What Should I Expect from an Informal Interview?

by Pranav Ramesh
February 23, 2021
What is an informal interview and how can you succeed in it

Informal interviews are becoming more and more common. An IT recruiter or hiring manager may reach out to you and ask to meet over a cup of coffee for an ‘exploratory conversation’ or something similar. These casual, yet professional, conversations can be a great way for both an employer and employee to get to know each other professionally without the mental constraints of a more formal setting.

When you are invited to one of these informal interviews, don’t take the term ‘informal’ at face value. Think of it as a semi-formal conversation instead, and prepare accordingly using this guide.

Topics Covered:

  • What is an Informal Interview?
  • Why do Hiring Managers do Informal Interviews?
  • How to Prepare for an Informal Interview
  • Tips for an Informal Interview

What is an Informal Interview?

An informal interview is a casual, but still business-focused, conversation between a hiring manager and an applicant. You might hear them referred to as an exploratory conversation, a discovery session, or simply an informational chat. They all mean the same thing – the interviewer wants to learn more about you, and determine if you would be a good fit for the company, during a slightly more casual meeting.

Informal interviews tend to skip the standard conference room setting and often take place in coffee shops, restaurants, or (especially recently) over video chat. Don’t let the casual setting lull you into taking it less seriously. Informal interviews can have just as much effect on your career as traditional ones.

Why do Hiring Managers do Informal Interviews?

Informal interviews are used for a variety of reasons.

  • For Honest Communication: Some recruiters prefer a more casual setting as it sets both parties at ease and invites more open, honest communication. Sitting in a boardroom, staring at a person with a pen and paper, puts both the interviewer and the candidate in a particular state of mind. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if the recruiter thinks that formal setting may inhibit the conversation, they will opt for an informal interview.
  • To Finalize the Job description: Sometimes, organizations have yet to fully finalize the specifics of a job description. They may know what goal they want to accomplish, and see that you look qualified for it, but may not have all the details hashed out yet. They will often use informal interviews to not only find the right fit, but also determine what exactly that means for their unique project.
  • To Determine the Right Role: Lastly, hiring managers may have multiple roles they are looking to fill, and want to discover what you may be best for. This happens quite often with high-level candidates with a wealth of experience and subject matter expertise. If the recruiter believes they want to bring you aboard, but isn’t yet certain where, they may opt for an informal interview to find what works best for both parties.

How to Prepare for an Informal Interview

Unless you have a specific reason to do otherwise, you should prepare for an informal interview the same way you prepare for a traditional one.

  • Dress in formal business attire
  • Arrive 15 minutes early (no more, no less)
  • Research the company, team, and interviewer beforehand
  • Have insightful questions prepared ahead of time
  • Bring at least 2 hard copies of your printed resume
  • Be ready to discuss your past experiences and future career goals in detail
  • Turn off all electronic devices and keep them out of sight

During the informal interview, you may find that you didn’t need all of this. The interviewer may be dressed more casually. They may have already brought a copy of your resume. They may leave their phone on the table and have to stop the conversation to respond to an email.

Then again, they may not.

It’s always better to be a bit overprepared, and come across more professional, than less