“How are you today?“
If you’re like most people, you probably respond “fine,” “good,” “great,” or some other bland adjective, and return a similar question of your own. You’ve seen that, in most social settings, this go-to question acts as an easy lay-up of a question that gets the back-and-forth conversation going.
In an interview setting, however, a thoughtful, well-researched counter-response to these seemingly banal questions can showcase you as someone who’s done their homework. With the right preparation, you can already seem like part of their team, while a throw-away answer to this question fails to give you any kind of competitive edge.
Why? Because, when you walk into an interview or hop on the phone for a call, you need to overcome the fact that there’s likely no pre-existing social context to bond you together naturally. You’re in an artificial environment and you need to build trust, stat.
Build Rapport Through Similar Ties
This brings us to a conversational framework shared by Harvard Business Review, based on a concept sociologists call multiplex ties. In the world of job seeking, these ties can mean the difference between getting an offer letter or a blanket rejection email. In short, multiplex ties are connections that bring two people together in a closer bond than they’d have if they only shared a single commonality (like an interview).
For example, maybe you’re interviewing at a digital entertainment company. You have a commonality with the interviewer because you both stream shows on TV, but is that enough to create a rich connection? Probably not. However, if you both went to the same college, take a spin class at the same workout facility, or serve on the same industry board, you can open the lines of communication and unlock a more trusting, longer lasting relationship.
The key is to use windows of small talk wisely to create multiplex ties in a way that shows you’re invested in the role – without seeming creepy.
Winging It Isn’t Worth It; Here are Some Suggestions
While some people dread the walk from the reception area to the interviewer’s office, you can turn it into a fun back and forth conversation with interesting “hallway chatter” based on your research. Utilizing the company’s website(s), any social media feeds they have, and the LinkedIn/Twitter pages of both the company and your interviewer, you can find many possible things to talk about.
Here are some examples of how you can create a bond quickly in response to the simple question, “How are you?”
- (A Google News search shows you that they got new space): I’m great! Thanks for having me in. I saw that you recently expanded into this space, how has the settling in been going?
- (Their social media feed talks about a recent event the company sponsored and attended): I’ve been having a great day so far. I saw that some of the team just traveled to the X show, is that a big event for you?
- (From your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile) – I’m good! It’s so nice to meet you. I saw from your LinkedIn that you went to Major University. My former roommate went there, too, and he used to tell me about (y). Do you ever go back and visit?
- (From their company culture page) – I’m loving this weather! Hey, speaking of the weather, I saw on your company page that you had a big outdoor volunteer cleanup day at (x). I’ve gone there too, what a wonderful organization! Do you go every year?
Each of these questions adds a personal touch that enhances your conversation and overall relationship with the interviewer. That said, keep your conversations professional; it’s best not to bring up what they had for dinner last night from their Instagram account, or that picture of them in second grade that you dug up on Facebook. That could result in a raised eyebrow and a quick call to security, so you should stick to topics like work, school, volunteerism, networking groups, and similar work or industry related topics.
Small talk may not be your favorite, but it’s still essential. With this strategy, you’ll position yourself in a way that makes for great interviews. It’s all about avoiding bland questions and yes/no inquiries in favor of conversation-starters that show your go-get’em spirit. And that little tidbit you shared while on your “interview march?” Soon enough, you could be chatting about it again, this time while grabbing coffee with your new colleague.