Interviews usually start with some "small talk" (casual conversation) before moving to the main topic.
If you're about to go to a college admissions interview in America, or in any other English-speaking country, you should prepare for small talk.
Small talk topics for college interviews
Prepare for small talk
Small talk is just as important in business situations (which include interviews) as the business discussion. You should prepare for it, but how?
Be able to answer questions
- Read this article to understand why small talk is important and make sure you can answer all of the basic small talk questions in it.
- If you're interviewing in the US, study current events, both in the country and in the city where you're interviewing. You should read the New York Times and also the main paper for whatever city the interview will be in.
- If you're interviewing in an English-speaking country besides the US, follow these steps for that country and city. The New York Times is a US paper; you should read the main newspaper for the country you'll be in.
Be able to ask questions
Answering questions is part of every interview, but asking them is also important, even during small talk. You don't want to have a long silence during the conversation. If your interviewer isn't talking, it's time for you to say something. A question is always good.
Write down a list of questions you can ask and look at it right before your interview starts or use the ones below.
10 topics you can ask questions about during small talk
*Topics to avoid: politics, religion, money, family
1. The school
Did you go to school here?
2. Location: neighborhood/city/state
Do you live near here?
How long have you lived in _________?
- Don't ask about soccer (non-Americans call it football) since many Americans don't watch it
- Keep track of what sports are played during which seasons in America, so you ask questions about the right one
Did you see the Red Sox game last night?
Again, you may not interviewing in America, so make sure you know what sports are popular where you are interviewing. Remember, just because you like a sport does not mean that the interviewer will.
4. Arts and entertainment
- Current TV shows or movies are usually safe although they may not watch it or have seen it - be prepared if they say "no"
Did you see the last episode of Game of Thrones?
- Anything happening in the news can be a good topic but avoid politics.
Have you been watching the Olympics?
- Since you're not from the US, you can ask them if they've ever been to your country.
Have you ever been to Argentina?
Are you planning to travel this Christmas/this summer/this Thanksgiving? - use this if there is a holiday approaching
- This can be about anything, as long as it's a general and acceptable topic and appropriate for the situation
I see you have a Starbucks downstairs. Do you like their coffee?
8. The weather
It's boring, but if you can't think of anything else, it works.
I can't believe it's raining again!
9. Comment about an object in the office or wherever you are meeting
I like your photo (something on the office wall).
10. How the day has been so far
Have you been busy today?
Are you usually busy on Fridays?
Okay, now you have 10 ideas for topics you can make small talk about in your interview. As you can see, the questions can be about any topic as long as it won't make the other person angry or unhappy.
The main point is to keep the conversation going and keep the mood positive.
One of the reasons I started my business is that in my past career I interviewed many talented people who didn't get the job because they couldn't communicate with me comfortably. This wasn't just because of their English. I realized that it's very common for people to ignore the small talk section of the interview because they think it's not important. But then they don't get the job and they blame their English.
I'm telling you right now that your English is one factor in this process but it's by no means the only one.
I can help you work on your small talk skills so that you interview well. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org