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When its a coffee, is it an interview?

James Witcombe Nov 17, 2020 3 min read

“Yeah ok, she does sound interesting. I’m a little busy this week but I am happy to have a coffee with her sometime next week?”

Having a “coffee meeting” with candidates (or potential candidates) is a regular occurrence in recruitment. But for the candidate it can lead to a lot of questions… “What should I expect? Is this a real interview? How is it different to a normal interview? Can I pass or fail a coffee meeting?”

Unless the person or company regularly uses a café as part of its interview process, there is actually a different angle the interviewer is taking when deciding on calling for a coffee meeting. On the whole, the interviewer is mainly wanting to get to know the candidate as a person. They are seeking to get a bit more into the mind of the candidate and learn more about them. Sure, the interviewer probably has a job in mind which they are assessing them for, but catching up in a less formal setting is a deliberate approach by the interviewer to get to know the candidate on a more personal level.

Candidates be warned – while this coffee at a café may sound relaxed and light hearted, you need to approach and prepare for these meetings as comprehensively as you would for a formal interview.

There are 5 main types of coffee meetings in recruitment:

There’s no job available yet, but there is expected to be soon.

This is a preliminary stage meeting. The interviewer expects there will be a vacancy soon, but it hasn’t been confirmed or approved yet. This meeting is very much a first round interview, and the interviewer is hoping you will be a great fit. They are most likely meeting you because you already tick many of the boxes.

There is no job available, but the candidate has unique skills or could meet a specific need.
Particularly in areas of high skills shortages, smart companies are always happy to meet with hard to find candidates who have unique skills. Again, this is very much a preliminary interview. Perform well here and it could lead to an opportunity or job being created for you.

The “meet the CEO/different manager” coffee.
This may be a normal part of the process, or the interviewer may require another person’s opinion. This normally happens towards the middle or end of the recruitment process. You are certainly being assessed here, so make sure you are prepared.

The “just before we offer you the job” coffee.
If you have had 3 interviews and been reference checked, you may still be asked to have a coffee meeting. What this tends to mean is that the interviewer still isn’t 100% convinced on your suitability for the role, in particular around culture fit. The interviewer will be using this coffee to try and get to know you in a more relaxed setting. It’s a chance to let your guard down a little bit, while still keeping it professional.

The “just before the start” coffee.
Even after you have signed and accepted the role, having a coffee with your manager before commencing is quite common. It’s a good thing – they are wanting to get to know you more. It’s likely they will want to chat to you about what you can expect in your first few months. You still need to be prepared for this coffee meeting. Although you have got the job you want to continue to strengthen that great impression.

In terms or etiquette, make sure you order a coffee, tea or something to drink. The interviewer is likely hosting the meeting so it is important to be a good guest. Avoid eating food if possible – it can make talking difficult and messy.

Be prepared and put your best foot forward. Good luck!

James Witcombe
The Candidate Coach