How to chit-chat during interviews

Most interviews involve at least some time outside of a ‘formal interview’ setting.  For vet school, this may be during a campus tour or a lunch.  For internships and residencies, this may be during the hospital tour or as you are getting set for the formal part.  Some programs may have a lunch period for chatting.  For faculty positions, a lot of the time is spent in non-formal interview settings.  The formal interview occurs when you meet with administrators and, depending on the format, other faculty members.  For socially adept, comfortable, smooth people, I have little to say.  For the other 95% of us, here are some ideas and suggestions.

  1. “What do you like about working/going to school here?”  This is good because it gets you potentially helpful information, provides an opportunity for the others to do most of the speaking and, importantly, keeps things positive.
  2. “Where in town do you live?”  Again, this provides helpful information for you to make a decision on the institution and may help you when you search for housing.  People like to share about their houses, and it helps get you acquainted with the area.
  3. “What are the students/techs like here?”  Almost every university has its own ‘culture’ of students, and that is nice and helpful to know for those wanting to be at that university.  Cultures of students may include descriptors like, “respectful”, “difficult”, “combative”, “engaged”, “curious”, “go-getters”, etc.  For private practices, asking what the techs are like will reveal similar information.  Descriptors of techs may include “pleasant”, “easy to work with”, “helpful”, “sometimes difficult”, “curious”, “new”, “seasoned”, or “combative.”
  4. “What’s it like to live here?”  This will provide you insight into what the culture, work/life balance, and general vibe of the place is.  It keeps things positive and allows the people with whom you are speaking to carry the conversation.
  5. “What do people do for fun?”  This should give you information about entertainment and hobby options, and people love to talk about their own hobbies and interests.  It may also help you determine your fit- if the answer is “going hiking!” and you are more of a homebody, it may not be as good a fit as if the answer were, “people do lots of crafts at home.”

As a general suggestion, ask open-ended questions and ask questions about the people with whom you are speaking.  People typically like talking about themselves.  If they ask you questions, don’t be evasive, but be sure to turn the question back at them.  For example, if you are asked, “What pets do you have?”, answer the question, possibly with some embellishments, then turn around and ask that question of them.

When in doubt, be genuine and honest, be interested and engaged, and try not to worry too much.  If there is a lull in the conversation, don’t freak out.  Go for one of the suggested phrases above and get things rolling again.

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