Job interviews typically start off with introductions and then some basic “small talk” to break the ice. Knowing how to handle the transition from “Hello” to “Tell me about yourself” depends, in part, on your interviewer’s “style.”
There are three basic types of interviewers: the Dominant, the Dependent and the Detached.
The Dominant interviewer is the easiest to talk to if you have done your homework. They are professionals who have been trained on how to interview. Most likely they will greet you with a handshake and offer their name. Their office and desk will be neat and professional. They will have a copy of your resume in front of them and prepared questions. If they have not already broken the ice, you could begin the conversation by commenting on the award on their wall or bookcase (it is common for these individuals to have them) or mention something else positive you have noticed about the interviewer or the company.
The Dependent interviewer is the poor guy who got tagged to do the interview and may be more nervous than you to be there. The Dependent interviewer often will not know your name (or in some cases why you are even there!). Their office or desk may be in shambles as they shuffle papers looking for your résumé. With this interviewer, you will want to take more control of the interview.
You may break the ice by saying how pleased you are to have an opportunity to talk with him about the company and the position (a subtle way to remind him why you are there and give him time to get his thoughts together.) Because the Dependent interviewer probably had very little, if any, preparation for the interview, they may not know what questions to ask so they may launch into casual conversation to “get to know you.” Be careful of this type of interviewer because you may find yourself chatting about things best not mentioned in an interview. If you do not take control of the interview and guide the questions and answers, you may leave there thinking what a friendly guy he was, but not knowing anything at all about the job.
The Detached interviewer is rare and most frequently experienced when interviewing for highly technical jobs. This individual is more apt to make his or her mind up after reading the résumé and sees the interview as an unnecessary formality. You will recognize this person when he comes into the room because he will not make much eye contact and will be quite regimented. There really is no way to break the ice or make small talk with this individual, because it goes against his grain. Just take a seat and politely wait for him to begin the interview.
I had a client once who told me that he had a Detached interviewer who only asked him one question – “Why do you want to work for this company?” After my client answered, the interviewer got up and walked out of the room. After waiting a few minutes, he looked out to the receptionist and asked “is he coming back?” and she replied that he went to a meeting!
And speaking of the receptionist – keep in mind that the interview starts as soon as you enter the lobby. Only make small talk with the receptionist if they appear to have the time and interest – and make sure the conversation is on brand!