It may be that you are conducting some pre-interview research and have asked the hiring manager or someone from the team for a catch up to find out more about the job. Or that someone has approached you about an opportunity and would like to chat to you about it.
The reality is that even where a catch up is positioned as casual - if it's about a job opportunity - it's not. It's part of the selection process and needs to be treated that way.
Even when you have been approached - it may be to sound you out about something or they want to sell the job to you - your responses, your reaction and your approach, even at this early stage, will all go into the final decision about whether you are, in fact, the right person for the role.
But forewarned is forearmed. If you know that a meeting is about a job you can be prepared, treat it as a job interview, still gather the information you need and impress the heck out of them.
The trouble begins if you genuinely don't know the agenda of the 'catch-up' and haven't had any time to think through your approach. This can happen in a number of ways like "Thanks for the catch up about xyz, but what I really wanted to talk to you about was..." or "Hey, do you know anyone who might be interested in..." and your radar goes up and you respond, "Well, actually I would be quite interested in that, please tell me more..."
Here are 5 Fast Tips for when you realise that a chat has (or has the potential) to turn into a job interview:
1. Change gears slowly - don't suddenly change your body language, put on a different tone of voice or start talking like an encyclopedia to go into 'impress' mode. It will look fake. Transition slowly.
2. Ask questions - use the old how, what, why and when as prompts to help you think about what you need to know. Asking questions will let you uncover information about the opportunity and also give you some thinking time. The quality of the questions you ask is also an indicator of you capability and knowledge.
3. Treat the chat as 'on-the-record' - there is really no such thing as an 'off-the-record' chat in business. Anything you say is likely to be repeated. So even if you are in a casual environment like a cafe, be appropriate and only discuss what you would talk about if you were in a meeting room. For instance, don't share any doubts you might have about whether you would be suitable for the role. Sometimes a more relaxed atmosphere can make you feel you can share your thoughts or confide. You might want to do that with a trusted advisor, not with someone who could influence whether you get the job.
4. Be specific - if you are asked questions, answer them as you would in an interview. Be specific and give examples of how you have demonstrated the behaviour or delivered the results they are asking about in the past.
5. Establish the next steps - at the end of the 'chat' make sure you have asked or established what the next steps will be that will move the casual discuss to a more formal business footing. For example, will they come back to you with more information? Do you need to provide them with more information or set up a time for a formal meeting? When you leave make sure that you know exactly what the next step will be and when it will happen.
And then you can go into full preparation mode and get the job you want!
Thanks for the chat!