Let’s do coffee – How to Tackle Informal Interviews

We’ve practised questions and answers, researched the business and got our suits dry cleaned only to receive a call from HR / recruitment services asking us to attend an informal meeting with the hiring manager. Suddenly, we feel unprepared and unsure about how to handle a meeting in Costa or Starbucks tomorrow at 8:30am – what to do!?

Don’t panic for a start – an informal interview is certainly nothing to worry about but equally it is not something which should be treated as informal either. I have often pushed back on hiring managers asking why choose an informal meeting over the traditional approach. I have heard a few replies from: issues over time (heavy diaries mean meeting outside the office and office hours), interviewers wishing to escape the office for a change to testing candidates in a less formal environment. As the format of such interviews is perceived as “let the conversation flow” – it could be a test to see how you lead a conversation which isn’t so daunting but keep in mind that you also need to ensure you are entering core skills and experience into the dialogue too. Culture fit is generally a key driver to informal interviews – by taking you out of the formal environment the hiring manager may be trying to understand who you are, what your personality and sense of humour is like. Will you get on well with the team or stick out like a sore thumb?

Always treat these types of interviews like a test – if you prepare for the worst you can cover all bases and ensure you gain the greatest success:

  • Do not assume the interview will actually be informal just because the surroundings are; prepare your questions and answers as you would for competency based interviews.
  • Careful what you order!! Coffee houses are great but I have known candidates order strong coffee and be bouncing off the walls in the interview. Be sensible or avoid caffeine altogether and order decaf.
  • Be prepared to be distracted, the downside to coffee houses and hotel lobbies has to be the noise and the hustle of people coming and going. For this, you must keep focussed on the interviewer – remember this may be a test!
  • Make sure you have the mobile number of the interviewer in case you cannot see him/her when you arrive – especially first/last thing in the day as there will be a great deal of smartly dressed people at peak periods.

Don’t let the informal setting get in the way of asking some good strong questions – make sure you leave the meeting knowing if this is the job for you or not. It is not unreasonable for you to ask to see the offices at some point in the process too – it is important that you get to see where you could potentially be spending 8 hours a day, so if an offer is extended post interview – ask.

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