Depending on the industry you’re trying to join, you may sometimes find yourself being asked to an informal interview with the hiring manager and other members of the team. Informal interviews most often take place outside of the office. Sometimes they’ll happen at coffee shops, while other times you might even be invited to a bar.
The good news: you wouldn’t be called to this type of interview if you weren’t a fit for the job. The hiring manager now wants to find out if you’re a good cultural fit for their team. The bad news: these types of interviews can be tricky, especially if you take them too seriously (or not seriously enough!).
Here’s how to make it through an informal interview, and have a fun time doing it.
Prepare as you normally would - with a twist
Preparing for an informal interview should be done in the same way that you would for any other interview. Be ready to talk about yourself, your work, and your experience. Research the latest news and blog posts from the company to be up to date on conversational topics. Find out as much as you can about your interviewer(s) beforehand by reading through their social media profiles.
If you’ve already gone through a formal interview with that company, most of the prep you’d need to do should be simple. The big difference in an informal interview is that there’s a chance none of these topics will come up. You may not be asked about yourself and your work experience. Your interviewer may not want to talk about work at all. They may just want to sit down and have a nice, friendly chat with you.
The twist to preparing for an informal interview is to get yourself out of “interview mode” and into “social/casual chat mode.” You’ll be expected to be sociable and personable. You’ll be expected to lead and contribute to conversations, even if they aren’t about your qualifications. You won’t be judged on your resume as much as about what type of person you are.
This is your chance to show your personality and even make new friends with your prospective boss/co-workers. Aim to make show them that they’d be glad to see you in the office every day.
You still need to do your prep to make sure you can properly articulate your skills and can talk about the company’s latest initiatives. Just be aware that the conversation may never broach those topics.
Adjust your etiquette expectations
You may (naturally) expect interviews to always be formal affairs where you need to dress up, look the part, and speak in a polite and professional manner. Unfortunately, falling back on this mindset in an informal interview can actually hurt your chances at landing the job. This is all about cultural fit and they’re not looking to see you at your most rigid.
The one pattern you can always fall back on: follow the leader. Match the interviewer’s tone in conversation. Listen for clues as to the type of conversation Do, however, aim to stay professional at all times. The informal setting isn’t an excuse to make crude jokes, curse, or be rude. This can leave a sour impression on your interviewer. Don’t test the boundaries of a workplace in this informal interview -- just relax the boundaries of formal interviews you’ve previously had.
If you’re at a bar, your interviewer might order a beer and ask you if you want one. It’s not a test. Go ahead and have a drink with them, so long as you keep it reasonable and know your limits. If you don’t drink, that’s fine too. Just get another drink and don’t make a big deal out of it. If they offer to pay, take them up on that offer.
A final thing to keep in mind is that you should dress for the context and the venue. Going to a pub or coffee shop in formal business attire for an informal interview leaves the wrong impression. A good fall-back option when you’re not sure how to dress is business casual, which is suitable in most settings.
Have fun with it
Informal interviews are supposed to be low-stress events. You’re not being judged for your potential as an employee. At this point, you’ve probably passed that test. Instead, it’s about whether or not you’d be a cultural fit and someone most people would get along with every day. Aim to have a fun time with your interviewer, as you would with any other professional you may have networked with in your job hunt.
After all, this type of meeting isn’t just a chance for the interviewer to get to know you. It’s also a chance for you to get to know them. Culture fit works both ways, and an informal interview is a great way to figure out if you’ll actually enjoy working with the team you’re trying to join and find out what your potential boss is like outside the office.
As long as you show your personality, have a good conversation, and learn as much as you can about your interviewer, you’ll have a good time of it.