As a candidate, you may have noticed a trend when interviewing for prospective employment opportunities…that interviews have moved away from traditional company boardrooms, and into the local coffee shop. As a recruiter, I am seeing this more and more– in fact, informal interviews are becoming more common than the structured processes. A number of my candidates are asking me why this is, and what to know – so I felt it was time for a little coffee education!
Why the transition? Most people would have encountered the traditional interview process some time in their working careers- where a Manager delves into your CV; looking at technical knowledge, work experiences, strengths and weaknesses. Nowadays, organisations who work with a recruitment agency, expect that these types of questions have already been answered before they were presented on a shortlist. For this reason, the first candidate-manager encounter doesn’t need to replicate the structured formalities of the recruiter interview, so cue the “coffee meeting”.
Now, the biggest mistake I’ve seen is when candidates mistake this cup of coffee, as no more than simply that – two people sharing a cup of coffee. While the cafes ambiance may have changed the physical environment to informal, it is still very much an interview! Informal interviews allow managers opportunities to understand the candidate’s communication style, attitude, how they handle distractions, and whether they will fit in with the team. Which brings me to my point – it’s actually not about the coffee at all. As a candidate, you are being observed and evaluated even before you have even ordered your flat white so here are some of my tips to prepare for a coffee interview to make sure you are on you’re A-game.
- Know where you are going
If a recruiter has set up a coffee interview for you, there is no harm in double checking the day before there has been no changes to location or time. Getting to an interview late can tell an employer a lot about your personality – not only will it potentially impact the mood of the interviewer and lessen how much time you have with them, it could also indicate poor work ethic, lack of value for other people’s time, or that you fail to pay attention to detail. Plan to arrive 10-15 minutes before the interview, and let the employer know that you are early – this is a great way to stand out for the right reasons! If you do arrive late with a valid reason; make sure you genuinely apologise and explain yourself. If you don’t recognise you have left someone waiting, it can feel insulting to them.
- Know who you are meeting
Linked In is a wonderful tool – so use it! Not only will it give you a profile picture so you know who to look for when you arrive, but it also gives you an insight into their working history; providing many talking points – maybe even a mutual connection! I would also recommend researching the organisation; and not just the company website. Dig deeper – look at industry competitors, annual reports, and possibly relevant news updates. Knowing more about a company you are interviewing for, is never a negative. It shows curiosity and commitment. It will also ignite some interesting and innovative questions for the Manager- helping you stand out.
- What to wear?
Always look professional – and when in doubt, dress up rather than down. I’m not saying a three-piece suit; but it’s certainly not casual Friday attire. I like to tell my candidates to think about what would be office appropriate. The last thing you want in an informal interview, is for your outfit to distract the interviewer from what you are saying.
- What to bring?
Just because you are sitting in a café does not mean you should attend an informal interview empty handed. I always recommend bringing a few copies of your resume, just in case your interviewer has misplaced their copy, or if they happen to bring along an extra interviewer, you can whip out another CV to prevent an awkward share. Always bring paper and a pen as well, in case you are required to take notes. This demonstrates preparedness. I have only ever heard of one case of the “I forgot my wallet” by an interviewer, but for that reason I will also recommend bringing some cash in case of an emergency. It is interview etiquette for the person who invited one to a coffee interview to pick up the tab, but never take this for granted. I also think it is a nice touch to offer at the end to pay, but more than likely they will insist that it is okay. Don’t forget to say thank you! It’s good manners!
- What will we talk about?
The beauty of informal interviews is there is no structured set of questions to get through which allows freedom to ask whatever feels right at the time. Because this can feel very conversational, the risk is candidates forget they are constantly being judged and can find themselves talking about things they usually wouldn’t in a formal situation. Be sure never to find yourself talking negatively about a company, previous manager or anyone for that matter, because you never know how small that circle might be. Keep conversation on a professional level to prevent any unnecessary sharing. These informal interviews, or informational sessions, are an opportunity for an interviewer to tell you more about the company, it’s strategies and the role itself. Take this time to listen carefully, and ask any questions you might have.
- Know your order
Finally, the coffee order. I recently took a candidate out for a coffee interview, and was somewhat surprised when they asked me for an extra-large, extra-hot, non-fat caramel latte with one sugar. Sure, that might be your go-to order for your local barista, but I can assure you, I forgot half of that request while waiting in line. Firstly, I believe there is absolutely no need to order an extra-large. To me, that looks like you are taking advantage of someone else’s wallet. And finally, keep the order simple for the person paying for you – because at the end of the day… this informal interview is NOT about the coffee!
Ashleigh Jones – Consultant