Informal interviews are becoming increasingly popular with Hiring managers and with candidates. In a market where there are so many job seekers, informal interviews can help improve the quality of the pipeline for the formal interview process. An informal interview can also be helpful for a candidate to decide if there is a good fit and if they want to enter the more formal interview process.
Why do hiring managers use informal interviews?
Informal interviews enable hiring managers to get a more genuine sense of candidates, which can sometimes be veiled by their resumes or the formal interview setting. In a relaxed environment, both people can have an honest conversation and determine if there is a mutual fit. This informal conversation allows the hiring manager to get a foundational picture of the candidate's personality and assess interpersonal qualities like personality, communication style, and fit with the company's culture in a low-pressure environment. A study by HBR suggested that:
"initial impressions (derived as quickly as in five seconds of interaction with a stranger) allow a person to have a rough but nevertheless partially valid idea about another individual’s personality, trustworthiness, and intelligence."
Informal interviews offer more flexibility to explore topics organically, unlike traditional interviews. Hiring managers can ask situational questions and gain insight into how candidates think on the spot. They allow more time to evaluate enthusiasm and interest in the role and company culture in a two-way dialogue. The more casual environment of informal interviews enables candidates to express themselves and their critical skills more naturally.
Also, informal interviews can be a screening step to decide who progresses to formal interviews. They help narrow down candidates efficiently when there are many applicants. By getting an early read on who may be a personality and culture fit, hiring managers can focus formal interviews only on the most promising candidates.
Why do job seekers benefit from informal interviews?
Many job seekers try to reach out to hiring managers directly in hopes of getting an informal interview or "coffee chat" before applying for an open position. There are several reasons why building this connection can benefit candidates through the hiring process.
Firstly and most importantly, an informal interview enables a candidate to get their foot in the door and start building a relationship before the formal recruitment process begins. By being proactive and getting time with the hiring manager first, the candidate can build familiarity and have a chance to make a strong first impression. This can give them an advantage over applicants who just submit resumes and wait to hear back. If the hiring manager feels the informal interview went well, they may look upon that candidate's application more favorably and get them moving forward more quickly. Having already connected with the hiring manager can give the candidate a head start.
Also, getting their foot in the door early and asking for an informal interview allows ambitious candidates to differentiate themselves from their competition. Hiring managers are often overwhelmed with applications from candidates; a candidate who reaches out for an informal interview chat appears to be deeply interested in the company's role, as opposed to being the candidate just applying to their job role among hundreds of others. When a candidate goes above and beyond to ask for time with the hiring manager, it suggests strong motivation and genuine interest in that position. Showing the initiative to ask for an informal interview can set them apart as someone willing to work harder to get hired. This catches the hiring manager's attention.
But there is also an advantage in having an informal interview, for the candidates to assess if they want to proceed to formal interviews. The candidate can fact find insider details about the role, the team, and company culture that are not included in the written job description. This gives them a casual feel if they think they will be a cultural fit for the potential employer. A standard hiring process can include take-home assessments, multiple rounds of interviews, and technical tests. Before they even begin the application process, they can get a better sense if how they are aligned with the Manager personally and professionally.
Is an informal interview a good sign?
Yes, most hiring managers won't feel compelled to meet you outside of a formal interview. So, if they've decided to meet you outside of the formal setting, this suggests your profile is already of particular interest to them. It's unlikely that a hiring manager will meet with all potential applicants for an informal chat interview, so you can assume that you are already higher in their consideration set than others. Obviously, you'll still need to go through the standard recruitment process before they make the final decision, but an offer to meet you in a coffee shop or another casual setting should be a good sign.
Is an informal interview an interview?
Not in the truest sense. Most companies wouldn't consider the evidence an interviewer gathers in an informal interview admissible when deciding to hire you. Most companies will only use the information they collect in the traditional interview. Primarily, not all candidates that go through the recruitment process have a casual interview. To include information gathered at the casual interview would mean not all candidates would share the same amount of opportunity to secure a job offer.
How should I prepare for an informal interview?
You'll find a wide range of informal interview tips on the internet. Because by definition, there are no typical questions, you'll need to prepare for anything. Be ready with specific examples of projects or relevant topics the interviewer might be interested in. Make sure you have researched the company website to understand as much as possible about their corporate goals and company culture. Prepare thoughtful questions so the interviewer knows you have invested time in your preparation and are curious and data-driven. Be prepared for open-ended questions, where the interviewer will expect you to talk in some detail.
If you find yourself unable to answer any of the interviewer's questions, don't worry. Just be honest; tell them you don't know, but you will have found out when you meet them again. This offers them a good insight into how you'd deal with a similar situation in a work environment.
Research the interviewer
An effective informal interview starts by building a good relationship and it can help by knowing a bit about the person you're meeting in advance. Understanding a bit about the person you are about to meet can help with your confidence and how relaxed you are.
Career coaches and voices will suggest you use this research to find common ground with the person you're meeting so you can foster a deeper connection. This is, in fact, leaning into the well-known cognitive bias of similarity bias or the "similar to me effect". Be careful how you employ such tactics. Most Hiring managers are aware of the advice floating around the internet and are on the lookout for candidates trying to manipulate them.
Be prepared to discuss long-term career goals
Because informal interviews are usually open discussions, they often stray into the territory of your long-term career goals. Having nothing to say when asked one of these typical interview questions is never a good idea. You don't need to have a rock-solid view of where your career journey needs to take you, but a few thoughts about the direction you want to head in are worth sharing in the conversation. Having no good answers about career goals could make you appear disinterested or unconcerned. We advise avoiding such situations by capturing some clear answers before the interview.
What are some impressive achievements you've had?
A hiring manager will be interested in whether your accomplishments demonstrate how you can help their business improve. They also want to know the impact of your past business successes on your previous employer. So review your career journey, identify significant achievements, and choose a couple that aligns with the job description. Have that ready to discuss should the Hiring Manager ask a relevant question.
What to wear to an informal chat interview
It is essential to dress appropriately as you would for a formal interview. Just because it's an informal chat, doesn't mean you shouldn't try to reflect the company culture in your attire. Most companies these days tend towards business casual but rather than assume it's a better idea to reach out to someone already at the company (you can use LinkedIn) and ask for their guidance. You can also check out our blog article on What To Wear At A Job Interview. But whatever you're wearing, you must make eye contact and smile.
What questions should you ask at an informal interview?
Don't forget that an informal interview is also a chance for you to gather information to judge if you're interested in the role and the work style of the manager and company. So, go armed with a list of thoughtful questions.
Here are some you could consider:
- What does a typical day or week look like for someone in this role?
- What qualities make someone successful on your team?
- What opportunities are there for professional development and growth?
- What tools and resources are provided to help exceed targets?
- What challenges has the team or company been facing?
- How does the role contribute to larger company goals?
Informal interviews can form a critical part of landing a job offer. If they are offered or if you can secure one, you'll be at a significant advantage over other candidates. So prepare for an informal interview with as much seriousness as you would a formal interview.
Now check out our Ultimate Guide To Phone Interview Success