seated in the chair when she emerges it’s going to look bad. Very bad.
Eventually you hear footsteps clicking on the polished floors and you rise to greet your interviewer. There is a pause as you try to flash your most winsome smile, erstwhile shaking her lithe hand with your practiced “interview grip”—firm, but not bone-crunching. You remember to look into her eyes long enough to register their color. They are gray. She smiles, a veritable beacon of encouragement. You think you have passed the “first test” with flying colors.
Now the awkward part starts—the interview pre-game show. It’s “pre-game” because you’re not yet inside the interviewer’s office. No, the two of you are still loitering in the hallway. The conversation hasn’t started yet, and that’s a problem! At this point you desperately need an icebreaker to start the dialogue rolling. It would be a mistake to force your interviewer to break the ice. Here are some ideas on what to talk about before the interview technically begins.
1. The art (assuming there is any) on the walls. If you happen to pass an intriguing photograph as you walk down the hallway, it’s a good idea to comment on it. Be sure to say something fairly positive (even if you hate it), such as:
“What an interesting technique!” or “I love offices that display art… it adds so much personality.”
Why this technique makes you shine: You’ve shown confidence under stress. If your interviewer happens to agree with your assessment, the conversation has officially started on a positive note. But even if she secretly disagrees, she now knows that she can send you off to clients without thinking twice about it.
2. A funny thing happened to you on the way to the interview. You wouldn’t want to launch into a ten-minute story about a traffic jam, but a humorous anecdote can help ease the awkwardness and make you stand out.
You will earn special points if your story can somehow tie into the culture of the firm where you are interviewing—but no matter what, do not invent a tall tale! People can see through fictionalized accounts. Make sure your story really happened, and keep it short and sweet. Here’s an example:
“I bumped into my former boss in the subway this morning. When I told her that I was interviewing at your company today, she laughed and said she always thought I should work here. Let’s hope she’s right.” (Then be sure to crack a smile.)
Why this technique makes you shine: You are so poised that you can tell a fun, off-the-cuff story. Think of it as jujitsu—your story will relax your interviewer who can’t help but like you better as a result. Plus you’ll get special points for eloquence.
3. A quick anecdote about a book you read or a movie you saw recently. Again, you never want to wax prolific. And since it’s likely that your interviewer won’t be familiar with the book or film, do try to keep the story self-contained. If you can just play off the title or a factoid that would make any reader of a film review nod her head, the icebreaker will work beautifully.
“Did you have a chance to see the movie, The Descendants? The Hawaiian-themed music playing over your loudspeaker system reminded me of it. Great film if you have a chance!”
Why this technique makes you shine: You’ve shown that you’re not just a worker bee. You also keep your finger on the pulse, which is a key trait for a rising star. Lastly, you’ve managed to add some fun to the conversation. When it comes to landing a job, “clicking” with your interviewer will take you far.