This article was named a Top Job Search Blog Post for 2020 by JobMob.co.il. It was originally published here.
By Nissar Ahamed
Although designed to be casual, some candidates find the uncertainty that comes with the unstructured nature of informal interviews intimidating and daunting.
This comprehensive guide will explain the informal interview definition and why employers use it, present the difference between formal and informal interviews, and outline the advantages of disadvantages of informal interviews.
We will also walk you through booking an appointment by sending an informal interview request email and share the most common informal interview questions and answers that will help you prepare if ever you’re scheduled to undergo one.
Because it also requires the same level of preparation as a formal job interview, it pays to learn a couple of informal interview tips to help you ace it and take you another step closer to landing the job. Additionally, we will go a bit more in-depth and guide you in following up after the interview.
We will also teach you how to be prepared and take the right approach if ever you’re offered the job on the spot.
What Are Informal Interviews?
Nowadays, it’s becoming increasingly common for recruiters to go beyond traditional job interviews and calm candidates’ pre-interview nerves by inviting them to an informal interview.
The most straightforward informal interview definition is that it is an unstructured interview type that happens in a casual setting outside the office. Usually, the interviewer will invite you to grab a coffee or have lunch in a local cafe or restaurant.
Compared to traditional interviews where you get invited over to their office, it should ideally be more relaxed and less stressful for both you and the interviewer. Instead of a typical Q&A session, you can expect it to be more of a conversation.
When it comes to this interview type’s objectives, it is like any other job interview. It gives interviewers a chance to get to know candidates better and allows candidates to learn more about the organization they’re looking to join. Drawing from these new insights, both sides can evaluate if they’re a good fit.
What is the Difference Between Formal and Informal Interview
While there are various methods and job interview styles, it boils down to two main types: formal and informal interviews.
A formal interview is the traditional job interview approach wherein there is a list of predetermined questions designed to dig deep into candidates’ skills and experiences and how they think.
This is commonly conducted when many candidates are interviewed for a position, and a comparative evaluation is necessary. This works best when hiring for a highly technical role where there is more emphasis on hard skills than soft skills.
On the other hand, an informal interview is characterized by an open conversation where candidates are encouraged to let their guard down and show who they are. By taking a peek into a candidate’s personality, it becomes easier for the interviewer to assess if the person is culture fit.
This unstructured form of interview works best when hiring for non-technical positions that require less defined skills. A candidate’s suitability for management positions that involve soft skills such as the ability to lead meaningful conversations can also be gauged through informal interviews.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Informal Interviews
It is essential to know the advantages and disadvantages of informal interviews to understand how it can help with the selection process and be aware of the downsides that come with it.
Advantages of Informal Interviews
One of the main advantages of informal interviews is that it is flexible and comfortable. Because it flows more like a natural conversation than a one-on-one Q&A session, it establishes a warm and personal connection between the interviewer and the candidate. When rapport is established, both parties will be more relaxed and open up more during the interview.
Because informal interview questions are delivered in a very spontaneous way, it serves as a practical method to learn the candidate’s real intentions and competencies. It also allows recruiters to evaluate communication skills as it is more like a free-flowing conversation.
Meanwhile, candidates can ask questions about the company, which can’t be answered by merely doing internet research, and only someone from the inside can shed light on.
Because the whole process is highly interactive, both the candidate and the interviewer can pivot to new topics and ask for clarifications on unclear answers and doubts. The result will be more clarity and a thorough understanding of both sides.
Disadvantages of Informal Interviews
Due to the unstructured and casual nature of informal interviews, one of the advantages is that it can be time-consuming. Although the interviewer can lead the conversation towards a particular direction, side stories, and branch questions that may arise are unpredictable and can make the interview longer. Sometimes, the interview process’s real purpose may be lost due to irrelevant topics.
Because each candidate will be asked different questions, a comparison between candidates can be incredibly difficult for the interviewer. Sometimes, this inconsistency may lead to unintentional bias during the assessment or even discrimination.
Furthermore, there is a good chance that confidential matters will be touched during the interview. With this, it is essential to set boundaries and decide on theinformation that you are comfortable disclosing.
In turn, you must be cautious of the questions that you ask the interviewer about the organization. Although the interview is more of a friendly conversation than a formal meeting, it should proceed without tackling official company matters and other irrelevant topics too personal.
Why Employers Use Informal Interviews
Formal job interviews where candidates will be asked to come over to the office to meet personally with the recruiter and other relevant organization officers are the classic interview process. If this is what many companies use for years as part of the candidate selection process, why do some companies prefer unconventional, informal interviews?
One reason for this is that employers find that applicants tend to be more relaxed during this kind of interview. When people feel at ease, they will tend to show their real personality, and it will be easier for the interviewer to assess if the person would be a great fit for their company culture.
Although this type of interview is usually done before the formal job interviews, employers may invite candidates at the end of the formal selection process. This happens when they are keen to offer you the role, but have a couple of final questions about you or details to discuss.
In some instances, they just want to know more about you to ensure that you’re interested in joining the company for the right reasons. The use of informal job interviews is an indication of how they run the business. Modern companies led by people with an entrepreneurial mindset are quite laidback compared to traditional firms and have unconventional ways of doing things.
How to Book an Informal Interview Email
Typically, recruiters initiate job interviews. However, requesting for an informal interview can make the difference in your job hunting.
You’ll meet new people, share your skills and expertise, and unlock opportunities that you may not gain access to just by checking job boards and waiting to get invited for an interview.
It is not a secret that it is challenging to ask busy professionals to carve out time for you. However, most recruiters and business leaders are willing to share their time with job seekers if you approach them the right way.
One of the best ways to do this is to send an informal interview request email, as it is a non-disruptive way to reach out. Below is a guide on how to book an informal interview via email and increase your chance of landing the meeting.
1. Keep the Email Short and Concise
As mentioned earlier, you’re reaching out to busy people. So if you send a lengthy email that looks like a novella, it will most likely be ignored or just skimmed through.
Keep your letter as brief as possible with straightforward language.
2. State clearly why you’re reaching out
Don’t beat around the bush. Indicate why you’re reaching out at the start of the email.
It is also important to discuss why you’re emailing the person in particular. When people feel that it’s intended for them and not just anyone, they will most likely be willing to help. It would make them feel like they’re contributing to something meaningful.
Instead of just saying, “I’m interested in learning more about your company and applying for the open position,” mention why you’d like to reach out specifically to them. For instance, you could say, “I saw your article on LinkedIn and was inspired by your ideas,” in addition to “I saw your company’s job posting”.
3. Provide a Quick Background About Yourself
Give them a reason to agree to meet with you. Be upfront about yourself by giving them a short introduction or background about you.
Take the time to research the person you’re dealing with and try to find your common ground. For instance, you could say, “We both were in the same business event.” or “I noticed we graduated from the same university.”
Showing that you made an effort to research about them would make them want to chat with you.
4. Be Flexible With the Schedule and Location of the Meeting
Always remember that they’re doing you a favor. So don’t demand that they leave work for an hour on a specific day to meet you, especially if you’re reaching out to someone you’re not close to.
The best practice is to indicate a general window on when or where you’re hoping to meet them, but leave it up to them to decide on the exact time and place. This will show them that you respect their time and try to make it as convenient for them as possible.
In your email, you can say things like: “I would be grateful to have 30 minutes of your time for a quick chat sometime next week.” and “I am available to meet you wherever is convenient for you.”
Include Your Updated Resume and Linkedin Profile
By attaching your updated resume or including your LinkedIn profile URL for them to review, they will get a sense of who you are and your professional background.
Aside from giving them context for the meeting, it can also save your time during the interview because they already have an idea of your career history. Alternatively, you can add links to your professional portfolio or your website if you have one.
5. Personalize Your Subject Line
The subject line is a crucial element of your emailas it determines if a person will open it or not. As mentioned earlier, people tend to respond favorably to personalized emails.
With this, it is recommended to put some thought into your subject line and add a personal touch. For example, it could say, “Read your article on LinkedIn and would love to connect.”
Although there’s no such thing as a perfect email that will land you that meeting, following this guide can put you in a better position for that yes.
Also, don’t forget to send a Thank You email the following day if you’re successful in booking an informal interview.
Here are some examples of informal interview request email that you can use as a basis in creating your own:
Email Template 1:
Hi (name of recipient),
I hope all is going well!
I saw your LinkedIn post about your company’s open position for a (role). I’ve also heard a couple of good things from my friends who have had the opportunity to work for your company.
At present, I am exploring my career alternatives and considering a career change. Working as a (current role) at (current company) for (number of years) has been an awesome experience, but I’d like to expand my horizon and learn new skills.
I hope to learn more about (skills you want to know, the industry you want to join, or whatever your goal is). With your role as a (job title of the recipient) and your involvement in the hiring for the (role) position, I would like to request us to get together for a nice little chat about the role, your company, and my potential suitability for the role.
I believe I have much to bring to the table. My updated resume and portfolio are also attached to this email for your review.
If you have some time to spare in the next 2 weeks, it would be great to meet for a cup of coffee or even lunch or dinner at your preferred place. Kindly provide me a couple of date/time options that would work best for you, so we can find a time to connect.
Looking forward to getting a favorable response. Hoping to meet you soon!
Email Template 2:
Dear (name of recipient),
I read your blog post about (topic) on (website or platform) and was inspired by your ideas. I’ve checked your company and saw that you’re currently hiring for a (position) role.
As the (recipient’s job title), I thought you would be a good source of information about the duties involved in the open position. I am also keen to learn more about your impressive company, while at the same time introduce myself and my suitability for this position.
Currently, I am exploring career opportunities in the (industry) in (location). From the attached resume, you will see that I’ve had extensive experience in leading and contributing to (type) projects here and abroad.
I hope you might have 30 minutes to meet with me in the next couple of weeks to have a nice chat over coffee or lunch. Please let me know what dates and times are most convenient for you. Also, feel free to suggest the place where we can meet.
Looking forward to hearing back from you!
(Your LinkedIn profile)
5 Helpful Tips to Prepare for an Informal Interview
Although an informal interview is less structured and more of a casual conversation, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to prepare for it. Keep in mind that the purpose of an informal interview is still to assess your qualification for the open role.
Here are some informal interview tips to help you prepare for this big day.
1. Do your Homework
The best way to prepare for an informal interview is to do in-depth research about the company.
Familiarize yourself with their products and services, its structure, current position in the market, leading competitors, and even its achievements.
Because most companies already have a website with a blog and social media accounts, it is easy to get information about the company. You can also check your LinkedIn connections if you know someone who works there and can provide you with insider information about the company culture and the specific department that you’re interested in working with.
By doing your homework, you won’t fumble when asked what you know about the organization. Proper knowledge of the company’s various aspects would allow you to have a solid base for your answers and depict credibility. Furthermore, showing that you took the time to research will give off the impression that you’re diligent and are genuinely interested.
2. Analyze the Open Position and Match the Requirements With Your Qualifications
Take the time to analyze the job description to understand what they’re looking for in a candidate. List down the required skills and qualities critical for success in the job, and then assess your qualifications.
Once you’ve matched your qualifications to the requirements, ponder specific examples where you utilized your skills in previous roles you’ve held. Be ready to share these details with the interviewer.
3. Come With Ideas on How You Could Contribute to the Company and Your Goals
Interviewers are not only interested in your past job experiences, but also your long-term career goals and how you would fit into the organization.
Before the scheduled informal interview, think about how you can add value and your aspirations for your career. Sharing your desired career path will also help the interviewer assess if you’re suitable for the position.
4. Decide on What to Wear for the Informal Interview
Candidates invited for an informal job interview are baffled about the proper dress code. This is because they know it is a job interview, while at the same time, it is a more casual type of meeting.
Nobody wants to look out of place. However, unlike informal interviews, you don’t have to wear business attire for an informal interview.
You can research about their company culture and use your best judgment to dress accordingly. To be on the safe side, a business casual attire is always a suitable and appropriate outfit.
4. Prepare the Items You’ll Bring for the Interview
It is recommended to bring extra copies of your updated resume if the interviewer wants to look at it. If you have a business card, bring it along with a pad and pen that you can use to take notes when necessary.
5 Tips To Ace The Informal Interview
Sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant while having a casual conversation with the recruiter seems like a much nicer way to interview a job. However, this type of interview can also mean that it wouldn’t have the structure and the typical flow of a formal job interview that you are well-accustomed with.
Uncertainty can be frightening. Yet, before you get overwhelmed, here are some useful informal interview tips to ace the meeting.
1. Be Proactive and Speak Up
Informal interview questions and answers are nothing like the ones you’ll encounter in the conventional approach.
Because the discussion will be more casual, you wouldn’t have as many obvious opportunities to discuss your skills and expertise. Be proactive in talking about your strengths, expertise, and skills that can add value to the organization.
Although you might not be able to work all your strengths into the conversation, be ready to share specific circumstances that will lead to discussing the merits that you have.
You should know the right time to bring up highlights in your career naturally, such as events where you demonstrated your leadership skills, hit challenging targets, or worked well with the team for the successful completion of a considerable project.
For example, you can ask the interviewer what he likes most about being the department head, and then use the answer to divert the conversation into what you’ve liked about leadership roles you’ve held in the past.
2. Ask Relevant and Meaningful Questions
Since an informal interview is more of a casual meeting, there should be an exchange of thoughts and a one-sided Q & A type of interaction.
Keep the flow of conversation natural by asking the interviewer open-ended questions. However, ensure that you’ve put some thought on the questions you’ll ask. Limit your questions to relevant and meaningful ones and avoid personal topics that wouldn’t contribute to the meeting agenda.
3. Always Be a Good Listener
Show that you are an excellent communicator by dedicating your full, undivided attention and listening attentively. Pay close attention to the informal interview questions and answers that they provide you to clear any doubts you might have.
Being in such a casual public setting means countless distractions. So maintain eye contact with the interviewer to avoid getting distracted.
4. Stay Relaxed While Still Being Careful of Your Answers and Behavior
Earlier in this article, it was mentioned that informal interviews are used by employers to judge the personality and behavior of candidates when they are at ease. With this, you should stay relaxed while still being conscious of how you conduct yourself during the interview.
Don’t go into detail about your financial problems, family life, health issues, and sensitive topics such as religion or politics to avoid unintentional biases.
5. Do Not Fight With the Interviewer Over the Bill
If the informal interview involves buying food and drinks, it can quickly become an awkward moment when the bill arrives at the end of the meeting.
It is always polite to offer to pay your share of the bill. However, if the interviewer is keen on clearing the bill, don’t insist anymore. Also, don’t start a debate about “Why did you pay?” This could make you look unprofessional.
10 Informal Interview Questions You Will be Asked
Informal interviews are indeed less predictable than formal interviews because you will never know what questions will arise throughout the conversation.
However, there are common informal interview questions which you can prepare for such as these:
1. Where is your hometown? Which university did you go to?
Interviewers are interested in your background, and a conversation about your birthplace and education is a good starting point. These initial interview questions effectively establish some common ground and help an engaging conversation develop naturally.
2. What is your ideal work environment?
Besides your skills, interviewers are also interested in your work style and whether they would fit the workplace environment. By asking about your preferred work atmosphere, they check if you would feel comfortable and can thrive in their existing company culture.
3. Why are you leaving your current job?
This can be a tricky question to answer because you wouldn’t want to seem like you’re bad-mouthing your previous employer. However, knowing the reason for your dissatisfaction can help the interviewer gain insights into your professional history, detect any red flags, and be happy with them.
4. What excites you about this role? Why are you keen to join our company?
Technical skills and soft skills can be developed. However, one thing that can’t be taught is enthusiasm.
Aside from exhibiting that you have a good grasp of the role’s responsibilities, showing that you are excited about the opportunity will give the notion that you will strive to do an excellent job and stay with them for a long time.
5. What do you like to do outside of work?
Interviewers want to hire someone that the team will connect with, share interests, and build strong relationships. Be honest about your interests and use this as a chance to connect with the interviewer on a more personal level.
6. What keeps you motivated?
This question seems simple, but it can be a thought-provoking one that can lead to valuable discussions. Aside from helping you look internally and determine what sets your fire, it can also help the interviewer ensure that you are joining the company for the right reasons.
7. Tell me something about yourself that is not on your resume
This is an opportunity to let the interviewer know more about you beyond what’s on paper. Your answer can make or break your application, as it can either show that you’re a good fit or hint possible issues for the organization in the long run.
8. What’s something you’d want to do differently in a new job?
Such question probes into your line of thinking.
The interviewer wants to find out if you’d initiate a negative conversation about your current job or boss, or you’re looking forward to improving yourself or the organization you’ll potentially join.
9. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
It is a fairly common question that you’d likely encounter even in formal job interviews.
Interviewers always ask this because they want to know if your long-term goals align with what they can potentially offer and what their company needs.
10. What part of your current job do you like best? What is your expertise?
Your answer will be matched against the requirements of the position and the duties for the role. If your answer is in line with the tasks you will be primarily responsible for, you will be deemed a good fit.
6 Informal Interview Questions to Ask the Employer
What makes this type of meeting great is that the exchange of informal interview questions and answers goes both ways. This means you also get the opportunity to ask questions to the interviewer.
Keep the conversation going while finding out more about the role and company you’re trying to get into these good open-ended questions:
1. What are some of the company’s plans for the next 12 months to share with me?
Asking such a question will help you gauge if there is growth for you in the company and let you know the exciting milestones ahead.
2. What are the significant challenges that the business is facing at the moment?
Knowing about the organization’s pain points will allow you to market yourself as a valuable addition to the team who can help address these.
3. How do you see me fitting into the organization?
This question will help you gain a more in-depth understanding of what your role is going to be like beyond what was shared in the job description. You’ll know their expectations of you and get a clearer idea of which of your skills and knowledge might best meet its needs.
4. What is it you enjoy about working at the organization?
The interviewer’s answer will give you a glimpse of their existing work culture. Use follow-up questions to delve deeper into the environment and assess if the description somehow fits into your ideal workplace.
5. Can you tell me more about the team I would potentially be working with?
Aside from the general work culture, it is also essential to know if you’d fit right in with the team.
6. What opportunities for advancement are there?
More than the compensation, you should be looking for a company that will offer you growth opportunities. Based on the interviewer’s answer, you can assess if it is parallel with the career progression you’d want for yourself.
What If You Are Offered the Job on the Spot After An Informal Interview?
As mentioned earlier, informal interviews may be conducted at the end of the recruitment process. With this, there are some instances where you may be offered the position on the spot.
If the job offer came as a surprise and caught you off guard, here are some tips on responding:
- Express your pleasure and appreciation, but don’t feel obliged to decide to accept instantly. Politely say that you’d want some time to process it and get back to them in the next few days.
- If the role has been open for a while, ensure that you took the time to evaluate if the position is right for you. This will help you avoid an unpleasant experience because they rushed in to fill the role without thoroughly analyzing if you’re compatible with the organization.
- Check if the job offer comes with the compensation and benefits you’re looking for.
The whole point is that no matter how excited you are for being offered the job, stop, and think things over first. A company worth working for will have no problem with this and will give you that right.
Following up After an Informal Interview
After an informal interview, it’s recommended to follow up and thank the interviewer.
To do this, you have to ask for their business cards so you’ll know how to contact them. If this isn’t possible because they don’t have their business cards with them and you forgot to ask for their contact info, you can just check the company website or LinkedIn for their details.
Sometimes, such pieces of information are not listed online. The last resort is to call the company’s main line and ask the receptionist to provide you the details from the company directory.
Once you’ve taken hold of their contact details, you may call or email them. Aside from showing your appreciation for taking the time to meet, you can also use this as a chance to highlight your enthusiasm for the position and touch on important details that didn’t come up during the meeting.
Remember that you’ve been called up for an interview means that you’re a contender for the role. With this, you should take the time to follow up.
Informal Interview Follow-up Email Tips
There are many ways by which you can follow up after an interview. However, the most common ones are sending an email and calling the interviewer.
Between these two, email is more advisable because it won’t disrupt the activities of the recipient. You won’t have to worry about catching them at the wrong time because they can open your email whenever convenient.
Below are some valuable tips that you can use when crafting your follow-up email.
- Reiterate your interest in the role and company.
- Emphasize why you’re qualified for the position and the skills that are relevant to their requirements.
- Use this opportunity to mention things you failed to say during the interview.
- If you think you answered poorly about a specific to
- pic, you can clean these mistakes up subtly by clarifying what you intended to say through the email.
- Always proofread your email and correct all grammar and spelling mistakes before sending it. You should also double-check the name of the interviewer and ensure that it is spelled correctly.
- Add all your contact details to make it convenient for the interviewer to get back to you.
- Send the email within 24 hours after the interview.
Final Thoughts on Informal Interviews
Although the approach is very different from traditional job interviews, your goal in an informal interview should be the same: know more about the role and the company, cast a positive impression, and hopefully land the job.
Many job seekers think that this type of interview is much easier than the formal selection process. While it is more relaxed and unstructured, remember that it is still a job interview after all.
You need to prepare and make an effort if you want it to go well. By following the tips on the various stages of the process shared in this article, you will have a greater chance of taking the right approach.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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