Informal Interview Etiquette

If you're invited to interview over a meal, stay focused on the interviewer, not your food.
i Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images

So you've been invited to an informal interview. Throw on a pair of jeans, thong sandals, and a tank top because you're about to kick back for a few drinks with your future boss. Wait, just kidding. Save the blue jeans for the weekend, because an informal interview is nothing like it sounds. While it might take the form of a dinner, a meeting over coffee or a quick visit to the office, an informal interview still demands your sharpest skills and savviest communication techniques.

Arrive Punctually and Dress Well

Always be there on time, even if the interview is scheduled as a "drop in" or at an unspecified hour. Just because the interview is informal doesn't mean that you can waltz in late with a coffee in your hand. A good rule of thumb is to never show up for an interview with snacks or any kind of beverage. It's unprofessional and slightly disorganized to arrive with anything in your hands except for your resume or portfolio and a professional looking bag.

Wear something business-appropriate, but fit your garb to the occasion. For example, if you're headed out to lunch, a black skirt and blouse with pumps would be appropriate. Wear what you would wear on a typical lunch date out with co-workers. If the interview is over dinner, dress a bit more formally. You can't go wrong with a suit. Even if you feel overdressed, a suit is always considered acceptable for a job interview situation.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Be prepared, even if the hiring manager says that the interview will be casual. Rest assured that the interviewer will have some questions prepared for you. Go over your resume and think of fresh experiences you can call on if your interviewer asks you about past jobs, past accomplishments, or past conflicts. These should be on the tip of your tongue and you should discuss them in a positive, organized fashion. Describe any prior work experience as helpful and useful to your learning process. Talk about those jobs the way you envision the boss would want you to talk about the job you are being interviewed for. Never badmouth anyone, or any job, during the interview. If you do, it may well be the most memorable thing about the meeting.

Follow Meal Etiquette

A casual interview over a meal is anything but relaxed. You should treat the meal as though it is secondary to the interview. Your goal is to make a good impression on the interviewer, not to chow down on a free feast. Take cues about what to order from the interviewer. For instance, if she tells you that the restaurant has great sandwiches, you will know to order something in that price range. However, if the interviewer recommends a fancy entree such as the scallops or steak, that's a cue that you should order something more formal. Try to follow her lead, and by all means do not order a drink. You're not there to tie one on. Rather, you're there to show your skills and professionalism.

Ask Questions

Know the company backwards and forwards. This helps to set you apart from other interviewees. When it's your turn to ask questions, bring up facts about the company or past projects. Ask about the workplace culture and the types of community events the company is involved with. These kinds of questions demonstrate that you are looking for more than just a paycheck and a 9-to-5 distraction from life. You want to convey that you're a serious career woman with an interest in joining a top company.

Follow Up

Even if the interview takes place over a meal or in a busy public place, always follow up within 24 hours with a thank-you email. This shows professionalism and foreshadows the way you'll treat clients and customers if hired. Use formal salutations and closings such as "Dear" and "Sincerely," and mention something you learned during the interview, for example, "Thank you for the opportunity to interview with you this morning over breakfast. It was interesting to learn that XYZ Company is involved with fundraising for cystic fibrosis, and I am thankful to have gotten to know more about the open position. I am truly interested in joining your diverse marketing team, and I look forward to your decision." A brief, positive message helps you stand out from the crowd and nail the job. Once you press "send," you can throw on your jeans for the weekend and celebrate your future career.

the nest