Informal Interviews for Finance Professionals: Keep Your Cool and Your Smarts

Like a lot of things in the working world, some companies are using interview formats that are less formal. Especially interviews that are framed more as pre-emptive ‘conversations’, ‘networking opportunities’ or ‘information sessions’; where maybe you’ve been asked to meet someone for a ‘coffee’ rather being grilled by a panel.

In this situation, you should also adjust your style, right? To become more informal, and more of a chat?

Wrong. Let me explain why:

You still need to create a stellar first impression.
So yes, you may decide to slightly tone down your dress style from the type of heightened get-up you might wear for a formal interview, but always keep it business smart, never casual. The minute you walk through the door, be that of Starbucks or an office, you’re being judged. Not on physical appearance, of course, but the way you present yourself.

Arrive on time, and as well equipped as you would for a formal interview. Bring copies of your CV, a professional notebook and pen, and make sure you aren’t carrying lunch/gym gear/shopping bags on your person, all of which can reduce your ‘professional’ demeanour.

Don’t let yourself be fooled into a ‘chat’.
It’s easier to connect over coffee, and for many, the sense of it being an informal session reduces the pressure/nerves you might experience in a normal interview. Leverage this to your favour, by keeping yourself relaxed, but don’t let it make you become ‘informal’.

Similarly, one of the easiest traps to fall into when attending an informal interview is to treat it like a ‘chat.’ It is, of course, a chat, but one where you still must show interest, sell yourself in the best way possible and talk about your experience in a well-rounded, considered and intelligent way.

Prepare exactly how you would for a normal interview.
It’s unlikely you’ll be asked a tricky behavioural question in an informal interview. However, just because you may not be asked “tell me about a time where you had to deal with conflict with a non-finance business lead”, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare an example answer for this. Consider the chance you may start ‘chatting’ through some issues they are experiencing with cross-functional collaboration. How great would it be to have your example to hand?

Don’t forget to promote yourself, and never walk away without closing the interview.
Selling ourselves is horrible. It may be bad enough in a formal interview to have to talk about your strengths and promote your value proposition without sounding like you are bragging, but it’s a necessarily evil. And, in the case of an informal interview, it’s even more imperative that you do offer a positive impression based on strengths, as they certainly won’t prompt you do it. If you don’t, you risk being forgotten about.

Above everything else, remember to close the interview. It may be just a coffee, but the person offering this interview wouldn’t be wasting their time, or yours, if they didn’t think they weren’t interested in you for a role, specified, or unspecified. However, turning an informal interview into a formal hiring process balances on you expressing your interest in progressing. If you don’t do this, it may be taken as a sign ‘thanks for the coffee, but no thanks to the role.’


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