Informal interviews can be tricky.
But by preparing in advance, performing well during, and following up smartly after the interview you can increase your chances of getting that new job.
Let’s look at what makes an informal interview different and how you can make sure you secure that job offer.
Let’s dive in to our informal interview tips…
What Is an Informal Interview?
An informal interview is a meeting that typically takes place in a casual or neutral setting, such as over coffee or lunch. In theory, this allows for the ‘real’ person to shine through.
Whilst the setting and environment is different to that of a traditional interview, the aim is the same. The interviewer is looking to assess whether a candidate is a good fit for the role and the organization.
It’s also a chance for the interviewee to assess whether the role, company and manager are a good fit for them.
Interviews are formal affairs for candidates to present themselves in front of one or more interviewers to answer questions and show why they are the best person for the job.
But informal interviews rarely have the same structure as a formal interview. They are more conversational in nature, as opposed to a traditional ‘question and answer’ format.
Whilst there may be some generic interview questions (e.g. “Tell me about yourself” and “What do you know about our company?”) the tone will generally feel more casual.
Structured questions, such as competency-based questions, are generally not employed in informal interviews. These are usually employed in a more formal interview.
Why Do Some Companies Prefer Informal Interviews?
There are many different reasons why companies and recruiters choose to use an informal interview format.
Here are 6 possible reasons why:
1. It allows candidates to perform at their best
By using a more informal setting and style, candidates tend to be a bit more relaxed than in a formal interview.
This makes it easier to observe their natural personality. It also helps interviewers assess whether the candidate would be a good fit for the culture of the organization.
Interviewees often feel less like they are being ‘grilled’ or tested. The conversational nature gives them more chance to talk about what they could bring to the position and how they would be an asset to the company.
This, opposed to than simply answering structured questions in a formal interview.
2. It matches the company culture
Many companies make a significant conscious effort to create a culture that feels laid back and entrepreneurial.
Think of FinTechs or start-ups, or the likes of Google and Facebook as examples. The informal interview can just be a reflection of the way the company operates and behaves.
3. The hiring manager doesn’t have approval to hire yet
Managers may know that a role is going to become vacant, or a new role is going to be created, but it isn’t formalized yet.
They want to get a jump start on the recruitment to hire as quickly as possible once approval is secured.
They use the informal interview to get through early stages of the selection process without stepping out of line with the HR department.
4. Recruiters are building their client base
Recruitment agents, particularly those operating at executive level, often use informal interviews as a way of building their database.
They are simply getting ahead of the game, so they have candidates ready to propose to hiring managers immediately when asked.
5. Lack of office space
At some companies there may not be suitable office space available in which to conduct a formal interview.
In noisy environments (factories for example) there simply may not be an appropriate space to use, hence a more informal environment.
6. The role is not fully defined yet
Employers can choose the informal interview route when there isn’t an exact job defined, or the specifics are not yet finalized.
By meeting with strong candidates, employers can tailor the exact responsibilities and expectations for the role to suit the candidate. Or indeed create a completely new role.
This is more common in smaller, flexible organisations or where the candidate is exceptional.
When Do Informal Interviews Take Place?
It is common for informal interviews to take place at either the start of a selection process, or at the end.
At The Start of The Selection Process
Informal interviews at the start of a selection process are often used as a filtering mechanism.
This weeds out unsuitable candidates before progressing successful candidates to the formal stages.
Rather than be called an ‘interview’, these conversations may be described as ‘exploratory conversations’, a ‘casual interview, or a ‘meet and greet interview’.
At The End of The Selection Process
Conversely, informal interviews take place at the end of the selection process after the formal stages.
At this stage, they can help a hiring manager decide between equal candidates based on their cultural fit.
Sometimes the company really wants to hire the candidate. An informal interview can be used by the hiring manager as a way of ‘selling’ the role in a way that a more formal interview cannot.
For example, the informal nature can show a certain type of organizational culture.
The informal interview can also be used at the end of the selection process if there are sensitive topics to discuss.
For example, the company may not be able to meet the candidate’s salary expectations but want to convince them anyway.
Or perhaps the manager wants to verify your motivations and interest in the role to assure themselves that you’re committed.
Before the Informal Interview
Although an informal interview may be less formal, it is still a key part of the selection process so you want to prepare accordingly beforehand.
Here are some key considerations:
Plan Your Logistics
You have been given a meeting time and place. How long does it take to get there? What route will you take? What transport will you use?
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the meeting location so you don’t have any last minute issues struggling to find the place.
Consider your travel arrangements for getting there. Plan some contingency into your travel times to allow for traffic, train delays, etc.
It may sound silly, but you may also want to plan ahead on how you will recognize your interviewer!
You may never have seen them before so you should arrange a specific way of knowing how you will recognize one another.
You could confirm the exact location you will sit (e.g. on the table in the corner by the window) or what you will be wearing.
What Should You Wear To An Informal Interview?
Even though this is an informal interview, your attire should be a little smarter than you think might be necessary.
Being overly dressed is never a problem – if anything it demonstrates that you’re keen. But being under-dressed can be a problem and can hamper your chances of success.
So go for business casual, unless there is a specific way of dressing in your industry.
Consider whether the outfit would be suitable in the office of the company you’re applying with – if so, then it’s probably ok for the informal interview.
What To Bring
For meetings in person, you should arrive equipped with:
- Notepad and pen, including a spare pen, so you can take notes if needed. Whilst it’s an informal conversation, there may still be things you want to make a note of.
- Hard copies of your resume.
- A positive attitude!
Do Your Research On The Company
Make sure you have researched the company so that you are fully aware of what they do.
Understand what services and products they offer, where they operate, who their competitors are, etc.
You can find most of this information on the company website, and their social media accounts.
If it’s a well-known company, chances are that there will be news coverage about them.
Have a read through recent news articles to see if there is any information you can use in the interview. Have there been any major announcements or controversies that you should be aware of?
Using LinkedIn, you can see if you know any existing employees of the company. They might be able to provide you with insight on the company, the team, or the role that you couldn’t get from the company website.
Knowing people in the organisation can also be a useful talking point during your interview, especially if they are common connections with your interviewer.
Understand The Job as Much As You Can
You may have had sight of a job description ahead of your conversation, so make sure you are well versed in the expectations of the role.
This will help you talk about out your relevant skills and qualities during the conversation.
Although the informal interview is a way to find out more about the role, there may be a limit to how much you can know in advance.
Match Your Skills and Experience To The Job
Take some time to consider what your key skills are, and what some of your key achievements are. List them out so you can see them all together.
Now highlight the key skills and achievements that are directly relevant to what you know about the job.
For each of the skills or achievements, think about and write down a specific example you could talk about to show that skill or achievement.
This way, when the interviewer asks you to talk about a specific skill they are looking for, you are armed with a specific example that is a direct match.
…And Align Your Personality To The Company Culture
You should have a feel for the culture within the company. You can see how they describe it on their company website. You can also read online reviews from current or ex-employees to get sense of the type of workplace environment you would be joining.
Armed with that knowledge, present yourself in such a way that you align with that corporate culture. Many organizations take great pride in their culture identity, and they want to make sure new hires will be a good fit.
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t be yourself. You absolutely should. But lean more towards your personality traits that align with the company culture.
And if you find that you cannot or don’t want to align, then that’s a sure fire sign that the job is not right for you anyway.
Prepare To Shine
As with any interview, you will need to sell yourself and prove what you can bring to the company.
Based on your research of the company and the role, prepare some ideas of what you could bring to the company should you receive an offer.
Related Article: The Interview Strategy Used By Only 1% Of Job Candidates
What To Do Upon Arrival
In a traditional formal interview, you arrive at the company’s offices and meet the hiring manager or check in at reception. In an informal interview, you are likely to be arriving at a public place.
It’s best to arrive early; 10-15 minutes in advance is reasonable. Try and find a decent sized table in a quiet place so that you have enough room and can hear each other talking.
Go ahead and order a drink for yourself if your interviewer hasn’t arrived yet. But don’t order food if you are going to be eating with your interview – wait for them to arrive before doing that.
Ideally you should sit somewhere with a view of the entrance so you can see when your interviewer comes in. That way, you can greet them with a smile, stand up to shake hands and introduce yourself.
The initial few exchanges will likely be small talk to help break the ice.
For example, you or the interviewer may talk about the journey, the weather, or the place that you’re meeting in. Choose anything simple to help ease you both into conversation.
See our tips on making a good first impression in an interview.
During the Informal Interview
Once you’re settled and have finished with small talk, you will start getting down to business.
Here are some top tips for making sure the conversation goes well:
Listen Closely and Actively
Pay close attention during the conversation and really listen to what is being said.
Show that you are actively listening and engaged. Nod your head, smile, and saying things like “ok” or “that’s interesting” at the appropriate moment.
You can also show that you’ve really been listening by referring back to something that your interview has said earlier in the conversation.
Take a Lead Role in Making the Conversation Flow
The lack of a formal structure in an informal interview means there is more emphasis on you to help the conversation flow naturally.
You should contribute fully to the conversation, from start to finish.
Your interviewer will ask questions that need a direct response from you. But you should also ask open questions to the interviewer (that they can’t answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’).
Open questions encourage expansive answers without you asking specific questions to extract information.
Try to be friendly and personable so that you can build a rapport with your interviewer. Acknowledge what they are saying and respond with something that adds to it.
To prevent awkward silences, you can fall back on your preparation and talk about some of your key skills and experiences.
You can also ask questions of your interviewer to help keep the conversation flowing. We provide some example questions you can ask later in this article.
You can also use the ‘Conversation Loop’ (see diagram below) to keep the conversation flowing:
What Questions Will You Be Asked at An Informal Interview?
Your interviewer will ask similar questions those asked in a more formal interview – just in a more relaxed tone and manner.
You may get asked some of the following questions, or similar variations:
- “Tell me a bit about you outside of work”
- “How would other people describe you?”
- “What motivates you?”
- “Why do you want to work for us?”
- “Why are you looking for a new role?”
- “What do you think the key challenges are for our organization or industry?”
- “What are you looking for in a career?”
- “Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?”
A skilled interviewer won’t simply ask you these questions as if reading from a list. They will weave them into the conversation in a natural style.
It is unlikely that you will get asked competency-based questions. These are typically used in formal interview situations.
Questions To Ask at An Informal Interview
Informal interviews are often used at the early stages of a selection process, or when a job description is not finalized yet.
So this is a good opportunity to ask questions to understand more about the job.
- “What would the main duties of the role to be?”
- “What does success look like for this particular role”
You can also ask questions to understand why the company wants you, or how they best envisage using you and your strengths.
- “What was about my resume that made you want to meet with me?”
- “How do you see me fitting into the team / organization?”
You should also ask about longer term plans for the company, the team and your manager – and therefore what that means for your career too.
If you can link this to something you picked up in your research, or to something the interview said earlier in the conversation, even better.
- “You mentioned earlier that the business environment is quite challenging at the moment. How has that affected the long-term plans for the company?”
- “I saw in the news that the company was in hot water with the regulator recently. How has that changed things internally?”
If things are going particularly well, you may receive a verbal offer right there and then!
If so, you should show excitement and enthusiasm, and of course say ‘thank you’.
But exercise your right to have some time to process the conversation you’ve just had and say you need some time to consider the offer.
If there are still areas to be finalized, such as salary and benefits, then definitely take the time to receive the additional information before accepting any offer.
Watch What You Say
Even though this is an informal interview, it’s still an interview, so you need to keep your guard up and be careful what you say.
As in a formal interview, you should never fall into the trap of saying anything negative about your current or former employer or company.
Be careful not to talk about anything confidential or sensitive from your current job as that will show that you can’t be trusted with confidential information.
Some recruiters may try and gain more information from you such as names or contact details of other people in your company.
Refrain from sharing too much and keep the conversation about you and the role.
As the interview comes to an end there are a couple of things to consider:
Be clear with your interviewer about what the next steps are. You should agree a timescale and a method for the next communication.
Will the interviewer call you? Email you? Or will the HR team get in touch?
Paying The Bill
Normally your interviewer will pick up the check. You should still offer as a courtesy to pay at least half, but don’t be too insistent if your interview offers to pay.
And remember to thank them!
After The Interview
After your informal interview, it’s good practice to follow-up with an email. Here’s what you should include:
Start by saying thank you for the meeting, and how nice it was to meet them.
Promote Your Interest
Reiterate your interest in the company or the job that’s available.
Address Any Reservations or Reinforce Your Strengths
You may have picked up on reservations that the interviewer had during the conversation. Or you felt there were topics that you didn’t cover particularly well.
The follow up email is your last chance to address these.
Equally, if you have relevant strengths that suit the role, you can reinforce these in the email to remind the interviewer when they read it.
Clarify Your Understanding of Next Steps
You should have agreed the next steps during your conversation. Use your follow up email to clarify your understanding of these so the interview can either correct or confirm in their response.
Proofread Before Sending
Make sure to proofread your email before sending to check for any grammatical or spelling mistakes. Double-check you have used the correct name, including spelling of the name.
Use the same name as they have used when signing off any emails to you. For example, their full forename may be ‘Nicola’, but they sign off their email with ‘Nikki’. You should use ‘Nikki’ in your email to them.
Send Within 24 Hours
Send your email as soon as you can after the interview, ideally within 24 hours.
Ultimately, you should approach an informal interview very much in the same way as a formal interview.
Research the company and the role, dress appropriately, and bring a pen, paper and copies of your resume.
Contribute to the conversation to help it flow. Bring out your strengths and emphasise your interest in the company.
Follow up afterwards to reinforce your strengths, address any weaknesses, and confirm next steps.