Breaking the ice is in an interview difficult.
You are nervous.
The employer is stressed (likely because they have work backing up due to the staff vacancy).
And time is of the essence.
Nowhere else is that more crystal clear than in the first moments of an interview… the window for breaking the ice and having a real conversation with the prospective company is a sliver of the time you spend with the employer, but the most important piece.
I’ve written before about the most important part of the interview: before it actually begins. That’s the critical moment where breaking the ice humanizes the conversation before the official, formal interview even begins.
But what is the best tips for breaking the ice?
Timing is important.
Usually, there is a small window from when you are waiting to be taken back to the interview and when you are actually seated where you can set the tone of the conversation by an artfully-managed way for breaking the ice.
Remember: always shape the conversation around open-ended conversations, and not straight yes/no answers. Getting someone talking will help you build rapport and take the stiffness / formality out of the conversation.
The more rapport you build, the better connection you make, and employers are much more inclined to hire someone they know and like!
Here are some topic areas to get you going for breaking the ice:
Reference something that happened to you recently.
It could be as simple as talking about the weather (sure, humdrum), but if you can fold it into something like, “Boy, it sure has been hot lately… but in the winter, I am sure we’ll be remembering these days fondly. Have you had a chance to get out and enjoy the summer yet?”
Refer to a recent news article about the company.
It goes without saying that you should do your homework about the company, But anything you can do to connect something you read to translate into scoring points big-time.
Example,”Boy, I bet it’s busy around here! I just saw in the business journal yesterday that this company is expanding. How are you doing with all of this excitement?”
Express your sincere excitement about being at the interview.
There’s nothing wrong with being excited to be there. Showing excitement is better than showing nervousness, so channel your energy into a positive emotion.
Breaking the ice by saying something along the lines of, “Thank you again for meeting with me! I know you are interviewing other candidates, but I am thrilled for the opportunity to discuss with you how I can ______ for your company. This is going to be a great conversation!
For people worried about age discrimination, drop hints about recent activity, either physical or learning.
I am an advocate for making your resume as age-neutral as possible so that can’t factor into the initial screening process.
However, when you walk into the interview, age becomes apparent.
To overcome people’s initial knee-jerk reactions to more mature workers, breaking the ice takes a more important role because it can recalibrate expectations from the interviewers.
You need to rapidly respond to those stereotypes by breaking the ice to hit them head-on.
Example to show physical activity / agility: “I’m so glad to be here! I don’t know about you, but this weekend was glorious, wasn’t it? I was out doing a run and realized that we are a
lmost into September already, and I thought to myself, wow- where has the summer gone?”
Another example which demonstrates mental acuity: “You know, I am very excited to be speaking with you today. Last week, I was attending a conference on _____, and based on what I know about this opportunity here at your company, I see some really amazing applications of some of the concepts presented.”
Proceed with caution. Only if you are a diplomatic humorist should you try to be funny. Some people simply don’t respond to humor so appropriate use is strongly cautioned.
A quick one-liner is a good way for breaking the ice in an interview. My favorite line is when I am being seated and they point out the chair. I go over to it, pat the seat, and say, “Is this the hot seat? I hope it is good and warmed up, because I am ready!” Then smile. That usually gets a chuckle, while at the same time conveying confidence and diffusing some of the interview tension.
Ask a question.
If you can insert a question into the short window before the session officially begins, you can learn a lot and again, build up some of that critical rapport.
Be aware that any questions used for breaking the ice definitely need to be smart ones. Don’t resort to stupid ones like, “How many people work here?” – you should know that already from your pre-interview research.
But thinking strategically and asking targeted questions can help gain additional valuable insights into the interview and set the tone of the discussion.
Example: “I saw recently that this company won an award as a great place to work. What do you love about your job or working here?”
Identify an object of interest in the room and mention it.
Mundane, yes. It could be a painting, sculpture, award, or something else.
But what that does is invites the interviewer to tell a story about the object, which takes the emphasis away from the interview proper and can provide more insights as to the company’s culture, history, or priorities.
In summary, breaking the ice in an interview can open doors – it shows high emotional quotient and demonstrates superb social management skills.
So in your next interview, remember to take the lead in breaking the ice, and see where it takes you.