How To Succeed in an Informal Interview
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated 7 October 2022
Published 25 June 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
There are multiple ways employers assess candidates, including informal interviews where they get to know you in a casual environment. Informal interviews give you the opportunity to highlight your natural characteristics and have a genuine discussion about how your career goals could benefit an employer. Understanding how informal interviews work and how to prepare is an important aspect of leaving a good impression and advancing your job search.
In this article, we explain the definition of an informal interview, share strategies to showcase your qualifications and provide tips for conquering the informal interview process.
What is an informal interview?
An informal interview, or unstructured interview, is a casual meeting that employers use to learn about a candidate and assess their suitability for a role at their organisation. Some employers use informal interviews instead of formal interviews, while others incorporate an informal interview before or after a more official meeting.
Informal interviews typically occur at a neutral meeting place like a cafe or a casual restaurant, which allows both you and the interviewer to relax and connect without the formality of being in an office or meeting room. While the interviewer may ask some planned questions to guide the discussion, informal interviews involve natural conversation and encourage applicants to ask their own questions.
Purpose of an informal interview
Since it takes place in a casual setting, informal interviews can provide you and your potential employer with useful insights that you may not have learned in a formal meeting. Some of the primary reasons for informal interviews are:
Saving time: Informal interviews are a quick way for you and an employer to decide if a position is a good match for your skills. You can both save time by scheduling an informal interview during your regular lunch or coffee break.
Assessing culture fit: Many people find it easier to share their true personality in a casual setting, so employers can use informal interviews to determine your ability to thrive in the existing workplace culture.
Discussing multiple roles: If you're interested in working for a specific company but aren't sure which role to pursue, you can use the informal interview to discuss your options in-depth.
Clarifying information: Some employers ask for informal interviews after an official interview in the office to clarify your answers and follow-up about your skills.
Preparing for an informal interview
Even though informal interviews are casual, they still require preparation and planning. Gain confidence before an informal interview by using these tips to get ready:
Verify the meeting place and time
A day or two before the informal interview, confirm the time and location with the interviewer. If you're meeting at a chain or a restaurant with multiple locations, clarify the address to eliminate any confusion. Plan for the day by researching nearby places to park your car or choosing the best public transportation route to arrive on time. Consider browsing the menu before the interview and decide what kind of drink or meal to order and save time during the meeting.
Browse the company's website
Learn more about your potential employer by browsing the company website and social media pages. Study its products and services, company mission, cultural values and community involvement. Use the information you discover as conversation starters during the informal interview. Familiarising yourself with the company's operations may make it easier for you to explain how your professional history and interests relate to the open position.
Research your interviewer
If you know the identity of the person conducting the informal interview, search for information about their job and accomplishments. Browse the company's directory page or search professional social media sites to learn about their role at the company and explore their professional interests. Doing basic research on your interviewer may reveal connections, like going to the same university or contributing to the same professional society.
Reread the job description
When interviewing for a particular role, review the job description to remind yourself about what qualifications and skills you want to highlight. Use the duties section of the job description to decide what aspects of past roles you want to include in the conversation. Note any questions you have about the role's scope or any additional opportunities for the job outside of the job description.
Write a list of thoughtful questions
Informal interviews give you the opportunity to contribute equally to the conversation, so come prepared with a list of questions. Write a list of questions you have about the role, company, culture or environment. Remember that you may only ask a few of these questions, or even think of additional questions throughout the interview. Use the list as a guide instead of a direct plan to maintain the casual atmosphere of an informal interview.
Practice with common interview questions
Prepare for your interviewer to ask questions by searching for common interview questions and practising your response. Responding to sample questions may improve your confidence and help you feel more comfortable talking about your qualifications in a casual interview setting. Ask a trusted friend to conduct a mock interview and share feedback about your answers to improve your interviewing strategy.
Choose a business casual outfit
When getting ready for the informal interview, choose an appropriate outfit for the setting while maintaining a professional appearance. Look at photos on the company website for inspiration about the ideal dress code for the meeting. Start with a basic, clean outfit you might wear in the workplace. You can be more creative with your style during informal interviews by adding an interesting piece of jewellery or choosing a garment with bright colours or interesting patterns.
Related: How To Prepare for an Interview
Bring cash for your food and drink
Since some informal interviews take place in restaurants and cafes, expect to pay for your own order. Some interviewers may insist on paying the bill, but bringing your own wallet and only ordering items in your budget is a good way to avoid any awkward situations.
How to impress during an informal interview
Use these steps to navigate an informal interview successfully:
1. Use active listening techniques
Informal interviews are a great opportunity to engage with an interviewer one-on-one and build a strong professional connection. Use active listening strategies like making eye contact, asking clarifying questions, paraphrasing the interviewer's thoughts and waiting for an appropriate time to share your own opinions. Show active listening through your body language by facing the interviewer, nodding occasionally and smiling.
2. Ask for the interviewer's perspective
Engage the interviewer by asking about their professional perspective. The relaxed environment of an informal interview may encourage the interviewer to share inside knowledge and genuine opinions about their employer. Try asking questions about what they love about the company, why they chose their career path and what they do on a typical workday. Giving the interviewer an opportunity to talk about themself is a great strategy for finding common interests and highlighting aspects of your experience that they might appreciate.
3. Take notes
Bring a notebook to write down any important details you learn during the informal interview. Informal interviews may be a good time to ask for professional advice or request recommendations for career resources, so it's important to be ready to record that information. Use shorthand to document key details quickly without interrupting the conversation.
4. Connect the conversation to your experience
Casual conversation is a normal part of an informal interview, but remember to connect the discussion to your professional qualifications. If you and the interviewer get distracted by a different topic, think of how you can relate the subject to your work history, career goals and professional interests. Staying focused shows the interviewer that you're passionate about the role and use the interview time efficiently.
5. Show your personality
Express your genuine personality during the informal interview to show the interviewer how you could contribute to the workplace culture. Be friendly, use humour and tell stories about your life to relate to the interviewer on a personal level. Be mindful of what's appropriate to share in a professional setting and focus on expressing your most positive characteristics.
What to do after an informal interview
Following up after an informal interview shows initiative and expresses your interest in the role. Use these tips after an informal interview to follow up:
Send a thank you note promptly: Write a physical note or send an email soon after the informal interview. Sending a message quickly shows that you take initiative and pursue your goals.
Reference the highlights of the conversation: In the note, mention a part of the informal interview that you particularly enjoyed. Discussing interview highlights may remind the interviewer of your qualifications and encourage them to consider you as a serious applicant.
Confirm your interest: Explain that the informal interview confirmed your desire to work for the company. Include a sentence describing what excites you about the opportunity and how it matches your career goals.
Ask a question: Use the follow-up to ask a question and encourage the interviewer to respond. Inquire about the next steps in the application process or ask the interviewer to share more information about a topic they mentioned during your meeting.
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