Tie or trainers? Handshake or high five? Informal interviews can be tough to gauge. We would advise that you treat it like any formal interview…
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 interview which is often competency based and sometimes in front of a panel! Because of this, candidates usually feel a lot more relaxed and confident, but its 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. Not all companies use informal interviews, but those that do tend to use them to observe a candidates personality in the more informal setting, to see whether they would fit into the culture of the organisation. Informal interviews may be used at the start of the selection process, as a way of making a short list of candidates to invite to interview or an employer may even invite you to this type of interview 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. These meetings could actually tell the recruiter a lot more than you realise, so here are some tips on the best way to approach informal interviews.
Prior to the meeting
As with any formal interview it is essential that you are prepared, firstly, read and re-read your CV so you are able to speak freely and easily about it during the interview. Depending on how informal the interviewer decides to make the meeting he/she may/may not have a copy of your CV so its essential that you know it off by heart. Secondly, read the job description and identify how your skills, achievements and experience can be transferred into the role you are applying for. Thirdly, do some research. Review the company website, Google your interviewer (check out their linkedin profile if they have one) and speak to friends and family. Finally, make sure you look smart. First impressions count, so it is essential that you look the part. A suit may not be necessary for some roles (marketing/creative type positions) but err on the side of caution, its better to look too smart than under dressed!
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 organisation. 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. 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.
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.