Should you be chummy when interviewing with someone you’ve mingled with before – or should you be strictly business?
Your brother knows someone at a company about which you would like to learn more or where you believe you would like to work. He puts the two of you in touch. You might have met casually at a party or family event, but when you meet to discuss business, does the fact that you’re already familiar with each other change how you are expected to behave? Are you expected to be more “chummy” than you might be otherwise, or should you maintain your interview persona? Where you meet might determine your performance, said the experts.
At the coffee shop
“I don’t know that you necessarily have to go in a suit,” said Kelly Dingee, a sourcing researcher and executive trainer for AIRS, an executive search firm, “especially if your acquaintance knows you are unemployed or your office does not require formal dress. But I would suggest you put your best foot forward with your best business-casual dress. If you are meeting at your local coffee house and you are just going to have a half-hour conversation, I don’t think I would be too worried about the typical dark-suit attire.”
“Come to my office”
“If they offer (an invitation to their office), I would definitely take them up on it,” Dingee said. It’s your first step in the door. “It will also give you some insight into what the office environment is like and give you a feel for the culture.” She advised that you make sure you are professionally dressed, as you can never be sure to whom you may be introduced in the corridor or at the elevator.
Try to find common ground with the person who is interviewing you. “Interviews are all about connections. With an acquaintance, allow for five to 10 minutes for small talk before getting down to the business of the interview,” advised Deborah Brown-Volkman, a professional certified coach ( PCC ) and the president of a career, life and mentor coaching company. If you walk into someone’s office and see a golf trophy, comment on it and certainly mention it if you are also a golfer.
Research on the interviewer’s interest and background can help, actor Douglas Dickerman said. You have to make sure you know who your audience is.”
Never allow small talk to become too personal, especially when discussing colleagues in common. “You don’t want to be negative,” Dingee said. “There is always something positive that you can find to say about somebody. I think it is safe to be generic in your commentary. You certainly don’t want to critique anyone, not knowing the full background in an acquaintance interview. You don’t know what all of the relationships behind the scenes are.”