After a few rounds on the interview circuit, you have a decent idea of what to expect. You’ve got your interview answers prepared, your questions written down, and your outfit laid out—but then the company emails you to tell you your interview will be over drinks.
Wait, what? How do you navigate this kind of meeting? Is it even a real interview anymore?
Increasingly, companies are embracing new, more creative ways of getting to know prospective employees. The idea behind an alternative interview is for you and your prospective manager to get to know each other in a more natural setting. So, while you should be ready to use those well-worn interview skills, you’ll probably want to do some additional preparation, too.
Here’s how to approach four common scenarios:
Interview Setting #1: The Meal
Whether you’re grabbing a casual breakfast at a local spot or lunch at the new trendy restaurant, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.
First, be aware of how you interact with the restaurant staff. The way you treat them and the way they respond to you will speak volumes about what kind of co-worker you’d make. Not to sound like your mom, but manners matter.
It’d also be wise to check out the menu in advance, so you’re not awkwardly searching for something acceptable to eat when you arrive. Bonus points if you order something that’s easy to eat with a fork—now’s not the time to stuff your face with a messy burger.
Finally, bring cash. While your interviewer will most likely spring for the check, you don’t want to get caught off-guard.
(If you’re still unsure about this idea, this article is a great resource.)
Interview Setting #2: The Happy Hour
Free drinks and the opportunity to land a great new job? Sounds pretty great—as long as you follow a few basic rules.
Most importantly, don’t get drunk. I know, I know, it sounds like a no brainer, but I had to say it. When in doubt, follow your interviewer’s lead. If they order a beer, don’t opt for the hard stuff. If they order a cocktail, feel free to do the same. Just remember to keep your consumption to a one drink maximum to avoid getting too relaxed.
If you aren’t a big drinker or want to switch to something nonalcoholic, iced tea or sparkling water with lime are both great options.
Once your drinks have arrived, you can probably expect to participate in some casual conversation. In this case, it wouldn’t hurt to check out their social media accounts before meeting for clues about her interests and some non-work related talking points.
(You can read this article for more tips on navigating this slightly intimidating situation.)
Interview Setting #3: The Walking Meeting
The idea behind the walking meeting is that it frees your mind up and gets the creative energy flowing. In other words, it allows you to relax.
Once you’re out and about, do your best to mirror your interviewer’s stride, whether it’s quick and energetic or a bit more lackadaisical. Walking at the same pace will help to put both of you at ease.
Still feeling nervous? Grab a decaf coffee on the way to your interview. Having a drink in-hand as you stroll will give you something to focus that nervous energy on. You can even offer to pick something up for your interviewer, too!
Interview Setting #4: The Job Shadow or Team Building Day
These types of interviews might feel a bit overwhelming, but they’re also great opportunities for you to get a feel for what the company culture is really like. Whether you’ll be sitting in on meetings, contributing to a project, or joining a department-wide scavenger hunt, your strategy should be the same: ask a lot of questions. The key is to show an interest in the organization and people who work there.
Before you show up for your big team meet-and-greet, take some time to practice your elevator pitch. Chances are, everyone is going to want to know who you are, what you do, and why you want to join their team, so having a clear, concise, and polished (but authentic) pitch will make your life way easier.
And don’t forget to do a little research on the people you’ll be meeting—you never know who you might have something in common with.
Regardless of the venue or format, all the traditional interview rules still apply. Remember to show up on time, dress the part, and prepare a list of questions in advance. (This guide is worth reviewing before you go in.)
And remember to loosen up a little! There’s a reason this company is conducting a less formal interview is they’re hoping to get to know the real you.