Many of my friends are on the job hunt right now. Their resumes and cover letters are scattered all over my desk (yes, in this instance, I prefer the archaic approach of pen-in-hand editing). As they’re memorizing career milestones and pulling all-nighters to learn every nuance about the hiring company, they’re overlooking a crucial component in the interview process—building rapport.

A key element of all successful meetings is our ability to build rapport. Our connection with others shapes our personal brand identity and defines how others interact with us in everything from a conversation to project deadlines. With so many demands on our time, we strive to maximize efficiency. Who has time for small talk anymore? However, taking just a few minutes to chat with someone may actually lead to better results than getting straight to the point and avoiding niceties.  Considering the fact that most people make emotion-based decisions, your connection with someone will likely influence them. So, ask yourself: How well do I connect with and engage others?

Whether you’re preparing for an interview or having a meeting, three “secret” skills will keep you at the top of your game and leave a lasting impression. Why are these skills “secret”? Because they are so simple and yet often forgotten when we get caught up in pushing our own agendas from basic things like making a good impression to securing a multi-million dollar sale.

Research

As you’re unearthing every last detail about your dream job or a project, remember to investigate the people who will be meeting with you. A quick Google or LinkedIn search can give you a little insight into who these people are and the type of work they do. This gives you the chance to customize questions.

When you’re in the meeting, take a couple of seconds to assess the person and their environment. Can you spot a picture of the person coaching a team, a vase of fresh flowers, an exquisite piece of jewelry or décor? There is usually a story behind these elements and that gives you a starting point for creating both dialogue and a connection. Use these clues as a way to spark small talk, but avoid the trap of being disingenuous. Rapport building only works if your words and actions show that you care about what the other person has to say.

Listen

You’ve spent hours preparing for a crucial meeting. You’re confident that you know exactly what to say when confronted with any question. But knowing the right messaging is only half of the puzzle in effective communications. Listening is the other. This yin-yang approach will help you keep a conversation flowing and is more effective than asking a string of unrelated questions about the company. Listening isn’t just a straightforward audio skill; it’s also about perception. Listen not only to the content of what others are saying but also be perceptive of how they say things. If they give curt replies, stare absentmindedly through a window, or aren’t interested in speaking about a certain topic, shift your questions to the company and that person’s responsibilities in it. Relate to their experiences by sharing your own similar lessons.

Connect

The key to a successful meeting is getting people to feel that they can work with you. In the case of  a job interview, the hiring manager needs to feel that you’d make a valuable addition to their teams. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you hire you? Remember, a hiring manager needs to do more than just fill a role with someone who has fantastic expertise. It’s their responsibility to hire a team player who will be a great fit for the organization. Pleasant, flowing conversation is just as important as selling your experiences in an interview.

A full scope of preparation for meetings will keep your nerves in check and facilitate dialogue with anyone. Remember, there’s no such thing as small talk; conversations lead to connections. Keeping rapport building top of mind will help you stay calm, cool, collected, and–most importantly—confident.

Read more about building rapport and its impact on our physiological response in “Neuroscience Confirms Rapport.”

(Photo by Bill Strain)