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How to Excel at a Coffee Interview

Getting an invite to an interview can be a little like sitting in a roller coaster carriage as it tips over the precipice of a particularly vicious fairground ride. This was what you signed up for when you stepped into the carriage. And yet you still feel curiously sick, just a little bit terrified, and there is no realistic option other than see it through to the end.

See Also: Top 10 Tips to Ace That Interview

This mash up of emotions is somewhat inescapable when it comes to job hunting. Getting an interview with a company you’re interested in is a thrill, but if it doesn’t cause a little bit of anxiety you’re either a little overconfident or one of the few people who have true nerves of steel.

If something is going to compound these nerves, it is the ambiguity about the exact format, purpose and recruiter expectations when you are invited to what is known as a ’coffee interview’.

Being invited to meet a recruiter over coffee gives rise to a whole bunch of questions. How do you decide what to wear? What’s the best way to identify your interviewer among a sea of people demanding their caffeine fix? And will the recruiter think I’m a bit weird if I order a double skinny soya latte with precisely two and a half pumps of hazelnut syrup?

If you have been invited to a coffee interview, don’t panic. Have a look through these hints, and get ready to ace it.

1. Assess Expected Tone

The main challenge in coffee interviews is assessing the likely tone of the meeting. An interview is never truly informal, and meeting over coffee can feel a little unnerving - as though the interviewer is somehow trying to catch you out by buying you elaborate caffeinated concoctions. Try to figure out as much as you can in advance. Knowing who you are meeting is a good start, especially if you can then also figure out where in the recruitment ’chain of command’ they are. As soon as you have a name, have a look on LinkedIn to see what details you can glean about the interviewer and their likely role in recruiting.

Ask directly what the purpose of the meeting is, if you are not told. Some coffee interviews are genuinely informational. Recruiters may try to catch up with likely candidates over a cuppa, even before the vacant roles have been confirmed. This sort of talent hunting is increasingly common, and may mean that any meeting is simply testing the water rather than assessing you against an exact job fit.

Asking what preparation you should do in advance is a neat way of getting some more information, demonstrating your desire to have the meeting work well and be productive for both of you, and also showing you are willing to go the extra mile to make sure you are prepped. If, after all this, you can get only limited information about the format or purpose of the meeting, then being over prepared is significantly more comfortable than being caught on the hop, and dressing in anticipation of something moderately formal is better than turning up in your yoga pants, and discovering you are lined up to meet a recruiter in a suit and tie.

2. Do Your Homework

Before your coffee interview, you need to be as confident as you can about the business (and ideally, role) you are going to be talking about. Although the interview might have all the hallmarks of an informal engagement, treating it as such is likely to end in failure. Preparing as you would for any other interview is simply good practise.

Research the company, the role in question and the team. Use LinkedIn, the company website, and industry blogs, and spend a little time reviewing any key people’s Twitter accounts to get an idea of what is trending with the industry and business. Be prepared for the obvious interview questions, and make sure that you have prepared and practiced some model answers in advance. You really cannot be too prepared!

Finally, make sure you have thought about some questions yourself, as an informal interview at an early stage of the recruitment process, is highly likely to be an open and two way discussion. Use the opportunity to get as much of an insight into the business as possible - this can be invaluable for later stages of the interview and selection process.

3. Arrive Early

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A coffee interview includes some peculiar practical challenges. What if the place you have agreed to meet is packed full and there are no tables? What if the tables that are free are dirty, in high traffic (and therefore distracting) areas, or next to large and loud groups? And even worse - what if you find yourself sitting in a busy cafe unable to identify the person you are supposed to be meeting.

You can’t eliminate the risks entirely, but if you have a chance to influence the timing of your meeting, suggest an off peak slot, and a coffee shop that you know to have some quiet nooks and crannies. Arrive early - this gives you a chance to scope the place out, and find a free table. Do whatever you can to get a table that is somewhere discrete and away from the counter.

Spotting your interviewer is easier if you have had a look for them on social media and LinkedIn - although sending a quick text before you are due to meet saying, ’I arrived a little early, so I have found a seat at the back for us; I’m the one with bright pink hair, and a pierced lip’ (or whatever) might be an idea, to remove the anxiety on both parts.

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4. Match and Mirror

Finding focus in a coffee shop interview can be difficult - with people trooping in and out, and lots of noise, concentrating can be a challenge. Pay particular attention to building rapport, for example by mirroring the body language of your interviewer, and opening the interview with some small talk. Being relaxed together makes it a lot easier to ask for clarification if you can’t hear, or you get distracted.

Think about what you order, and use this as another opportunity to mirror your interviewer. As a general rule, interviewers will not meet with candidates over lunch, as it is very difficult to really extract any information from an applicant whilst they are eating spaghetti. But being offered a pastry or a muffin is hardly unusual, and it is advisable to take the lead from the interviewer. Whatever you do, be polite to the waiting staff and anyone else you encounter - the interview starts long before the moment you sit down to drink your brew!

5. Close and Follow up

Once your meeting is drawing to a close, you should ask for more details about the next steps in the recruitment process. Make sure you leave the interview on a positive note, thanking the interviewer and expressing your interest in the position. However, once the meeting really does come to a close, you should leave the coffee shop immediately - the recruiter may well be planning on meeting other people after you, and could feel awkward if you simply shuffle off into a corner to have your lunch!

See Also: 10 Super Easy Tips to Make a Good Impression at Job Interviews 

Done right, coffee interviews are really not such a scary thing. Figuring out the purpose and expectations of the recruiter is half the battle, but once you are there, an informal environment can often make for an open and - dare I say - enjoyable conversation. Be as prepared as you would be for any other interview, with research under your belt and some questions of your own to ask; and you should feel confident about the meeting. Just keep the conversation flowing, and perhaps resist the urge to order that double skinny soya latte with precisely two and a half pumps of hazelnut syrup.

Have you ever been to a coffee interview? Share your tips and experience in the comments section below.

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