You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
by Zulie Rane
Everyone has participated in an “informal conversation” when looking for jobs. It’s kind of an awkward halfway house, where the potential employer wants to get to know you as a person, but doesn’t want to commit to giving you an interview just yet.
It’s hard to know how to approach these — do you wear relaxed clothes? Should you go full suit? Do you bring a reference?
There’s no reason not to treat it like a full-blown interview in certain ways. Chances are, your future employer will make up their mind during this “chat” on whether or not they can see you working together.
Here are three ways to make the most out of your next informal chat.
1. Be prepared for anything.
This is more than just a scouts motto — it’s applicable to every facet of life. At this casual meet-up, you should be prepared for everything from just getting a coffee, to a full-blown interview scenario.
While you may not want to wear black tie, you should look presentable. Make sure your clothing is stain-free, and at least neat if not smart.
Make sure you have interview materials ready, should they ask for them. At a real interview, I start by getting my resume, cover letter, and references out. During informal chats, I tend to keep them in my bag to bring them out if asked for.
There’s nothing worse than showing up to these informal conversations, being asked for my resume, but not having it. Surprise them by being prepared for any situation.
2. Take advantage of the situation.
This is your chance to ask more relaxed questions than you might feel comfortable asking at an official interview. Ask what the employees do for fun, ask about your interviewer’s hobbies.
It’s also a good opportunity for them to start seeing you as a real person rather than just a job applicant.
You can also bring a notepad to take notes with. This might be a bit off-putting at a job interview where you should be fully focused on the questions you’re being asked.
However, at a casual conversation, you’re both still at the information-gathering stage and it’s totally acceptable to write down important tidbits — which will be useful should you make it to the next stage of interviews!
3. Remember it’s a two-way street.
While you may see the informal chat as a way for them to suss out your employability, it’s also a way to tell if this job is a place where you want to work.
For example, at a recent informal chat I asked what my interviewer was doing that weekend. She told me that she and her team needed to finish a project and would be at the office.
An informal conversation is the ideal place to find out if they’re the right match for you, and it’s often an overlooked opportunity. Here, you can be frank about your expectations for company culture, working habits, and employee events without worrying you’re in the wrong setting for it.
You get a much better feel for the personality of the person interviewing you than you would at a more formal job interview, and it can be really telling if they’re someone you get along with or not.
Now you know the three tenets of the informal chat! Next time a prospective employer asks you for a casual conversation, you’ll be prepared.
The informal interview has both benefits — like the fact that it shows your potential future employer wants to take the time to get to know you — as well as pitfalls — being difficult to navigate.
As long as you show up ready to get to know them and show them your best side, you can handle it.