5 steps to ace an informal interview

iStock 497831284 informal meeting article

Having a coffee with a potential employer might help you get your next job.

What is an informal or informational interview?

An informal or informational interview may be a meeting at a café or informal setting that:

  • an employer arranges before deciding to offer you a formal job interview
  • you arrange yourself with a potential employer or worker to learn about a career or workplace.

Unlike a formal job interview where you are directly promoting your skills, ability and experience, you are indirectly promoting yourself in an informational interview by:

  • showing how you might fit into a workplace culture
  • demonstrating curiosity and resourcefulness.

And don’t be fooled by an informal setting. Treat an informational interview as a chance to show your professionalism.

Step 1 – Research, research, research

Perhaps you’ve applied for a communications adviser role and been invited to an informal meeting – not a job interview. An employer may want to see if you will be a good fit for their workplace. They may want to see how enthusiastic or serious you are about the job before offering you a formal interview.

Make sure you’ve thoroughly checked their website beforehand for:

  • any videos or articles they have about careers and opportunities
  • staff biographies or newsletters
  • information about the business and its clients.

Or maybe you’re interested in becoming a marketing specialist but aren’t really sure what marketing specialists do. To find market specialists to talk to you could:

  • ask family, friends, and friends of friends if they can suggest names
  • search online for marketing companies and any information they have on careers and progressions
  • search newspaper or magazine articles for possible contacts
  • find names to contact by looking at industry association and training websites 
  • check student organisations to see if other students have suggestions.

Step 2 – Preparation

Before you start contacting people, prepare a list of questions and learn them. This will give you something to focus on in your meeting – and could help you overcome any nervousness. Ask questions such as:

  • what made you choose this career path?
  • what are the qualities and characteristics of someone who does well in this job?
  • what experiences helped you most in this role?
  • what's something that would surprise people about your job or industry?
  • what do you wish you’d known before you got into your job?
  • what’s the most important thing to do to prepare for a role like yours?
  • what are entry-level job titles in your industry?

Step 3 – Reach out

Once you have names to contact, reach out to them. You can phone or email people to ask for an informal interview.

It’s often best to phone, but some companies can only be reached by email. Either way is fine – just remember to be polite. A good way to ask is, “I was wondering if I could have 10 minutes of your time?”

They may offer you 10 minutes on the phone straight away – so be prepared with your questions. But if they’re happy to see you, offer to meet them at a time and place that works for them.

Step 4 – Front up

Remember, although this is an informal meeting, it may be your chance to impress a potential employer or a contact who might help you get a job in the future.

Before the meeting:

  • dress smartly – it shows you’re taking the meeting seriously 
  • prepare your CV, but don’t offer it unless it’s asked for.

Show your personality in the interview – that will give your contact a chance to see if you might be a good fit for their workplace – but don’t say anything that wouldn’t be appropriate in a workplace.

By asking good questions you can show your resourcefulness and curiosity. Focus on and be interested in the person who has offered up their time to speak to you.

During the interview make notes if you need to and always ask the person you are meeting if they can suggest other people in the industry who might be good to contact.

Step 5 – Follow up

Don’t let your hard work go to waste by forgetting these steps after your meeting:

  • sending a thank you message – even if you decide the job or career is not for you
  • checking in with your contact’s company to ask if any job opportunities are coming up.

Updated 26 Feb 2020