career corner
How to be a successful schmoozer
This issue, the Career Corner guest author is psychology professor Bernie Carducci, who is the head of the Shyness Research
Institute at IU Southeast. Here he shares how small talk can be beneficial in job interviews.
As my highlighted quote below
illustrates, successful conversation is
the starting point of all relationships,
including the relationship that begins
during a job interview, while talking
with co-workers or potential clients,
or when meeting new individuals at
a social gathering. Small talk is the
cornerstone of civility, as it fosters
social contact and connectedness,
which encourages a sense of
community and discourages the
mistreatment of others.
Making successful conversation is an
acquired skill. There is a structure and
set of rules of engagement for making
successful small talk. Once individuals
know the basics, connecting with others
can become less intimidating. Learning
to make successful conversation is
similar to learning how to swing a
golf club. All that is needed is some
instructions on what to do, what not to
do, and the opportunity to practice.
Step One:
Come Prepared with
Something to Say
Individuals who have difficulty with
small talk often feel that “they have
nothing to say.” Social reconnaissance
involves gathering information about a
social situation in advance of entering
it. The purpose of social reconnaissance
is to reduce the ambiguity, uncertainty,
and anxiety often associated with
meeting new people in new settings.
For example, prior to going on a job
interview or a networking event, make
it a point to research the company,
the person who will be conducting
the job interview, or others who
might be at the event, as well as the
neighborhood where the company/
event is located. Using this information
during the conversation will help give
you something to talk about, as well as
make it easier for others to talk with
Step Two:
Getting Started
One of the biggest barriers for
individuals who have difficulty with
small talk is approaching others and
starting a conversation. Getting started
is simple, if you begin with “setting
talk,” such as making comments
about the weather or other facets of
the environment (e.g., “The design of
this building is so interesting.”) The
purpose of setting talk is to let others
know that you are willing to make
conversation, nothing more, nothing
less. So, don’t feel like your setting-talk
remarks have to be witty or brilliant.
It’s best to keep them simple.
Step Three:
Who You Are, Something
About You
To help move the conversation along,
proceed to personal introductions. In
addition to clearly enunciating your
name, you can anticipate the next
question and provide information
about what you do for a living or your
recreational interests or a simple
comment about why you are in this
particular social setting. A simple,
pre-planned personal introduction
will serve to jumpstart a conversation
by giving others some idea of possible
topics of conversation based upon what
you said about yourself.
Step Four:
Expanding the Topic
To help keep the conversation going,
advance to post-topical elaboration by
associating the topic of conversation to
other related topics. For example when
talking about the vacations, you might
say, “Speaking of vacations, we had
some great Caribbean food on our last
vacation.” Now you can talk about food
or food-related topics (e.g., other ethnic
foods, cooking shows, music heard in
restaurants). It’s the give-and-take of
post-topical elaboration that makes
conversation so much fun.
Step Five:
A Gracious Ending that
Creates the Connection
Even the best of conversations must
come to an end. Here is what you
should do:
Let the person know you’ll be
leaving soon. This gives others the
opportunity to bring their comments
to a close.
Express gratitude for the
conversation. This lets others know
you enjoyed talking with them.
Summarize some of the major points
of the conversation. This lets others
know you were actively listening to
what they were say, not just passively
nodding your head.
Set the stage for future conversation.
This lets others know you would like
to connect with them again in the
Remember, the key to being a
successful schmoozer is simple: you
don’t have to be brilliant but you do
have to be kind — show a willingness
to converse and support the efforts by
others who do the same. The next time
you see me, let’s talk!
Every great
relationship, be it
romantic, professional,
or personal, or
big business deal
begins with a simple
conversation. The key
to making successful
conversation is learning
how to connect
with others, not just
with them.”
Bernie Carducci