A talented friend of mine shared an incident he recently experienced during a job interview. As the interviewer walked him to her office, she enthusiastically commented on the buzz surrounding the (then) upcoming Olympics.

“So what did you say?”

“You know I can’t fake it. I told her that I personally couldn’t wait for all the hoo-hah to be over, before forcing a little laugh.”

Now, I’m certain about two things here:

(1) That’s probably the first time that the word ‘hoo-hah’ had been used within the opening minute of a job interview; and

(2) He blew the job interview before it had even started.

Far too many candidates don’t appreciate the significance of friendly chit-chat. Whether it takes place before, during, or after the interview – a little small talk can open (or close) big doors.

Let’s assume the interviewer had her wits about her. She was using the Olympics as an excuse to not only put both of them at ease, but also to gain an early insight into his personality. She couldn’t care less what his personal feelings are regarding the event.

But he fell for it. Straight off the bat, he’s come across as negative, provocative and confrontational.

What could he have replied, without compromising his honestly? He could have answered from the perspective of the athletes, the fans or the nation. It doesn’t really matter – as long as he presented himself as positive, friendly and genuine.

Great job interviews are often built on an emotional connection that was formulated sometime during the interview.

Usually these are “me too!” moments. Any common backgrounds or shared experiences will cause both of you to feel that you’re on the same wavelength, thereby ensuring you’ve scored a head start over other candidates. You’ve both backpacked South America? Turn it into a conversation. You went to the same university? Talk about it. Know someone in common? Don’t let the opportunity slip. Appropriately researching your interviewer may provide you with some useful information to keep up your sleeve.

Interview Small Talk –  Three Golden Rules

1. Follow the interviewer’s lead in tone and topic.

2. If you’re given an opportunity to initiate your own topic, stay away from politics, religion, and over-the-top flattery (“What gorgeous kids!”). Safe topics include the weather and sport.

3. Don’t waffle. Even if the interviewer has given you an opening to talk about your favourite past-time, be succinct. If the interviewer wants to hear more, great – but wait for an invitation to elaborate.

As long as you’re prepared and thinking straight, you’ll be sure to make a great impression. No hoo-hah about it.