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Tips to Run a Successful Casual Interview

Interviews are tough - even a hiring manager who has been doing them for years could tell you that. Both parties are trying to learn as much about each other as possible in as little time as[...]

November 06, 2018

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Tips to Run a Successful Casual Interview

Interviews are tough - even a hiring manager who has been doing them for years could tell you that. Both parties are trying to learn as much about each other as possible in as little time as possible, all while trying to ignore the obvious tension of frazzled nerves clouding the room. Thankfully, casual interviews have become popular as of late, due to a growing millennial workforce and a bigger emphasis on candidate experience. And though they may just seem like some hip new trend, they’re actually pretty effective.

Everyone You Interview is Nervous

Whether you’re a recruiter, a hiring manager, or the owner of a small business, you will, at some point, have to interview a candidate. As you may already know, conducting the interview can be just as hard as receiving it. Your job is to make the candidate feel comfortable so that he or she can represent themselves in the best way possible. Easier said than done - a study by Harris Interactive and Everest College found that 92% of adults get anxiety about going to a job interview. Let’s take a closer look at the findings:

  • General anxiety was the most common complaint (17%).
  • Being overqualified and not knowing the answers to questions tied for second place at 15%.
  • Being underqualified was a top fear among 11% of responders
  • For those who made less than $50,000 per year or had no college degree, nervousness was the top complaint at 22%. For those who made between $75k-$100k per year, only 11% reported nervousness.
  • Being underprepared or nervous about making a bad impression worried 10% of responders.

What does this tell us about our interviewees? Well, first off, that almost everyone gets freaked out about going to a job interview. But more importantly, it tells us exactly why people get so nervous about the big day – and that we may be able to do something about it.

From stuffy office settings to garden variety questions that barely scratch the surface of a candidate’s potential, traditional interview tactics are quickly becoming passé. The informal interview is gaining popularity in a world where candidate experience is a top priority. Casual interviews are highly effective at putting candidates at ease and understanding the deeper parts of their personality. One LinkedIn report predicts that hiring managers will reinvent the interview this year, with a greater focus on assessing candidate soft skills and understanding weaknesses. What’s the best way to do this? A casual interview, of course.

Keep it Casual; Keep it Cool

Personally, I’ve been to a handful of informal interviews in my career, and each one had me thanking my lucky stars that the interviewer chose not to take the formal route. A job interview is one of the most triggering situations for a person with anxiety, like myself. I was once so nervous for a phone interview that I ate an entire bag of spinach while pacing the house. I don’t even like spinach.

The problem with traditional interviews (especially for someone like me) is that they don’t allow your true personality to shine through. You’re so busy trying not to let your anxiety escalate into a full-fledged panic attack that you can barely focus on the questions. An unseasoned interviewer might perceive broken eye contact or fidgeting as a sign of distraction, and stumbling over questions might make you appear unprepared, or worse - disinterested. As an interviewer, you can probably imagine how a casual interview can help dispel these jitters, both in its setting and tone. There are significant benefits for you as well:

  • A casual chat is more conducive to creative questioning. For example, you can ask about the candidate’s hobbies, which will give you a better idea of how they’ll mesh with the company culture.
  • You won’t have to work as hard at making the candidate feel comfortable, which frees up both of you to have a meaningful conversation. It might relieve some of your worries, too.
  • Unstructured interviews allow you to quickly identify – and control – your own biases. Unchecked biases are one of the toughest problems interviewers encounter. A casual interview is a great way to bring your biases to light, and thus learn from them.
  • It’s easier to “sell” the position during an informal interview, a necessary duty in today’s candidate-driven job market.

How to Conduct a Super Chill Interview

The anatomy of an informal interview isn’t complicated. It’s all about the tone. Remember, your goal is to provide a comfortable atmosphere that encourages an open yet guided conversation. Here are a few tips:

  • Remind the candidate to prepare before the interview. Tell them that although it will be informal, they should still be ready to answer questions. Be specific about who they’ll be meeting and what they’re like. Candidates are less likely to feel anxious when they’re armed with information.
  • Location is important, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of a successful interview. If you don’t want to conduct an interview in the middle of a bustling coffee shop, you don’t have to. A comfortable couch in a quiet meeting room will do just fine. Look for a spot that’s free of fluorescent overhead lights, which are known to cause anxiety and panic attacks.
  • Find a balance between standardized questions and cookie-cutter ones. Standardizing your questions can help reduce bias, but you also want to avoid tired old questions that elicit factory-made responses. Prepare yourself ahead of time by going over your stack of resumes and crafting thoughtful questions that you can tailor to each candidate.
  • Start the conversation with a friendly chat to relieve tension. Offer some information about yourself, perhaps something you noticed on the candidate’s resume or cover letter that you have in common. Ask them if they’re comfortable and if you can help by grabbing them a coffee or tea.
  • Finally, be friendly! Let the candidate know you’re on their side and that together, your goal is to identify their strongest skills and personal traits. If you have to ask a few tricky questions, wait until the end of the interview, when the candidate feels confident and relaxed.

We’ve written a lot about young folks in the workforce and how companies can increase millennial engagement. And if you’ve been keeping up with our blogs, you’ve probably noticed that we often say candidate experience involves the entire hiring process from start to finish. The interview is the apex where candidate and company meet. It’s a big moment for both parties – make the best of it by ensuring both are free to express themselves.

Casey Enstrom
Casey Enstrom
I am passionate about helping business leaders adopt crowd-based hiring solutions to hire the best talent. Through a comprehensive workforce and staffing programs assessment, I help identify areas of opportunity where having a hiring marketplace with a curated network of staffing agencies & independent recruiters​ could dramatically impact results.
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