Preparing for an Informal Interview

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 19, 2022

Published June 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

During your job search, a prospective employer might invite you for an interview to gauge your suitability for the open position. The two most common interview styles you're likely to take part in are a traditional interview or informal interview. Informal interviews are becoming an increasingly popular method of evaluating a candidate's suitability for a vacancy. In this article, we explore what an informal interview is, how to prepare for one, and provide some helpful informal interview tips.

What is an informal interview?

An informal interview is an unstructured interview that is conducted in a casual environment such as a coffee shop, a bookstore, or at a restaurant. Unlike a traditional interview that is formal and structured, an informal interview takes place in a relaxed setting, allowing the candidate to express themselves better. It's important to keep in mind that the interviewer is still evaluating your answers, regardless of the laid-back approach to the interview.

Related: 19 Common Interview Questions and Answers

There are several reasons informal interviews are becoming a preferred approach by employers and candidates alike. For the employer, an informal interview has the following advantages:

  • It makes it easier to observe a candidate's true personality

  • They may use it at the beginning of the selection process when the company isn't actively recruiting

  • It reinforces a company culture of letting employees and potential new employees be themselves

  • Employers may use what they gather from informal interviews to plan more precise job descriptions

  • They may use it at the end of the selection process or as a second interview

Informal interviews have the following advantages to the candidate:

  • It allows reduces stress or anxiety about a formal interview

  • The format allows for more questions throughout the interview, instead of saving them for the end

  • It enables a candidate to sharpen their interview skills without as much pressure

  • It offers the candidate an opportunity to broaden their network

Despite its casual approach, informal interviews require the same level of preparation. A candidate needs to prepare their credentials, dress appropriately, and rehearse for the interview. The interviewer still needs to prepare with a list of key questions to ensure they get a clear picture of the candidate and their fitness for the role.

Related: How to Succeed in a Virtual Interview

How to prepare for an informal interview

When you receive an invitation for an informal interview, you need to know how to prepare and make a good first impression. Follow these steps when preparing for an informal interview:

1. Conduct background research

Like you would prepare for a formal interview, thoroughly research the company. Research gives you an idea of what the company does and what it would be like to work there. Key information to seek in your research includes:

  • The company's products and/or services

  • Leadership and management structure

  • Mission, vision, and core values

  • Significant achievements

  • Target audience

  • Partnerships and competitors

There are many ways to find this information. Start by visiting the company's website and social media platforms, refer to media sources, or read industry and regulators reports. If you have an acquaintance who works at the company, ask them questions to get first-hand information about the working environment and company culture.

2. Understand the role

Go through the job description and understand what they're looking for in a candidate. Identify the most important skills, academic requirements, and level of experience they expect. Write down the key skills listed in the job description, so you can visualize them.

3. Evaluate your skills set

After identifying the most valuable skills for the open position, assess whether your skills set matches those in the job description. Evaluate situations where your skills have shone through, such as when you helped resolve a workplace conflict. Use those examples to provide evidence of your relevant skills during your interview.

Read more: How to Use the STAR Interview Response Technique

3. Chart your career path

Assess whether the role fits into your career path and your long-term goals. Evaluate whether there are professional development opportunities and room for growth. Here are a few ways to assess whether a position is helpful to your career path:

  • Define your career goals

  • Consult your mentor for guidance

  • Consider some informational interview questions to ask

  • Evaluate how satisfying the role is likely to be

  • Consider what you can gain from the position

Drawing your career path prepares you to discuss the topic confidently, as they may ask about your long-term goals during the informal interview. Rehearse possible answers and some key points to remember.

Read more: Informational Interview Questions

4. Show value

Be proactive in showing the employer what value you would add to the company. An informal interview is a crucial platform for speaking about your abilities. Keep your key points about how you would fit into the company in mind, so you can include them in various responses throughout the interview. Regardless of whether they ask you directly, find instances to remind the interviewer of your skills and abilities.

Informal interview tips

Here are tips to help you perform well in an informal interview:

Know what to expect

Use the tips above to plan ahead and know what to expect in the interview. The questions asked in an informal interview are similar to traditional interview questions. As a candidate, review common questions and rehearse your answers accordingly.

Arrive on time

Being punctual is still a good habit, even for casual interview appointments. Get to the location fifteen minutes early so you have time to settle in.

Dress appropriately

The interview may be informal, but your outfit is still part of a lasting first impression. A business casual or smart casual dress code is appropriate for this type of interview. Here are some tips for choosing the right outfit for an informal interview:

  • Consider the role and the industry

  • Choose something you feel comfortable in

  • Research the company's workplace dress code

If you're in doubt about what to wear, choose a more formal option.

Bring your documents

Your interviewer may still want to review your documents, so remember to carry them along. These include several copies of your resume, academic certificates, and supporting documents relevant to the role. You may also carry a notebook and pen to take important notes.

Practice active listening

Active listening skills are important in an informal interview that takes place in a restaurant or outdoor setting where there may be distractions. Practice active listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and rephrasing the interviewer's words in your answers to show you understand. Your ability to hold a professional conversation will impress your interviewer.

Ask questions

An informal interview is an open exchange of questions and answers between the interviewer and the candidate. As a candidate, be inquisitive by asking relevant questions about the company, industry, or position's duties and responsibilities. Ensure you time your questions appropriately to avoid clashing with the interviewer. Examples of questions you may ask include:

  • What challenges is the company facing at the moment?

  • What is the company seeking to achieve in the next year?

  • How long have you been working at the company?

  • What's the most interesting thing about working at the company?

  • How do you see me fitting in?

Asking open-ended questions rather than closed yes/no question allows the interviewer to give more detailed answers. Asking several questions shows your interest in the job.

Related: Coffee Chat Guide (Get the Most Out of Your Virtual Meetings)

Choose appropriate language

Remember to maintain a professional tone in an informal interview. Ensure you:

  • Stay on topic

  • Avoid personal topics such as family or financials

  • Avoid controversial topics such as politics, religion, or race

  • Maintain a positive tone

Regardless of how friendly the interviewer is, you're still taking part in a professional discussion.

Prepare for an offer

If you impress your interviewer, they might conclude by offering you the job on the spot. In your response:

  • Thank the interviewer for the offer

  • Ask for time to think over it

  • Ask how long they are ready to wait for your final decision

No matter how interested you are in the position, it's wise to decompress and consider everything that was discussed in the interview before accepting an offer.

Remember to follow-up

After your interview, send the hiring manager a short thank-you email to thank them for their time and confirm your interest in the role. Regardless of whether they select you for the job, it's professional to follow up with a thank-you. It's beneficial to maintain contact with the interviewer for future vacancies and to build your professional network.

Read more: Follow-Up Email Examples for After the Interview

Explore more articles