The Danger of a Coffee-Shop Interview

Written by on July 7, 2014 in Blog, Careers, Interviews, Uncategorized with 1 Comment

The Danger of a Coffee-Shop Interview

Don’t Think a Coffee-Shop Interview Is Easy

Many candidates think a coffee-shop interview is as easy as it gets, and yet, it might be the toughest—if you don’t keep your guard up.Espresso in glass cups

How tough can it be?

  • You are dressed casually.
  • You’re at a public place on neutral ground.
  • And you’re both drinking coffee, for God’s sake.

What could be easier?
Before we get into that, let’s look at why companies opt to interview there.

  1. Position opening is confidential.
  2. Proprietary work on site.
  3. Not ready to commit to a full interview team.

Why a Coffee-Shop Interview Is Tough

It doesn’t matter whether you’re meeting at Starbucks, or Tully’s, or Peet’s, or any of the gazillion coffee shops in the country, this is not a casual interview.

We’ve already seen why a company might choose to interview offsite instead of in their offices, but those were only some of the possibilities. Here are a few others:

  • They want to put you off guard.
  • See how you handle distractions.
  • See how you’ll fit the team.
  • Determine if they’re able to work with you.
  • Decide if you are a culture fit.

I know one manager of HR who sends two people to lunch with each high-level candidate. They don’t even discuss the job. They talk about everything but the job. And the whole time they are evaluating.

What Are They Evaluating?

Everything.

  • Did you greet people with a smile as you walked inside?
  • Did you hold the door for others, or did you rush to beat them inside?
  • Did you strike up a conversation with people? Or stand to the side and check your watch?

And this is all before you even meet the interviewer.

Other Considerations

Be aware of how you treat the barista and the person who takes your order.

A sharp interviewer will watch for signs of arrogance. If you treat the person who takes your order with disdain, or indifference, perhaps you’d do the same to people who you consider “under” you at the company.

Don’t make mistake of talking too loud, or too low.

These are signs of self-awareness, and might be important if a company has cubicles in the workplace.

Don’t forget to clean the table.

A hiring manager might question your empathy—not to mention your manners—if you fail to clean up after yourself. If he/she is too good to clean tables, what else are they “too good” to do?

Be aware of how you treat everyone.

This includes not only things you say, but looks you give, and/or body language. It all speaks volumes about who you are.

A Few More

Aside from the items mentioned above, there are the obvious things to consider.

  • Don’t talk with your mouth full.
  • Don’t chew with your mouth open.
  • Don’t slurp.
  • Use a napkin.
  • Sit up straight.
  • Don’t spill crumbs on the floor, or even outside. (If you do, clean them up.)
  • When you get up to take your trash to the can (And yes, you absolutely need to do that), make sure to ask if you can take their cup. Or reach for it and say, “Let me get that.”

It wouldn’t hurt to offer to pay, but if they insist, don’t argue about it. You offered, that’s good enough.

Insight From The Other Side

If the position you are interviewing for is one that will have exposure to clients, this is a chance for the company to get a peek at how you might handle yourself. They’ll be looking for things like:

  • Are you comfortable and not bothered by the noise and distractions. Or do you cringe when the conversation at the next table becomes too loud?
  • Are you able to adjust your voice to the level of the crowd, lowering and raising at the appropriate times?
  • Are you confident, or do you cast nervous glances around the store?

In other words, do you know how to work the scene? If you’re being interviewed for a sales position or to represent the company to customers or clients, you need to shine in this type of environment. And you better believe they’ll be watching.

Are All Coffee-Shop Interviews Like This?

Of course not. Some are just what they seem to be—casual meetings to determine mutual interest. The problem is that you never know, which means you have to prepare as if it’s more than a cup of coffee.

Bottom Line

Whenever I go into a coffee shop, the first thing I do is take a look and see who might be interviewing. It’s easy to spot them—dressed in business casual, or the occasional suit—but that’s not what gives them away. The dead giveaway is a certain…formality…that is absent in the other patrons. Sometimes it’s the forced smile the interviewee casts at the people who just sat next to them. Or the way he/she leans forward and whispers, while glancing around the room.

If I watch long enough, I normally nod my head and think…That one’s not getting called back.

Don’t be one of them. Offsite interviews are different, but if you prepare for them properly, they’re a piece of cake.

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Jim (Giacomo) Giammatteo is a headhunter who writes resumes and cover letters. He is also the author of No Mistakes Resumes, and No Mistakes Interviews. He also writes gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

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About the Author

About the Author:

When I’m not headhunting, or writing, I help my wife take care of our animal sanctuary. At last count we had 45 animals—11 dogs, 1 horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar named Dennis who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy.
For information on my mystery/suspense books, go to giacomog.com

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  1. avatar Jon says:

    The coffee shop interview can also be a sneaky way for a firm to meet offsite before firing someone. I am actually interviewing for a position in this manner and the approach feels inappropriate and sleazy. I am also hearing impaired, so my ability to focus against background noise in a loud environment is limited since my hearing aids magnify all sounds equally. Thus, the sleaze factor, combined with a disability, will make my interview difficult. The best environment to interview someone who has a hearing loss is in a quiet location, such as a library meeting room. The idea that my interviewer will mark me down for an inability to hear would be unfair at best, discriminatory at worst. The one size fits all approach to interviewing is really ignorant. The candidate needs to be honest with the interviewer to say he/she is hearing impaired and needs accommodations. The interviewer must supply reasonable accommodations under the law.

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