This week I’ve decided to revisit a topic I know well: awkward smalltalk. Specifically, I am excellent at awkward smalltalk because I either refuse to engage in it (“So, what are you studying in college?” “Politics.” “Oh?” “Mm.” “Okay…”), but I also know the quickest ways to ask the most important questions. For this edition of how to use smalltalk and seemingly unimportant questions to quickly get to the heart of any matter, even if they make the answerer cringe, I focus on something I’ve been doing more and more of: job interview questions.
Now, the interview process is already generally an awkward experience. The interviewer is trying their best to find out about the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and the candidate is doing their best to make sure the interviewer thinks they are a flawless human being. In an effort to streamline this process for the interviewer (and any candidate who is asked these questions), I bring you How to Make Awkward Smalltalk: Interview Edition.
1. So… Bacon?
Anyone who’s anyone has an ardent opinion on bacon; that smoky, salty meat is the king of a carnivore’s dreams and the bane of a vegetarian’s existence. Opening an interview with “So… Bacon?” immediately makes them take a stance and defend their position. Do they love it? Hate it? Do they think there would be peace in the Middle East if they could just eat bacon? Regardless, this question forces someone on a side and makes them tell you about their core values.
There is only one true failing answer to this question — though if someone told me they didn’t like bacon during an interview I would make them leave my office with any shred of dignity they could muster — and that is by not having an opinion. If someone can’t solidly think about and reflect on the godliest of meats, how could they ever be a good employee?
2. How would I look in a cravat?
This question is incredibly difficult to navigate for a potential employee; not only does it address their ability to balance honesty with tact, but it is also a good way to judge their tastes. If someone says you’d look “God awful!” you know they’re crazy because – let’s be honest here – that cravat would look pretty snazzy. If they say you’d look “Sooo great!” they’re a suck up, and you don’t just want another yes man.
The one way to correctly answer this question – to show tact, honesty, and good fashion sense – is to say, “I think you’d look good, but it depends on the color.” Not only do they acknowledge your good looks, but they show they can think beyond the initial problem and address other issues, like whether it would clash or not. It takes a truly exceptional candidate to weave through all the aspects of this difficult situation and come out a victor.
3. What do you find appealing about the Amish lifestyle?
Quite unlike bacon, the Amish are often overlooked, to the extent that when you mention them a person might stare off blankly for half a second and try and remember what that word means. Immediately, this means that inquiring about the Amish requires them to have a good ability to recall facts quickly. If they say, “Who?” Bzzrt! They’re out! No passy for them! Other disparaging remarks, etc.
The second benefit to this question is it requires them to stay positive, no matter their true feelings, and focus on the goodness in another group. It also shows you a candidate’s ability to BS, as they might find no redeeming qualities in the Amish lifestyle but can’t answer that or they face metaphorical career flogging. Overall, this question is the most powerful way to end an interview, as it is a strong barometer of their ability to recall facts, stay positive, and make stuff up.
Job interviews are always hard, and they are always awkward. Hopefully this guide will help you make the process a little bit easier, a little more straight forward, and a lot more awkward. Good luck.