The Coffee Interview: What to Expect and How to Prepare

Been asked for a coffee interview? Follow these interview tips and tricks to help you prepare.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

coffee interview

Unlike the traditional structured, formal interviews that you are probably used to, there are a number of variations when it comes to assessing candidates. One such example is the coffee interview. Coffee interviews are informal interviews conducted over a cup of tea or coffee. They are more like a chat and are a way for an interviewer to learn a little more about candidates without the rigidness of a formal interview, in order to see if there is a potential place for them in the company. For candidates, it’s a great way to find out more about a role and whether it feels like a good fit. A successful coffee interview may lead to a formal interview.

Companies often use coffee interviews when they are recruiting in general and don’t have a specific job description written. In this situation, the coffee interview might help inform the development of the role.

Even though the idea of a coffee interview can seem casual and less stressful than a traditional interview, remember it is still an interview, and it must be approached as such in order to create the right impression. This article will give you all the tips you need to prepare for and ace a coffee interview, along with some coffee interview etiquette to consider, too.

1. Confirm the details

Make sure you double check the location, date and time of the meeting to be certain you have the details correct and know exactly where you’re going so you are not late or left trying to find the location last minute. A top tip is to ask how you will recognize the person you’re meeting. This can be overlooked, leading to wandering around a coffee shop asking random people if they are there to meet you, which doesn’t give the most confident start.

2. Do your research

It’s important that you’re prepared and know all about the company you are being interviewed by. Know their values, products and anything newsworthy, so you have plenty to say and seem keen. You can also research the interviewer if you know who they are. LinkedIn is great for that, and you can always connect with them there before the interview.

3. Prepare answers to common questions

Whilst this is not a formal interview, you will still be asked questions, so it’s best to be prepared by anticipating what may be asked and revising some answers. Questions are likely to be informal but will give a glimpse of the sort of person you are and your motivations. Questions will most likely be around your work history and interests in seeking a new role. For example, “What projects are you currently working on?”, “Why are you leaving your current position?” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

4. Go business casual

If you’re not sure what to wear for a coffee interview, it’s best to go with something professional. It’s an interview which requires formal wear, but it’s in a coffee shop, which is very casual, so business casual is where you want to be when it comes to your outfit. There is no need for a formal suit, but play down accessories and make sure you are clean and presentable with neat hair.

5. Arrive early

As with any interview, timing is going to account for a lot. Being late just won’t do, so be early to your interview. That said, this can present a difficulty if the interviewer is yet to arrive. If this is the scenario, wait for them outside or take a table near the door so you can see them come in and greet them. Do not order coffee until they arrive. You don’t want to be in the queue or slurping down a drink when they get there.

6. Treat staff with respect

How you act with others says a lot about you in general. If you are polite and courteous with staff in the coffee shop and those around you, this will give the interviewer a fair idea of how you will be in an office environment and in a team, communicating with colleagues, customers and stakeholders.

7. Bring your résumé

Even in an informal setting, showing that you are prepared and mean business will work in your favor. You can do this by bringing your résumé for the interviewer to read and take away. This will give them something to review after the meeting and jolt their memory if they have seen a number of candidates. As well as your résumé, you may want to bring a list of references and a pen and paper to take notes.

8. Be mindful of what you order

Remember, you are going to be talking, so whatever you order, make sure it’s easy to drink whilst having a discussion. Avoid drinks like lattes topped with cream that require the use of a spoon, and don’t order food (unless the interviewer does and offers). It’s best not to be talking whilst chomping back mouthfuls. It’s likely that the interviewer will pay the bill, so don’t take advantage. Order light and be respectful.

9. Stay focused

Coffee shops can be distracting places, but try to stay focused on the task in hand and the interviewer. Put your phone on silent and don’t let what is going on around you affect your performance, even if something unusual or entertaining is happening in the background, stay committed to the interview. If it gets too noisy and you genuinely can’t hear, it’s OK to ask the interviewer if they mind moving seats to a quieter spot.

10. Ask your own questions

Just like in a formal interview setting, the interviewer will expect you to have some questions for them. The difference here, compared to a formal interview, is that you don’t have to wait until the end when you are invited to ask your questions. A coffee interview is a dialog, and you can (and will be expected to) ask your questions as you engage in the conversation. Use this opportunity to find out whether the job and organization are right for you. You can ask questions about the work environment, information about the company, the team you will be working in, or even something more personal, such as asking how the interviewer started in the company and whether they enjoy it.

11. Mind your body language

How you hold yourself will tell a lot about you. Treat the meeting like an interview. Sit up straight, make eye contact, and when appropriate, you can mirror the interviewer’s body language. Stay professional at all times.

12. Don’t neglect your table manners

Another reason for being mindful about what you order is because you want to be professional at all times, and this includes when it comes to eating and drinking whilst holding a conversation. It’s best not to order food, as we have already discussed. When it comes to drinks, drinks that are easy to sip whilst talking are best. No slurping, no burping and no mess!

13. Ask about the next step

To wrap up if it feels like it’s time, you can enquire about the next step of the process. Reiterate your interest in the company and position and give the interviewer your contact information and your résumé if you haven’t already. At this point, you can ask when you might expect to hear from them and what happens next.

14. Plan your exit

When you have said your goodbyes, you’ll want to avoid an awkward moment, like leaving together and heading off in the same direction. Thank the interviewer for their time and if they stand to go, make up a reason not to leave immediately, such as that you need to make a phone call or that you are going to stay and get some lunch. However, if the interviewer appears not to be leaving immediately, you can say your goodbyes and exit before they do.

15. Follow up

You want to be remembered, and also want to show that you are keen. Following up is a great way to do this. Put yourself back into the interviewer’s mind with a thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting. You can use this to reiterate your strongest points and your interest in continuing with the process. If you don’t hear anything within five days of meeting, follow up again.

Final thoughts

A coffee interview feels light and informal compared to a standard interview, but remember, it’s still part of the interview process and how you present yourself and perform is important. Be professional, look the part and be prepared with knowledge of the company you’re interviewing with and make sure to practice some answers to common questions.

Also, consider that in this uncertain time post-pandemic, coffee interviews may actually be virtual. The same rules apply, though. Find somewhere quiet, with a clean backdrop, bring a drink, log in and behave as you would in an in-person meeting.

Good luck!

Join the conversation! Do you feel more or less confident in an informal interview? If you’ve had one before, what was the outcome? Let us know in the comments below!


This is an updated version of an article originally published on 12 December 2017.