INTERVIEW CENTER

The Best Way to Approach an Informal Interview

by Matt Kirkman

It's easy to see why many candidates prefer informal interviews. They often take place outside of the office, sometimes over coffee or lunch, and they are generally a lot less stressful than a full-on face to face meeting. Because of this, candidates usually feel a lot more relaxed and confident when it comes to this type of interview, but it's important to remember that they are still part of the selection process. Whatever you say and do during these informal conversations will still have an impact on whether or not the interviewer decides to invite you to the next stage, or offers you a job. These meetings could actually tell the recruiter a lot more than you realize, so here are some tips on the best way to approach informal interviews.

Why do some companies prefer informal interviews?

Informal interviews are very different to the classic face to face meeting between you and a recruiter. Not all companies use them, but those that do tend to find that candidates are a lot more relaxed, which makes it easier to observe their personality, and whether they would fit into the culture of the organization. Informal interviews may be used at the start of the selection process, which is often the case if a company isn't actively recruiting, but is always keen to have conversations with very good candidates who they may be prepared to create a role for. Or, it may just be an indication of the way the business is run. A lot of modern companies with entrepreneurial management teams are quite laid back in the way they do things, and interviewing new recruits is likely to be no different.

An employer may even invite you to this type of meeting at the end of a formal selection process, which often happens if they're keen to offer you the position, but have a few final questions or details they want to discuss. They might not be able to offer the salary you're looking for, but still want to try and convince you to join them, or they might want to change the role slightly to better suit your skills. Alternatively, they may just want to reassure themselves that you're interested in this role for the right reasons, if it was a step back in salary or responsibility for example. Whatever the reason behind it, informal interviews generally make it easier to have these kinds of conversations, which is one reason why they're popular with many employers.

During the meeting

Most candidates would agree that sitting in a coffee shop or a restaurant with an interviewer, or just having a more informal chat in a company's offices, is a much nicer way to be interviewed. It's true that not having to answer a whole range of questions that are being fired at you could seem easier, but it can mean the interview lacks structure and doesn't have the usual flow of a more formal meeting. It also means there are less obvious opportunities for you to discuss your strengths, so informal interviews do require you to be a little bit more proactive when it comes to making sure the recruiter knows what you have to offer.

These types of interviews are more like conversations, which means you have to contribute as much to them as the interviewer does, especially if you want to make sure they leave with the impression that you would make a positive contribution to their organization. Be prepared to take more of a lead than you would in a normal interview situation. A good way to keep the conversation moving, and to find out more about the interviewer and their business, is to ask some good open questions that require fairly detailed answers.
  • What's the business's plans for the next 12 months?

  • What are the major challenges at the moment?

  • How do you see someone like me fitting into the organization?

  • What is it you enjoy about working at the company?

An even better approach is to link your question to something they have already said, or some of the research you did before the meeting. For this reason, it's important that you prepare as well for this type of meeting, as you would for a more formal interview process.

  • "You mentioned that business was quite challenging at the moment, how has that affected the company's plans for the next 12 months?"

  • "I noticed in the news that the CEO was talking about growing the business over the next 5 years, how is the company planning to achieve this?"

Despite many candidates thinking that the informal interview is actually a much easier alternative to the more formal selection process, it is still an interview, and will require some effort on your part if you want the meeting to go well. If you approach it right, you should be able to demonstrate that you have the experience and qualities that would make you a valuable employee; and the more relaxed setting should also allow you to find out more about the person who could soon become your boss, and what they might be like to work with.

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