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Informal interviews, or coffee chats, are increasingly common. Employers sometimes initiate informal interviews before they have the specifics of a position or when they are interested in a particular person.
Even though it sounds less taxing than a formal interview, and the interviewer is likely much more affable in the informal interview invitation, you should still take it seriously. An informal job interview allows the employer to observe your personality and communication style. So being well prepared for them will do you good in the long run.
The difference between a formal and an informal interview is mainly their environments, styles, and structures. Formal interviews usually take place in professional settings and focus on your knowledge and experience of a subject matter. You are usually expected to dress in a certain way.
On the other hand, informal interviews aim to understand a candidate’s attitude, personality, and communication style in a casual way. Informal chat interviews are more relaxing.
Informal interviews are often conducted in a casual context, such as over lunch, at a coffee place, or an online chat. It also allows, if not encourages, open discussions. Still, formal and informal interviews share the same goal: to assess whether you are suitable for a company.
Benefits of accepting an informal interview invitation:
Perhaps you have several more interviews coming up. An informal interview provides a great opportunity to practice for more traditional interviews since an informal interview is much more friendly and less stressing compared to a formal one.
Informal interviews are often conducted when the employers like your background but currently do not have a perfect role for you. In this case, an informal interview might lead to unexpected career opportunities in the future, such as taking on entirely new roles or switching to an unfamiliar industry.
Even if you’re not ready to switch roles, you are still meeting with a recruiter in the informal job interview. You can even ask for a connection on LinkedIn or stay in touch to let them know what you’re up to if the informal chat went well. This is a nice way to expand your professional network.
Needless to say, an informal interview might bring you a potential offer, if the recruiters decide that you are an excellent fit for their company and have a perfect role for you now.
In some cases, they might even offer a job on the spot or shortly after your informal interview. In these situations, express your excitement and appreciation, but don’t feel pressured and obligated to accept it right away in the informal interview.
📝 Note: An informal interview and an informational interview mean different things. An informational interview refers to chatting with professionals that aims to understand more about an area or a role of interest. It’s not an interview for a job role, but more about career exploration.
Preparations for formal and informal interviews should be equally thorough, despite their difference.
Here’s your informal job interview preparation checklist:
Since the purpose of this informal interview is still to determine if you and the company are right for each other, it’s crucial to have a more in-depth understanding of the company. Understand its services, products, challenges, missions, and competitions.
This way, you can save time that would otherwise have been spent on that information that can be gathered through desktop research.
Read the job posting and description, if there is one, carefully and analyze it before the coffee chat interview. Understand its responsibilities and required skills before your informal interview.
If there are no particular job postings you are discussing, you could think about what you have to offer to the company.
Review your resume to discover relevant skills and experience that make you the most competent candidate. Don’t hesitate to share specific examples of your accomplishments in your informal chat to demonstrate your value in the interview.
In addition, reflect on your career goals to understand how this job role aligns with them. It would be helpful in the informal chat interview to decide if you’re a fit for the company.
Make sure you can answer these basic informal chat interview questions.
Be ready to discuss your short and long-term career goals in your informal chat interview. If you are very interested in the position or company, you should explain how your goals match the company’s mission.
The advantage of taking an informal chat interview is that you get to ask more questions to spark your conversation. During the coffee chat interview, the interviewer can observe the questions you ask to know you better.
There’s no need to dress in overly professional or formal interview attire for your informal interview. Depending on how casual it is, you can dress accordingly for your informal job interview. Business startup or smart casual is the ideal outfit for your informal interview. Do keep your shirts and pants unwrinkled.
*If the informal chat interview is conducted online, make sure your background isn’t distracting.
If you’re meeting in person for the informal job interview, keeping your resumes and portfolios handy will help make your discussion smoother. If you want to showcase your portfolio or projects on your laptop during the informal coffee chat interview, make sure it’s fully charged.
Even though it’s an informal interview, you should still pay attention to what you say. You might be tempted to speak as freely as you like, but the interviewers might take notes and evaluate your professionalism based on what you say.
As a result, don’t speak negatively about your colleague or complain about your current position in the informal interview, even if the interviewer seems friendly.
Also, don’t share irrelevant personal stories. Stick with the professional topics to make sure your “informal” job interview still demonstrates your professionalism.
The recruiters will foot the bill for your informal interview. There’s no need to offer to pay for the informal job interview. However, you can express your gratitude for the meal or coffee.
It’s essential to follow up after informal interviews, especially if you feel that you’ve had a pleasant conversation. Moreover, if you'd promised to provide the interviewer with any materials or documents afterward, don’t forget to include them in your following email.
You can send it within 24 hours after the coffee chat interview to show your interest and address the interviewer’s any possible concerns, that were not addressed in the informal interview.
In informal interviews, asking questions is usually welcome. You can seize these chances to clarify if you are interested in the company and the job.
🔑 Key Takeaways:
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--- Originally written by Wu Chao Min ---