What comes to mind when you think of a job interview? Corporate suits, glass office block, boardroom table, panel of interviewers?…How about a skinny decaf cap and a blueberry muffin?

Sometimes employers use less formal interview settings such as coffee shops, most often for convenience but also to see how you come across in a less formal environment. Have you ever been invited for an “informal chat” or to “meet for a coffee”? Ever wondered what to wear, how to act, what to expect? Long story short…it’s an interview.

Now it may not be as formal and structured as what you might expect from a “normal” interview, but no doubt about it, it’s still an interview and you should prepare and act accordingly.

Save the weekend clothes for the weekend

Already picked out the “informal chat” smart jean and blazer combo? Saving the suit for the “proper” interview? Think again, this is the proper interview, treat it as such and put your best (smart shoed) foot forward. What if there is no second meeting to show off your professional wardrobe and they are left thinking that you would turn up to work or client meetings in your off duty casual clothes?

Wear your interview hat

Have your competency answers, company research and questions for the interviewer prepared. You may not have the job spec at this stage if the initial meeting is less formal, but don’t be afraid to ask for one ahead of the meeting, it will show that you are keen and interested and will help you to prepare.

Have your competency based answers ready

If it’s suggested by the employer that the job will be discussed in more detail at the meeting and job specifications will be sent at a later stage, at the very least you can prepare a few common competency based answers. For example “tell me about yourself” and real life example scenarios that show evidence of the key skills that you have mentioned on your CV. Have your own questions ready for the employer, the interview is the opportunity to get more information on the job, it’s not just you that is being interviewed, you should come away from the interview with more understanding of the role and what is expected of you.

Having your competency based answers prepared is a valuable and versatile tool. It is just as important for this type of interview setting as a traditional interview. If you have been asked for an “informal chat”, the interviewer is unlikely to bring out a clipboard of structured competency based scenario questions complete with rating system. However, they will still want to discuss the key competencies required for the role. For example they may ask “so, have you had much experience of working in busy environments with a lot going on at one time?” which, is a more casual tone than “tell me about a time when you had to work in a challenging environment with conflicting deadlines” but be sure of it, rather than answering “yes, loads” and nodding agreeably between sips of your latte, you should be recalling your competency answer and…you guessed it….telling them about a time when you worked in a challenging environment with conflicting deadlines… and in what role.

What’s it all about?

Essentially, the employer still wants to know your skill set, gain first impressions and gauge if you will be suitable for the role. They are definitely not meeting you just because they fancied a coffee and a chat.

First impressions still count here

In terms of dress, conduct and communication skills, including non verbal communication; handshake, eye contact and smile, they are all important. As they say, you don’t get a second chance at a first impression – so make it a good one, don’t hold back for the “proper” interview.

Arrive early as you would for a traditional interview, check first that the interviewer has not already arrived. You can be proactive and secure a table – a good spot where there is an element of privacy and not in a busy thoroughfare. Keep an eye on the door so that you can see the person arrive. If you have never met the interviewer, look on the company website or LinkedIn to see if you can find a photograph so you have an idea of who you are looking for! If you are meeting in a venue with waiting staff, you can inform them that you are waiting for someone to join you, this way, they have an idea of where to direct your companion if approached.

To eat or not to eat?

You can follow the interviewer’s lead on this. However, avoid if possible as that will be an extra thing that you have to worry about; trying to give your answers between mouthfuls of flaking croissant is no easy feat! If it’s specifically a breakfast, lunch or dinner meeting then of course eating is expected and assumed, and allowances will be made accordingly for pauses in between conversation to eat.

So who buys the coffee?

You should always be prepared to pay for your own and make moves to do so. However, if the employer offers to pick up the tab, it is perfectly fine to accept with thanks.

Leave on a high note

When the meeting has come to an end you can say your usual goodbyes (hand shake and thanking them for their time etc.). It may be good to take the opportunity to stick around and “catch up on emails” to let the interviewer leave first. If you are leaving together you may consider walking in separate directions (save the awkward walk to the train station or car if you have nothing constructive left to say). You don’t want your great first impression to be dampened by a lacklustre extended departure. You can follow up with the usual thank you email later in the day.

Just to add to the confusion

“Informal chats” do not necessarily have to be in informal establishments. What if the employer invites you to their office for a “chat”? – The premise is still the same; they want to see a quick overview before a more structured interview. So again, go prepared!

Just Remember

Informal does not necessarily mean casual in this circumstance. These types of meetings are still part of the recruitment and selection process. Hey, it may be the only part of the process, so make it count – that phone may ring with a job offer sooner than you think!

 

Hilt offers interview training, including other alternative interview styles such as video interviews and assessment centres. Visit wearehilt.com for more information. Don’t forget to download the FREE Guide to Competency Based Interviews.

 

 

 

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