How to Conduct a Successful Interview – Part One: Breaking the Ice


How awkward is it when you walk into an interview and feel as if every action that you make is under surveillance? For many applicants, the interview becomes this holy grail of a moment that is so over hyped and anticipated that the end result is complete failure due to nervousness. Why do you think the number one recommendation is to relax?

Your first priority when you walk into an interview is to break the ice. There are a dozen different ways that you can do this, and though they all may work, not all are appropriate for an interview setting.

  • Establish some type of commonality.
    The interviewer will almost always ask you to tell them a bit about yourself. This is your chance to establish a common ground; do a quick scan around the office when you first enter for anything that may show a hobby or interest. Things like a wedding ring, pictures, trophies, etc.
  • If the interviewer is married, for example, you can establish a connection that way. If you are married, you might say something like “Well, my wife/husband and I are really working on , and both her/him and I are excited about some new opportunities that we are approaching – this job being one of them”; if you aren’t married, you might say something like “I’m currently focusing on my career and I’m looking to move into a position that I can hold on to, perhaps even move up with later. A few months ago some of my close friends got married and I realized that it was time for me to get serious with my career and with my life. I haven’t looked back since.

    The interviewer will be able to relate to both scenarios quite easily, and both scenarios show strong moral character. Why wouldn’t they want to hire you?

  • Make a small joke about yourself. If the person that is interviewing you makes a few small jokes at the beginning of the interview you may break the ice by making a comical comment or joke about yourself. Just keep it clean. In the past I’ve used one old favorite: “Yea, sometimes I get mixed up first thing in the morning. I can’t even count how many times I’ve nearly boiled myself in the shower.
  • If you’re feeling bold, ask them what they want you to be. This one can go either way, so don’t say anything if your interviewer seems conservative. When they ask you to tell them a bit about yourself, say something like “Well, I’ll be whatever I’m supposed to be to get this job. In all seriousness, what can I really say? I’m a hardworking, honest, typical person who’s looking for a stable job. Oh, and I enjoy painting.”The interviewer may respond to your cheeky/blunt comment. It shows that you’ve got guts and that you are confident, which is always a quality that an employer is looking for.

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7 thoughts on “How to Conduct a Successful Interview – Part One: Breaking the Ice

  1. I’ve had a lot of success in interviews when I found common ground. For example, if something they say or do reminds you of something in a TV show/movie (bad example) – mention it. Especially if a concept presented in it applies to their company. If they have a personal interest in this topic it may lead to a longer conversation on a more personal note which can relax you and make it feel less like an interview. This may only be applicable depending on how laid back your interviewer is…in most cases it wont be. But if the oppertunity presents itself its a great way to be remembered and strike a personal note with the interviewer. Just need to be savey about it.

  2. It’s funny, but on my latest interview for a microsoft developer, we were making jokes about how microsoft products suck

  3. I think the idea of finding common ground is absolutely on target. For one thing, it can help get the interviewer to open up a little about him- or herself, which is always a good thing.
    I’m concerned about the other two suggestions you make, though. I understand what you want to accomplish, but I’m ALWAYS nervous about any kind of self-deprecation in any situation.
    To me as an interviewer (and I was a hiring manager for way too many years!), it raises red flags about someone’s self-confidence. And as someone who works with people on their careers, including interview skills, I want to be sure that they’re going into an interview with a calm and realistic sense of their own skills.
    Likewise, the idea of saying, “I’ll be whatever you want me to be,” even as a joke, makes me uneasy. It could be a great icebreaker – but it depends hugely on the type of person who’s interviewing you – as, of course, you point out!
    I wonder if there aren’t ways to break the ice that are a little less potentially dangerous? I love your point of looking around the room (assuming you’re not in a conference room!) or at the person in order to get some clues on his/her interests!

    1. I think what he’s saying is that making a funny quip about yourself can be humorous so long as it doesn’t detract from the interview. The example that he uses (about boiling himself in the shower) doesn’t relate to any professional skills at all, and is actually something that I’m sure everyone has done.
      The last point seems kind of cheeky, though I imagine that it could work out pretty well if the person that is interviewing you is open to humor.

  4. Absolutely, and I totally get that.
    I am probably hyper-aware of how easily negative comments – even those that are supposed to be funny – can become reality. So I generally advise against even the most apparently innocent statements like that.
    As is implied in what Josh writes, it’s very situational; you have to do what seems best at the time. I just wanted to point out some areas for caution!

    1. I agree with that, as any situation (especially a job interview) has a level of situational comedy that is appropriate.
      I always take a few minutes to judge the interviewer before I choose my reaction- common sense orverrides all, right?
      (Comments wont nest below this level)

  5. It all boils down to “guanxi”.
    For many of us, here in N. America, Guanxi, meaning ‘relations’, ‘network’, or ‘relationship’, has been synonymous with cryonyism, corruption.
    But the further we develop our understanding into human relations and interrelationships, we come to understanding that to pass each approval, judgement or stage in our lives require harmonious relationships with those around us.
    Establish some type of commonality.
    Make a small joke about yourself.
    ..ask them what they want you to be.
    Et al.
    …will all get you the edge in any scenario. I assure you, these are not part of your qualifications package. But the author is right in the effectiveness of such. Frankly, I assure you, there are likely 15 others more qualified than you that wouldn’t mind the opportunity, but weren’t connected to it in time or whatever due to their weak guanxi. These days where I’m from, those in-the-have and in-the-know are saying qualifications aren’t enough?! (Code: Too many new immigrants with MBAs).
    I just wished people would be more frank about hiring. Guanxi exists in many social heirarchies, and has had it’s place throughout the ages.
    If we acknowlege its existance and force, maybe we can work better and more effectively. I am not condoning it, merely am p***d off by the numerous reasons I have seen given for hiring decisions.

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