What is an informal interview and how can you succeed at one?

We delve into the world of informal interviews for graduate jobs, describing what an informal interview is, how to prepare for and what you can expect at one, and how to make your informal interview a success.

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What is an informal interview?

An informal interview, also known as a conversational or informal chat interview, is a non-formal job interview, often held in a neutral setting such as a café, usually over food or drink. Informal interviews can also be virtual . If you are invited to ‘come in to have an informal chat about the role/learn more about the role' or to see 'how the role could work for you', it is likely to be an informal interview. They are less likely to be part of the formal graduate recruitment process for a large company; where they do occur, they are usually conducted at the end or the beginning of the recruitment process. They are most likely to happen for part-time jobs and entry-level roles at smaller organisations.

Is an informal interview a good sign?

Yes. In a nutshell, it means an employer wants to meet you. It is natural to wonder why the interview is classed as 'informal', however. The popularity of informal interviews has increased in recent years, in part because many employers are keen to highlight their relaxed company culture to prospective employees. There are other reasons for informal interviews (all good!), however, such as:

  • to help the employer flesh out a job role they haven’t completely decided on, by assessing what skills different candidates could bring to the company – it could be that the employer is unsure whether the role should be aimed at a fresh graduate or someone with more experience
  • because you have sent in a speculative application and, although there is no role available for you currently, employers are impressed enough to want to get to know you in case one becomes available
  • there are multiple job roles on offer and recruiters are not sure which you’d be best suited for
  • as an initial screening process, to ascertain if it’s worth your and their time to continue with the application process
  • at the end of the recruitment process, when employers want to make 100% sure that strong candidates are a good ‘fit’ for the company.

What should I expect at an informal interview?

First, the logistics. Although it can be held at an employer’s office, the location of the interview will often be a neutral place. Recruiters will probably foot the bill for any food or drink, but be sure to take your own money just in case. You may be wondering what to wear for an informal interview – generally speaking, full business attire is not necessary. A smart, clean outfit should be fine. If in doubt, take a look at the images of the workplace on the organisation’s website.

An informal interview – its overall tone – will feel like more of a conversation than a formal Q&A session. You are likely to talk more and be able to ask more questions than you would in a classic interview. Be prepared to fill in any silences. You may learn more personal information about the interviewer, and exchange more about yourself, than you would in a formal setting.

What questions will I be asked at an informal interview?

Expect questions to be very similar to those you’d be asked at a formal graduate interview , but phrased more casually – because of this, you may find you have to be proactive and look out for opportunities to showcase your skills. For example, an employer might comment that they value colleagues who are not scared to make decisions – this would be a good chance for you to tell them about an effective decision you made recently.

How should I prepare for an informal interview?

Pretty much exactly as you would for a formal graduate job interview – remember, this is still an interview and, despite its casual feel, is key to you getting a job with your preferred employer. Hence take the usual steps to prepare for an interview:

  • Double check the details of the day, eg time and place. If you’re going to be meeting in a café, make sure you know the exact location and name (eg one neighbourhood can have several Starbucks). Also, establish how you and your interviewer will recognise each other if the interview is not at the employer’s office.
  • Prepare a brief ‘introduction to you’: your key skills, what you’d like to get out of your career, what you have to offer etc.
  • Make sure you’ve done your research on the employer – know who its competition is and any recent developments/awards/changes in the company.
  • If there is a specific job role on offer, learn as much about it as possible before the interview, so you can highlight the skills you possess that make you suited for it.
  • Prepare some questions to ask your interviewer (possibly more than you would at a formal interview, as this is more like a conversation). You could ask what plans the organisation has for the next six months or a year, and what are the biggest challenges it is facing right now. Informal interviews also allow for more personal – but not intrusive – questions to be asked, such as ‘Why do you enjoy working at your organisation?’
  • Be ready to describe why you think you’d be a great fit for the organisation and vice versa – do some research on the company’s culture.
  • Look over some typical interview questions and prepare your answers; perhaps ask a friend to do a mock interview with you.
  • An informal interview may touch on what your salary expectations would be, but wait until the interviewer brings up the topic rather than introducing it yourself.
  • Bring a copy of your CV with you.

What is the difference between a ‘graduate’ job interview and an informal interview?

In terms of the interview prep you should be doing, nothing. Some may find the prospect of an informal interview makes them feel more relaxed, but this is not necessarily the case for everyone, especially people who enjoy structure and formality. Don’t get too relaxed by the setting and informality, however: make sure you don’t say anything negative about former employers or colleagues, just as you wouldn’t at a more formal interview setting.

Follow up after an informal interview as you would with any interview – send an email to say thank you. Mention something that came up in the interview to ensure the interviewers will remember you. Reiterate your enthusiasm for the role.

Tips to impress at an informal interview

  • Engage the interviewer by making sure you ask them questions about their own career/experiences, what they like about the employer and so on
  • Be a switched-on listener – make eye contact, smile, show in your answers that you’ve really listened to what the interviewer has said.
  • Remember that an informal interview is still a job interview and your chance to make a great impression – one of the biggest challenges will be weaving in your experience and qualifications into what feels like a casual chat. Informal interviews may mean you have to be more proactive so that when you leave you can feel sure that the recruiter has been convinced that your skills and personality will be a good fit for their organisation.

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