How to Handle a Coffee Interview

Two Business Associates Meeting Over Coffee

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An informal meeting over a cup of coffee has replaced first-round interviews for some employers, especially those who are recruiting prospects for employment opportunities rather than interviewing for a specific position. What's the best way to handle an invitation for coffee from a hiring manager? What should you wear? What do you need to bring? Who pays? What's the next step if the meeting goes well?

Here's the scoop on informal interviews held at a coffee shop or restaurant.

Tips for Handling a Coffee Interview

Hiring managers and potential employers often begin with this less formal approach in the early stages of the interviewing process. The meeting is set up more like an informational conversation so that both the employer and applicant can get familiar without creating a more serious interview. Even though it's "only" a cup of coffee, it could be a stepping stone to a new job, so it's important to take the time to prepare.

Recruiters host these sessions at a coffee shop instead of the office for several reasons. For the recruiter, it's a way to meet a potential employee on a more casual basis to determine if there could be a role for the person at the company. For the candidate, it's a way to learn more about a company without having to participate in a formal interview, at least at the start.

Do Some Research Before Your Meeting

It is important to prepare for your coffee meeting just like you would for an interview in a more formal setting. Researching the company and its mission, services, and recent achievements will prepare you to engage fully in a dialogue.

Furthermore, you should be ready to talk about yourself and what you’re looking for in your career, and how you could add value to the company. This is your time to make a great first impression so be ready to explain how you can help the company.

What to Do Before You Interview

Confirm the exact location, including the cross streets or corner. There's a Starbucks on nearly every street in New York City, and the same holds true for many other national and international chains. 

For example, confirm that you're meeting at the XYZ diner on the South East corner of Main Street and 10th Avenue. Make sure you get the interviewer's cell phone number, so you can call or text them in case you're delayed. Also, be sure to ask how you will recognize the person you're meeting with and let them know what you look like, or what you'll be wearing.

What to Wear

Because of the nature of the meeting, it’s not necessary to dress in formal business attire. Typically, business casual wear is appropriate, so consider the meeting place before you purchase a new suit. Still, you don’t want to be sloppy – your clothes should be neat and clean.

What to Bring

It’s always advantageous to have several copies of your resume and a business card if you have one. Also, bring a list of references. You will likely want to take notes, so it never hurts to bring a pen and a pad of paper to write on. 

Ordering Your Coffee

If you get there ahead of the recruiter, you can either wait for them to order or go ahead and grab a drink yourself. However, the recruiter will typically pick up the tab. When you’re taken out by a recruiter for a coffee interview, there’s no need to worry about paying.

It’s better not to order food during this kind of meeting. While the interview itself is more casual, you will be conversing back and forth with the hiring manager and food will just be a distraction. The less there is to spill, the better.

Focus on the Interview and Interviewer

It may be noisy in a public place due to distractions such as loud customers, piped in music, and waitstaff coming and going. Try to focus on the interviewer as best you can. Keep the interview focused, as well, by staying on topic. Even if you order a light snack to go with your coffee or tea, don't think about the food, think about what you need to say to make a good impression.

Another common distraction is one that you might bring upon yourself, your cell phone. A ringing cell phone or pinging text message will distract you as well as the interviewer. Be sure to put your phone on mute or vibrate and tuck it away in your purse, bag or pocket, before you sit down to the interview.

Ask Questions

Less formal interviews and coffee meetings allow the candidate the opportunity to ask many questions about potential job openings, information about the company, and even career advice.

Learning about the types of positions and the company’s employees will give you an advantage in understanding how you can be a unique asset to their work. It will also give you a better picture of whether or not you would be happy working at that organization.

The Next Step

At the end of the meeting, exchanging contact information is a great way to expand your network and to reach out to thank the recruiter for taking the time to speak with you. This will keep you fresh in the interviewer’s mind. You can also reiterate your interest in moving forward in the hiring process.

Even if you’re not interested in the specified position or the company, it’s a good idea to send a quick thank you email or note and to connect on social media outlets such as LinkedIn. While you may not be interested in the company, having a new connection can lead you to other opportunities that may be exactly what you are looking for.

A Quick Review

Here's more information on what you can expect when you’re invited for an informal interview, including how to get ready, what to bring and wear, questions to ask, and how to follow up.