Should You Chat Informally Before an Interview?

mentoryes interview tips

Job interviews typically begin with a set of seemingly innocuous questions unrelated to the job: How is your day going? Got any plans for the weekend? How was traffic on your way in?

Rapport-building is common practice in most interviews these days. Interviewers believe that small talk helps candidates loosen up and opens up more candid discussions in the interview.

In contrast, a structured interview features only standardized, pre-determined questions relevant to the job asked to all candidates consistently, with a conscious effort to minimize “noise” and compare candidates on similar grounds. The Harvard Business Review says that “Decades of research has established that one structured interview has greater accuracy than more than three unstructured interviews — and more effectively helps to select the best candidates.”

Hence the question: Does the free-flowing rapport building undermine the structure of the interview and defeat the objective of impartial uniformity of evaluation methods? Or, does small talk give additional insights on the candidates, which help in better decision making?

HBR conducted its research on the recordings of 163 interviews of candidates for its MBA programs, with a mix of rapport-building informal talk followed by structured interviews. In summary, Small talk does influence opinions and decisions.

Our advice to candidates:

  • Remember that the sweet informal talk at the beginning has a bearing on the outcome, so don’t relax too much.
  • Stay “on” and sharp throughout the interview – the initial small talk matters more in the initial formal sections, and then the “immediacy” effect prevails.

Based on an article published in the Harvard Business Review, by Brian Swider, Brad Harris and Murray Barrick

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