9 Icebreakers That Every Recruiter Can Use

February 26, 2016

As a recruiter, a big part of your job is quickly connecting with people.

When you go to an industry event, you have to be able to strike up a conversation with someone, and turn them into a prospect. When you interview someone, you have to cut through the formalities quickly and get to the candidate’s core. And, when you onboard a new hire, you have to make them comfortable with their colleagues fast, so they can start producing right away.

To do that, you are going to have to have a better line than asking how much a polar bear weighs… (enough to break the ice).

Don’t worry, we are here to help. We’ve compiled a list of some of the world’s best icebreakers that are perfect for the three situations recruiters face the most.

Three icebreakers for meeting someone at an event

Let’s say you are at an industry event or conference (or just about any other networking situation) and want to strike up a conversation with a potential prospect. What do you say?

Here are some good opening lines:

1. Ask for advice about the event

People love it when you ask them for advice: It makes them feel important and that they are helping someone. And, even they don’t know the answer, generally the person is happy to laugh about that and is willing to learn with you.

So, if you go to a conference or a networking event, ask a person if they’ve been there before and what they recommend. It is an easy, riskless way to start a conversation that can segue into other topics.

2. Ask the person what they thought about a certain speech (or anything)

In the same way people enjoy giving advice, people enjoy giving their opinion. So, after a talk, ask someone what he or she thought of it, for example. Or, if the location is somewhere exotic, ask a person what they’ve liked most (or least) about it so far.

3. Ask them what motivated them to come to the event

Here’s a particularly interesting one, because it tells you a lot about the person quickly. There’s a chance they might explicitly say, “Because I’m looking for a new opportunity”, which allows you to talk about what you can offer right away. But even a more generic answer should lead to conversation.

Icebreaker for onboarding sessions or meetings that keep everyone involved

A good way to start any onboarding session or group interview is with some activity people can do together. Yes, it might be cliché, but it gets people comfortable and it increases the energy of the room.

One tip is avoiding people going around the room and saying the most embarrassing song on their iTunes, or something along those lines. All that does is lead to a bunch of people quietly figuring out what they are going to say and impatiently waiting their turn, while one person talks.

Better icebreakers are:

4. Guess who?

Games are better, because they get everyone involved at the same time, instead of the spotlight being on just one person.

A good one is Guess who. Everyone writes one fact about themself (preferably an unusual or interesting fact) and puts it in a hat. You then pull them out of the hat randomly and the team has to go around and guess what person they think did what.

5. Two truths and a lie

This is somewhat similar to Guess who. Basically, everyone writes down two interesting facts that they actually did, and one that they didn’t do. Each person then reads their three statements aloud and the rest of the group has to determine the lie.

6. Find the person

Create a nametag for everyone in the group, but hand them out randomly, so people get other people’s names. Then, everybody has to find the actual person the nametag belongs to and interview them. Once everyone’s finished, people introduce the person they just interviewed to the rest of the group.

Icebreakers for interviews: Start with easier questions first.

This is probably the most important. Our research indicates the quality of the interview experience has a dramatic effect on if the candidate will actually take the job or not. So, you want to make the person feel comfortable quickly, which ensures a strong interview experience.

With that in mind, here are three good icebreakers for interviews:

7. Tell me about yourself.

Incredibly generic, right? That doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.

By asking this question and actually listening to the answer (so long as it doesn’t go on forever), it should make the candidate feel comfortable. It should also provide you with some valuable insight into their accomplishments.

From that, you can start asking harder questions that relate directly to the role. But it is better to save those until the candidate is more relaxed, so they don’t feel like they are being interrogated right off the bat.

8. So, why are you interested in this role?

Again, a relatively simple question that gives you some valuable insight into the person’s personality and what they prioritize. A person who did any research should have an answer, which should allow them to comfortably sink into the interview.

9. Tell me about what you do at (company the person is working at).

Here’s a personalized question that shows you’ve done some research of your own, which is always flattering to the candidate. As a bonus, it helps you understand how their current role relates to the offered job.

What these nine icebreakers have in common: They aren’t about you.

There’s one universal theme with all the icebreakers listed: They are about the other person or people, not you.

The worst icebreakers are ones that revolve around you. For example, going up to a person at a conference and telling them your opinion about a speaker or going up to them at a networking event and telling them why you went there. All that’s going to do is make a person feel like you are talking at them, instead of with them, and it is unlikely to lead to a conversation.

Instead, make it about the other person. That’s going to vastly improve your chances of building a relationship with them. 

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