Don’t be fooled by a “casual interview”

I’m out and about quite a bit, so often times my job interviews take place in coffee shops, restaurants, and even libraries.  Even though the environment may seem more casual than the corporate interview room, don’t be fooled.  Recruiters expect the same preparation, focus, and engagement.  Perhaps even more so.

I find these unique situations to be a phenomenal way to judge talent, because there’s so much else going on and because the candidate is usually less accustomed to an interview in a library.  I don’t hire anyone without bringing them to the office, of course, but meeting a candidate in multiple settings is a good way to get a more complete picture.

In a coffee shop, for instance, I can see how the candidate handles the distraction of the morning rush.  Is he looking around, having a difficult time concentrating on the interview?  Or is he fully present, focusing on me and our conversation?  The same is true at a restaurant, with the added layer of wait staff.  I always watch how the candidate interacts with the hostess, our server, and anyone else we come into contact with.  What a great way to tell the character of a person.

In addition to the more casual setting, I generally take on a more casual tone in these interviews.  I’m more likely to focus on current events or swap funny work stories on a Friday morning over espresso than I am on a Tuesday afternoon in a windowless conference room when I’m sandwiched between meetings.  But, and this is a big but, the candidate should still be on guard.  An interview is an interview, no matter what.  That doesn’t mean that if I ask about a his weekend, the candidate should respond with the Situation, Analysis, Task, and Result of a time that weekend when he demonstrated particularly strong leadership.  But some candidates take license to share more than they should, and that’s the point of this post.  Because I’ve seen more than a handful of candidates get too comfy during a non-standard interview.

The rules are the same, no matter where the interview is held, including:

  • Research the industry, the company, the role, and the interviewer
  • Prepare at least 5 good questions, ideally written down
  • Bring pen and paper and copies of your resume
  • Dress professionally, unless instructed otherwise by the interviewer
  • Focus on the interviewer, resisting the urge to look at every person who walks by
  • Guide the conversation to focus on your strengths and experiences

As we move into a Corporate America who works from home two days a week, and where recruiters are states, if not countries away, more interviews will be held on “non-standard” locations.  Phone interviews, video conference interviews, coffee shops, libraries, and even athletic clubs are all possibilities, and the best candidates know over-comfort is an easy trap to fall into.  Be more careful when you’re interviewing in these situations, because there are more variables and distractions, and the recruiter is watching everything you do, not just listening to your answers.

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One response to “Don’t be fooled by a “casual interview”

  1. Pingback: My four interview question categories | Get a Leg Up

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