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Do Icebreaker Interview Questions Break The Ice or Break Your Chances?

Updated on June 11, 2014
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Icebreaker Interview Questions

Or are they?

One of the most common things I hear from my coaching sessions and time as a Recruitment Consultant (and from friends too!) is that candidates were confident that the interview went well as they felt relaxed from the beginning due to building a rapport with the interviewer and found them friendly. In fact, when I ask for feedback prior to the outcome, this is the single most common thing discussed right away. While sometimes that equalled a successful outcome; more often than not, it set them up for failure in the early stages.

Why?

Surely it is great to fit in right away and have some common ground? Not necessarily.

What can be deemed as icebreaker type questions can either be transparent or unfortunately lull you into a false sense of security so unless you are Mystic Meg’s protégé or biggest rival then keep your guard up as a precautionary measure.

So, what’s the point of this style of questioning? Well, some interviewers may simply want to put you at ease. If that’s the case; all good! They may just want to buy some time while they are rifling through paper work or gathering their thoughts from the previous candidate, they may not be as prepared as they would like to be so are therefore stalling and breathing (breathing is good!), they may be aiming to build a rapport with you or (and in my experience, most likely) their questions are more loaded than a premier pizza and they have hidden meanings.

Regardless of the agenda, icebreaker questions allow the interviewer to see how you could potentially engage with customers, colleagues and supervisors so what may seem like small talk could actually have a more serious aim.

Really?

Yup! Ok; let me give you some examples.

“Tell me about you.”

Ok, crikey! What does that mean?

Before you deeply analyse this or any of the following questions, the absolute rule of thumb is keep it professional and relevant to the company or role to which you are applying.

It’s acceptable to talk about your career background, your aspirations or what led you to apply for the position but keep it brief. If the interviewer wants to know more then they will ask more questions.

Avoid rambling at all costs and keep your lips sealed even if you are desperate to let the interviewer know that you own four dogs, three cats, a rabbit and two budgies plus a penchant for playing dangerous sports at weekends.

Your prospective future Boss might be an adrenalin seeking animal lover but your shared passions won’t necessarily make you the best candidate for the job.

The trick with all interview questions is to plan and practise what you are going to answer to a point where you sound natural and unrehearsed. There’s a very high chance that you will be asked about you so at least have something up your sleeve.

The story you tell should demonstrate at least one key behavioural strength that can be transferred to the new role in some way so it’s acceptable to talk about anything outside of work that shows strength of character or key qualities and attributes such as integrity, determination, loyalty, working as part of a team and so forth. Just be careful on your decision; being Chief Bridesmaid on a Hen, booze cruise, long weekender may not be the best option to show off your stamina and organisational skills.

Whatever you choose to say; keep it truthful. Don’t claim you can bend it like Beckham when in reality you kick a ball like a toddler. You’ll be kicking yourself (and be a tad red faced) if your new boss hails you as the next star player in the company 5-a-side team.

If you haven’t got a great introduction or are unclear about how to answer; ask the interviewer which aspect of your background they would most like you to talk about.

Avoid falling into the trap of reciting your CV or resume. Not only is this boring but some interviewers find it irritating as they have already read your application several times in preparation.

Throughout this book there are plenty of questions that have several variations however the answer you give could be the same or tweaked slightly. It’s just a matter of trying to decipher what the interviewer actually wants to know and how best to answer in a good quality, professional way.

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“How was your journey?”

Another common icebreaker style question with other variations which may include;

"Did you find us easily?"

"How did you get here?"

"Have you travelled far?"

Four seemingly different questions there but all the interviewer is really asking is:

"Can you get here on time every day, easily and be reliable?"

You may be wondering why on earth the interviewer doesn't just ask that then. Unfortunately, not everyone feels comfortable being so direct. Strange but true.

Nonetheless, thinking about all the different options and arrangement of questions during your preparation is a good strategy to adopt to minimise being caught off guard. If you can plan for a wide range of questioning then you will feel more in control and confident from the outset.

“How was your weekend?”

Variations on the theme include:

"What are you doing this weekend?"

"How do you spend your free time?"

"Tell me about your hobbies and interests"

What is the interviewer really asking?


"Can I rely on you to be here every Monday morning or will you be calling in sick?"

Maybe I sound cynical and maybe the interviewer is genuinely interested in your personal life but I doubt it and in any case, your success at interview will be due to your ability to perform the role better than any other candidate and not how interesting your life is.

I said a moment ago, keep it truthful and of course that is a golden rule however it is acceptable to just say “good, thank you” or “I’m just planning a relaxing one” rather than divulging any information that can cause the interviewer to assume your character and ruin your chances of success. You may like to read my article on Questions an Interviewer Should Not Ask as this could well be one of them!


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The Interview Starts Immediately

Whatever questions you are asked no matter how innocent, laid back or informal they may seem, remember that you are on show from the second you step inside the building where your interview is being held.

Never underestimate any question posed to you and at all times keep each and every answer professional and work related.

Finally, the interviewer may well be nervous or inexperienced so icebreakers could be more beneficial to them!

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