Job interview can be pretty stressful, for both an interviewer and a job applicant. The two of you meet for the first time, face to face. Surely they checked your LinkedIn profile (and you, as an interviewer, have read their resume, or even made a short phone interview before inviting the candidate for the face to face meeting), but now you both see the real deal.
What’s more, there’s a lot at stake in this meeting. Candidate wants a great new job, and you hope to hire a great employee at the end of the hiring process. You can feel the tension in the air… All of this can be short-lived, however. You just have to start the interview with the right question, breaking the ice, letting the tension to die away with the first genuine smile on their face. In this article we will look at some of these questions, when they make sense (or do not), and how you should react from the position of a job applicant.
Welcome. Did you find our place easily? Have you ever been to this city (area, building)?
A good opening indeed. They do not have to think twice about the answer, and can also explain why they are late, if they are :).
You can also learn whether they have any sort of experience with your company, or perhaps even worked/interviewed with someone else in the area or building. And just like with any other icebreaker interview question, talking about something simple and familiar should help them relax and prepare for the difficult questions that await in later stages of the interviews.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
This one is an icebreaker simply because everyone expects the question. They likely answered it dozens of times already (in other interviews, on dating websites, or anywhere else).
Each person has their own story, something they are proud of, something they base their identity on. We find it easy to talk about these things, and we also enjoy it, since everyone enjoys sharing their stories, and getting some recognition from their audience.
Smart job candidate will talk mostly about relevant things, such as their studies, last job, or skills and abilities that make from them a good candidate for the position. You can mention also one or two hobbies, ideally something positive, such as some sports you do or books you read, or pet you have (not your gaming addiction, or obsession with Netflix :)).
Maybe the interviewer shares the same passion, which will immediately help you to connect with them on a rather personal level. And the ice is broken…
Special Tip: We have also an entire article dedicated to “Tell me about yourself” interview question. You can check it out to see some great sample answers to this one.
Can you walk us through your resume?
This one is slightly different than “tell us about yourself”. With the previous one you give them a choice to pick a topic (they can talk about their personal life, studies, work, whatever), which can be both comfortable and stressful, depending on their experience and communication skills.
With this question you tell them exactly what they should do. Then you can calmly listen and try to make a picture about their experience, attitude, and communication skills.
Do they talk nicely about their former jobs and colleagues? Do they emphasize things they achieved for their former employer? What do they point out when talking about a particular occupation they had?
If you are a job seeker, you should once again focus on relevant things. Pick particular responsibilities, duties and achievements from your former jobs (or studies), experiences that can help the employer understand your readiness for the job you try to get with them.
What do you know about our company? Do you have any experience with our products or services?
This is more than just an icebreaker. It will immediately tell you a lot about their real interest, and how much they care about the job opportunity.
If they know nothing (or have just a very basic knowledge), they likely applied for a job with many other companies, and do not care much about succeeding particularly with you. Obviously if they have a stellar resume and ten years of experience in the field, and you need (or badly want) such a specialist in your team, they can afford their ignorance (and you still can’t send them home).
But if they apply for an entry level position and know nothing about your business, this is definitely a bad sign. Such an icebreaker can actually turn to a showstopper :).
For job seekers: Learn as much as you can about your prospective employer. Do your research, try their products or services before the interview. If you want, you can also check some sample answers to “What do you know about our company?” question.
How are you today?
This question is tricky, and you should pay attention to cultural differences when you get it (or ask it) in an interview.
For example, in many Spanish speaking countries (or in the UK), asking “how are you?” is a form of a greeting and they do not really expect an answer (or at least not a long one, few words at best).
However, in Slavic countries or in the majority of developed Asian economies, when somebody asks you how you are, they are typically interested in your mood and feelings. So if you get such a question in one of these countries, you can either say that you are feeling great, excited, pumped, because you are just going to interview for your dream job.
Or you can say that you are feeling nervous, for the very same reason :). In both cases this should help you calm down, and break the ice.
Special tip: If you experience anxiety before your interviews, do not forget to read our extensive guide on how to overcome interview nerves.
Would you like to have something to drink? A glass of mineral water, coffee?
Offering a job candidate something to drink is a great way of breaking the ice. Try to make them feeling comfortable and welcome in the company.
You do not want to grill them with tough questions right from the get go. You want to have a pleasant talk over a cup of coffee (or a glass of water), learning more about them, telling them more about you, and at the end find whether there’s a match that can result in signing a job contract.
When you sit at the other side of the table (interviewing for a job), you can politely accept their offer, and ask for a glass of water or a cup of coffee. You may find it handy once you’ll deal with tough questions later on during your interview, and feel a need to drink something….
Questions you should avoid at the start of an interview
Let’s have a look at some bad icebreaker questions.
Any questions that are irrelevant, too personal, or difficult (such as scenario based questions or tough behavioral interview questions), should be avoided. To such questions belong:
- How old are you?
- Are you religious?
- What is your favorite ice cream?
- Do you love surprises?
- If you won a lottery today, what would you do with the rest of your life?
- What was your role model when you were a child?
- Describe your most successful sales experience.
While the first two questions are way too personal and may even be considered illegal (discrimination) in some countries, the next three are simply irrelevant (you can ask them in a date, but not in a job interview). The last two questions will make sense in certain interviews, but they are difficult and unexpected, and you should not use them to break the ice…
Conclusion and next steps
Stress won’t help anyone in a job interview. Job candidates should be relaxed in order to deliver their best. When they do not think much about their answers (which happens in a relaxed atmosphere), they have a tendency to talk more genuinely and pretend less.
What’s more, you need a cool head and open mind as an interviewer. Unless you have it, you’ll struggle to spot both major and minor differences between various job candidates, and won’t make the right judgement at the end of the interviews.
One or two of the icebreaker questions from our list should help you set the right tone for the interview, to break the tension (you can still build it later on with some tough questions if you want). Use them wisely.
And if you are a job candidate, try to relax. Icebreaker questions aren’t difficult, and easy answers should help you calm down…
May also interest you:
- How to overcome interview nerves – Learn how to get rid of your anxiety and deliver your best.
- Salary negotiation tips – Get as much as you deserve, or even more.
- How to conduct an interview – A guide for employers.