How to Excel in Alternative Interview Situations

You’ve done this interview thing before, and you know the drill. So, you iron your suit, practice your answers and feel confident. A few moments later, you get word that the interview will take place outside the conference room, over drinks. Huh?

You vetted the company, just as the company vetted you. This isn’t some scam, but does an interview over drinks count as a real interview? Yes.

More companies increasingly embrace innovative forms of the interview process, such as meeting over brunch or coffee to get to know the candidate in a more comfortable setting. Your trusty office interview skills will come in handy, but you need alternative tactics for alternative settings, too. Here’s a guide to four unique interview settings and strategies to bring out your best self while out and about with a prospective employer.


1. The Happy Hour Interview

You get a chance to interview for a great gig and free drinks? What’s not to love about the happy hour interview? You need to stick with a few guidelines, so you don’t get too carried away with the mix of alcohol and forget it’s still a professional meeting.

The no-brainer — don’t get drunk. It’s obvious, but bears repeating. Try this rule of thumb — follow the interviewer’s lead. A classic cocktail like a Manhattan never hurts, or select a single craft beer. Stick with one drink you know you’ll take your time with and won’t put you over the edge of sobriety. You don’t have to drink, either — try a non-alcoholic cocktail or sparkling water with a lime wedge.

Peruse the interviewer’s bio on the corporate website and check out their social media beforehand for chat ideas. Expect some casual conversation intermixed in the interview.


2. Meeting for a Meal

You may get asked to meet over a meal, such as a brunch or over tapas. Some general etiquette for first dates over a meal applies to this unique setting. The waiter rule is a common interview tactic — how you treat the restaurant staff implies what kind of coworker you make and reveals your personality when given the opportunity to display your values situationally. Good manners go a long way, including thanking the server, chewing with your lips closed and not talking with your mouth full of food.

Look over the menu in advance, so you won’t waste valuable time in search of something to eat. Avoid messy foods, but choose something you like. While the interviewer will likely pay, bring cash just in case.


3. The Walking Interview

Companies introduced the walking meeting to get employees out of the office and moving, which boosts creative thought by at least 5.25 percent. Your blood flows, and you think on your feet, literally. You also feel more relaxed because your body focuses on moving and not tripping over the nearest rock.

The idea translated recently into the interview process, and the goals above remain the same. When someone invites you to go on a walking interview, don’t be embarrassed to ask how long the walk is, what the trail is like, what you should wear or what you should bring. Maybe suggest meeting for coffee before or afterward, or pick up coffee for both of you.

When on the walk, match the interviewer’s stride. If the pace feels too fast, it’s OK to ask the other person to slow down, so you can more thoroughly answer a question. A quicker pace will give you an advantage, since it forces you to keep your answers concise, and therefore, to the point.


4. The Shadowing Interview

Your prospective employer may invite you for a team meet-and-greet or a day of job shadowing. You might feel overwhelmed at first, but it gives you the chance to see how you fit within the company culture. Find out how the day will flow, and ask open-ended questions to get to know the people and the company when you’re there. When you show interest, the company will express more interest in you, too.

When you attend a team meet-and-greet, don’t forget to exercise your elevator pitch, since this creates an opportune moment to adjust your pitch according to whom you meet. You have under 60 seconds to make an impact, so try getting their attention with a question and share your unique selling point. Your pitching skills will improve, too. Don’t forget to snag business cards and to send thank you emails later!

Researching more about the staff and company in advance helps you create conversation and question ideas, and you feel more confident as a result. Loosen up, and express yourself authentically. Take off the strictly professional mask, and don’t put on airs.


Ace Alternative Interviews by Being Yourself

The idea behind alternative interviews is getting you to relax and open up more authentically. You’ll ace a nontraditional interview by being yourself.

Bridge the gap between personal and professional by telling your story during your alternative interview. Tell the real story and use narrative structure when you highlight your accomplishments and ruminate on your failures. Talk about what you learned and how you grew. Chat with various people in the setting as you would at an office — get to know the team and be nice to your server. A display of manners in various situations reveals much about a person.

Interviews understandably stress out all professionals, no matter where you are in your career path. Luckily, you know the way the interview process goes, or so you thought — don’t let alternative settings shake your resolve to ace the interview. Take advantage of a nontraditional setting to use your strengths to your advantage and showcase your skills and true self.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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