Job interviews are an effective way for employers to find out more about prospective candidates and it is highly likely you will be asked to attend an interview during your job search.
This article will help you to navigate your way through an informal interview, give you the key things to consider and show you how to prepare.
Unlike the traditional interview, an informal interview is more relaxed and is usually favoured by employers who prefer a more casual working atmosphere. Sometimes called an unstructured interview, this will normally be a two-way conversation rather than a set of structured interview questions.
It could take place outside of the office, over coffee or even lunch. It could happen before a more formal interview takes place to get a feel for how you may fit into the company, or it could happen at the end of the process, to help the employer decide between two equally qualified candidates.
The dress code could be less formal and the setting more relaxed. There will be more give-and-take in the conversation, and more opportunities for the interviewee to ask questions.
Informal interviews have advantages for both the interviewer and interviewee:
Generally, applicants are more relaxed, so the interviewer is able to see more of the candidate’s personality. This helps them to gauge whether or not you would be a good fit in the company.
For the interviewee, it allows them a bit more breathing room. They can relax and focus on what they want to say without feeling like they are being tested. The back-and-forth conversation allows the interviewee to talk at length about what they feel they could bring to the position, and how they would be an asset.
Sometimes, informal interviews are used when there isn’t an actual job on the table but the employer or recruiter wants to see what kind of talent is out there. Maybe the employer has a rough idea of a new role that it wants to implement and wants to chat to prospective candidates to help settle on the exact job description.
The informal interview could also take place at the end of the interview process, and might just be a series of negotiations about a job offer.
Though there are many good reasons to choose informal interviews, it may simply fit the culture of the employer better than any other type of interview.
Remember, even if you’ve been invited to an informal interview, it is still an interview. Fight the urge to relax too much and don’t speak too freely. The interviewer is not your friend, they are someone that you potentially want to work for.
They are only interested in what kind of fit you could be for the company and what skills you would bring to the team.
Remember, at an informal interview you will be expected to contribute fully to the conversation. Take this opportunity to present yourself in the best light and lay out what you think your strengths are, and what you would bring to the company.
Try to be personable, warm and friendly. If you are nervous about making conversation, prepare lots of questions that you can ask to fill any awkward silences.
The structure of a two-way conversation will highlight any gaps in your knowledge about the company or the role. Make sure you have done your research. Find out everything you can about the company, the position and the industry in general, so that you can talk about them confidently.
Unlike a traditional interview, it is highly likely that you will be invited to order food or coffee when meeting outside the office. The interviewer will likely offer to cover the cost of any meals or snacks, but bring money with you just in case.
Consider carefully what you order. Remember, you aren’t there to have a three-course meal, just enough to be polite. Focus on the conversation and not your food.
No matter how informal your chat may seem, it’s a good idea to keep your interview under wraps from your current employer. Wait until things are more certain before letting them know.
An informal interview requires just as much preparation as any other; in fact, it may require more, as you may be out of your comfort zone and will be expected to hold your own in the conversation.
Here are some key tips to help you feel relaxed and prepared on the day:
- Do your research. Just like any other interview, check out the company you are meeting with. Does it have any current problems? Does it seem to have a high turnover? How many office locations does it have? What is the company culture like? Check the company website or business news to find out as much information as you can. If possible, speak with someone who works there and drop their name into your conversation.
- Confirm your location. This may go without saying, but how many Costa Coffee locations are there really in the UK? And while you may think there is only one in the neighbourhood, there may be more. Nothing could turn the interview south like sitting at the wrong coffee shop waiting.
- Plan what to wear. Deciding what to wear to an informal interview can be tricky. A formal business suit is easy but might be too much for more casual workplaces. Shorts and a polo shirt won’t work either. Go for a business casual look with smart trousers or skirt and a nice top.
- Bring copy(ies) of your CV and make sure it is current and up to date. Don’t forget copies of your business cards too, plus some paper and a pen for notes.
- Be prepared to sell yourself. You will have plenty of time to talk, so be prepared to outline your strengths and skills with key examples. Also, be prepared to fill any awkward silences that may occur.
Although the tone will be more conversational, generally, the same interview questions will be asked at an informal interview as would be asked at a formal one.
After all, the goal is still the same: the interviewer wants to find out as much as they can about you and how you might fit into the position or company.
Some of the typical questions to anticipate are:
- "Tell me about yourself"
- “What do you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses?”
- “Why do you want to work here?” or ”What attracted you to this job and/or company?”
- “Where do you see yourself five years from now?”
- “Why are you leaving your current job?”
- “What do you know about what’s going on in the industry right now?”
Because the interviewer is also looking at your personality, you may anticipate some behavioural questions as well:
- “Tell me about a time you received criticism, how did you handle it?”
- “Tell me about a time when you feel you gave more than 100% to the job?”
- “Tell me about a time you encountered conflict, how did you resolve it?
Because the interviewer may not have a set job in mind, you should also anticipate questions such as:
- “What are your career goals?”
- “What type of role are you looking for?”
- “What would the duties of that role be?”
- “What are your salary expectations?”
- “Where do you see the future of the industry going, and what kind of roles might come out of that?”
Because an informal interview is more relaxed, it offers you more opportunity to ask your own questions. Try asking questions throughout the chat to help you contribute more to the discussion.
If there is not a formal job on the table, it is to your benefit to ask all the questions you can to further clarify the role.
Try to ask as many open-ended questions as you can, rather than ones that require only a yes or no answer.
Here are a few questions to try:
- “What about my CV made you want to meet with me?”
- “What is the work culture like at your corporation?”
- “What would the day-to-day duties of the role be?”
- “What opportunities for advancement are there?”
- “Are there, or will there be, opportunities to work remotely?”
- “What can you tell me about the people I would possibly be working with?”
- “Where do you see the company in the next five years?”
- “What are your expectations of this role within the first few months?”
- “What do you like best about working for this company?”
- “How do I compare to other candidates you have met?”
Informal interviews are commonly scheduled at the end of the recruitment process, so you should be prepared for the possibility of receiving an offer of employment on the spot.
If the offer is unexpected, it is possible that you may not know how to react. Here are some tips:
- Make sure you express your pleasure and thanks, but do not rush into acceptance. It is your right to take the offer home and think about it for a few days before making a decision.
- Be careful with an abrupt offer, especially if the job has been open for a while. They may be looking for anyone to fill the role and it may not be one you’re compatible with. Always take the time to make sure the role is right for you.
- Also, make sure that the offer comes with the salary that you are looking for – and that this is agreed before you sign on the dotted line.
- Ask a few more questions about why they have offered so quickly. Try to find out if there is something unique about you that prompted the offer. If you haven’t already, ask if you can see the company’s offices, meet some of the other employees and get a sense of what is required for the role. You want to make sure it’s the type of place where you can see yourself working.
In the end, it is to your benefit to take a few days to look things over. Any employer worth working for will understand this.
Ultimately, an informal interview should be prepared for in much the same way as a traditional interview. Although it will have a more relaxed feel, location and dress code, make sure you are prepared and have done all of your research.
Bring your CV and business cards, keep the dress business casual and be prepared to talk, not only about yourself but about the company you are interviewing for and the current job market.
Keep all of these ideas in mind and you should be prepared for whatever your interviewer throws at you.