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What Should I Expect from an Informal Interview?




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.





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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, regardless of whether the hiring manager follows suit or not.

The exception to this would be if the interviewer stated something differently beforehand. If while scheduling the informal interview, they mention they will be coming straight from the gym and will be dressed casually, feel free to tone it down to business casual yourself. If they say that they are particularly interested in a certain project you recently worked on, focus most of your preparation on that. Read between the lines of the lead-up conversations and, when in doubt, default to the basics mentioned above.

Tips for acing an Informal Interview

  • Try to make it easy for the interviewer to pick you out of a crowd. Let them know, ahead of time, what you’ll be wearing that can be easily noticed such as a tie or purse color.

  • If you are the first to arrive, try to find a quiet place to sit. If you have been texting leading up to the meeting, let them know where you are once you sit down.

  • The person who made the initial invite is likely to pay for the food and drink. Be sure to thank them.

  • Bring some business cards along with your resume. It shows preparedness, and they may not have brought a purse or briefcase to take your resume with them.

  • Put your phone in Airplane mode and do not leave it sitting on the table. Even if they do, don’t follow suit.

  • No matter what you wear, ensure it looks sharp, clean, and wrinkle-free. Even if the recruiter insisted this is a casual meeting, and you should dress as such, you want to look your best.

  • Even if the tone of the interview is informal, the content shouldn’t be. Keep it professional and always remember–this is still an interview.


Conclusion


Informal interviews are a great way for an interviewer and interviewee to break the ice and get to know each other outside of a traditional setting. They come especially handy when both parties are interested in working together but don’t know the specifics yet. Though you may prepare slightly differently for an informal interview, don’t treat it like a casual conversation. Be prepared, look the part, and make a great first impression just as you would during a formal interview.



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About the Company:

Peterson Technology Partners (PTP) has been Chicago's premier Information Technology (IT) staffing, consulting, and recruiting firm for over 22+ years. Named after Chicago's historic Peterson Avenue, PTP has built its reputation by developing lasting relationships, leading digital transformation, and inspiring technical innovation throughout Chicagoland.

Based in Park Ridge, IL, PTP's 250+ employees have a narrow focus on a single market (Chicago) and expertise in 4 innovative technical areas;

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