Building your Small Talk Skills


You must have come across the popular term, “American Small Talk” and probably wonder about the American habit and skill of small talk. Is it challenging for non-Americans? We notice that many cultures find it important to build a solid connection before initiating any sort of business together, however the approach in the US is slightly different. Even though, professionals in the US like to get straight down to business, the initial small step of small talk is necessary to build those connections quickly. Small talk is a great way to initiate a conversation with a complete stranger, find a common interest, and create a rapport.

While networking and searching for a job in the U.S., it is important to be able to make effective small talk and interact with other people. Casual conversations may not be necessary in other cultures but is a key component of communication in the U.S. You may be seen as arrogant and lose out on building a connection if you fail to engage. Americans dislike silence so they break the ice by talking about generic topics. Small talk may seem superficial at first but is crucial in order to make and maintain healthy relationships at work or with prospective employers and co-workers.

Three points to keep in mind while initiating small talk:
1. Observe
2. Listen
3. Speak

First, start observing how people around you engage in small talk. The best learning happens through practice and you might get helpful cues on what to talk about by observing others. Secondly, it is vital to listen attentively during the talk as it will help you take the conversation further by asking relevant questions. While you speak, try and give crisp answers which are not very long but also not too short like “yes” or “no”. It will help you to gravitate the conversation quickly towards the main topic. Sense the other person’s body language to see if they are interested in talking further. Close observation is necessary and should not be undermined to make your small talk a pleasant experience.

Cultures are different everywhere. The topics on which small talk can be done differ based on the culture. There are various topics that you can use to engage in small talk in US. Topics include: Weather, Travel, Traffic, Movies, Music, Books, Food, Fashion, Entertainment, Sports and Current news. Based on the topics above, you can create your own list depending on your areas of interest and the type of people you are dealing with. Keeping abreast of recent happenings and surroundings through newspapers and magazines, not only help your brain feed important information but also make you well informed and popular among your peers, social circles as you will have a wider range of subjects to discuss. Topics that should be avoided are politics, religion and social beliefs.

The few questions that could give you a head start are: “It’s such a great/bad weather today, isn’t it?”, “What are your weekend plans?”, “How is work?”, “I like your t-shirt/watch/ring, where did you get it?” Asking the other person questions about him/her is also a great way to engage in small talk and get to know a lot more about the other person. People love talking about themselves, their experiences and it makes the conversation much more interesting. Try and avoid personal questions.

If you’re a beginner, still unconfident about engaging in small talk and would like to learn more, let me assure you that it’s easy! You do not need to attend huge networking events, instead try and adapt it in your daily life. For example, start to talk with the cashier at the local grocery store or the waitress at your favorite restaurant about basic everyday events such as the weather, a new bar in town, a concert or the traffic. You will be surprised how simple it is. Gradually, you will improve and become comfortable in engaging small talk with other people you intend to network with at a professional level.

Good luck and please email us if you have any questions!

What is an informational interview?

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This concept might be new for some of you. Job seekers do informational interview to gather knowledge about the industry, company or any job that they want to learn about. It is a one-on-one comfortable conversation with a person who works with the particular company, industry or job profile. It should be initiated by a job seeker like you. It is a good way to network into an organization and a prospect for anticipated vacancies. It can happen in person, over the phone, or through emails and it is basically initiated by you. Main  purpose of informational interview is to build your career network and gain information. It usually lasts for a short duration , i.e., 20 – 30 minutes.

One benefit of going for informational interview is that you get a chance to practice your interview skills before undergoing a formal job interview. It is important to prepare for your informational interviews just as you would for an actual job interview. Write down a short message containing what you are interested in, about your experience and background. Then you should start reaching out to your contacts for informational interviews and it is best if you are referred by someone. You can also do informational interview with the person working in your dream company. You can find the information about the person through linkedIn, company’s directory or directly call the company to get the contact information about the person who holds the position you are interested in your dream company. Then prepare the list of all the people with whom you want to do informational interview.

Afterwords contact them to ask for available date and time when you can meet to discuss about their job profile, company and industry they are involved. It’s important to clarify that your interest is in gathering information and advice. They will respond to your email or your phone, if not ask them to recommend other person’s name. When you meet them, don’t hesitate to ask for advice about finding a job in the particular industry that person is working on. You can also ask them to suggest other people whom you can approach and talk to about your interests. Remember not to ask directly about any job opening in their company.

You might be wondering why people would be interested in giving informational interviews. It depends from person to person. Mostly, people enjoy sharing information about themselves and their jobs and, particularly, giving advice. It is common for professionals to exchange favors and information. They also believe in building networks. At the end don’t forget to follow up and send thank you note. If their suggestions have helped you or you have followed them, you can write to them about it. They will feel good about it and you never know they might offer assistance with your job search. Additionally, keep record of your meetings with the names, titles, address, dates and major points of discussion that will later help if you come across any openings in that company.

Source of this blog is MIT Career Guide.

Why Networking is important in America for Job search?

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Finding a job is difficult especially when you are on dependent visa, but there are opportunities if you know how to take advantage of it. The best way to look for these opportunities is not through online job portals, employment agencies or company websites but by talking to people around you and informing them about your job search. It is important to build your network of friends, relatives, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances as they are helpful resources in job search. Inform them about your past achievements and the areas of interest and ask them whether they know of any companies or organizations doing the types of things that interests you. In the beginning, networking may sound scary, but at the end you may get a job through networking only. It is all about building relationships.

Networking is essential as 70% to 80% of jobs are never advertised. They are filled by references or through word of mouth. Job searcher invests a lot of time looking for jobs online and becomes frustrated for not finding one without realizing the importance of networking. Resumes and cover letters often might not reach the right person but networking makes you a recommended person and helps in landing your resume in the right hand.

As a first step, start with linkedIn, a professional networking site to build network. Post your profile, join relevant groups and ask for recommendations from colleagues in linkedIn. Lurk on twitter and facebook to get to know who is in your field and try to share relevant links and information with your network. If you want to build your network in a particular field or area, one of the most effective strategies for doing so is informational interviews. It’s important to work on your networking script i.e. a summary of your interests, goals and needs and use it when emailing contacts and meeting new people. Try to keep your script short and sweet.

There is a great site i.e. were you can search for the group of your interest and join them.. Join two to three groups like professional associations, networking groups and interests groups. Try to attend their meetings, where you can meet new people and tell them about yourself and inform them about your job search. Always look for job fairs in your area and try to attend them. Even if building a good network takes effort, sincerity and time but it is worth at the end.