You no doubt know the drill when it comes to formal interviews, but the line can get a little fuzzy when it comes to meeting prospective employers at a café or bar. With this in mind, we present a guide to coping with cappuccino meetings.
Although not exactly new to Asia, these sessions are growing in popularity, says Annie Yap, managing director, AYP Associates in Singapore. She cites a recent case of a candidate who was hired after three coffee meetings – even signing the appointment letter took place outside the office.
They are informal dialogues between you and the line manager. The entire team won’t be sizing you up at a coffee shop, so relax. The discussions are typically the purview of senior professionals (VP and above), especially in the front-office and private banking, says Yap.
Although the get-togethers are usually preliminary chats before the formal interview, Johannes Tan, senior consultant, financial services and banking, PSD in Shanghai, has seen them happen afterwards, such as when a candidate expresses doubts about making the job switch. “Having a coffee with the line manager to discuss these concerns can really help. Leaving the familiarity of their current firm can be tough for experienced hires, so it helps if they can get support from the new firm,” says Tan.
Where and when
The meetings can take place in cafes, hotel lobbies, pubs (if it’s after work) or at a restaurant over a meal.
The rationale is simple. Most of these candidates are fairly senior and given that the talent pool in their field may be small, they wouldn’t want rumours spreading that they have been interviewing at a rival firm. From an organisational perspective, casual meetings are logical as well. Yap explains: “The whole hiring cycle can take a very long time because of bonuses and interviews, so it makes sense that line managers meet up with potential candidates first – in anticipation of headcount. It gives them a head start.”
Another factor why they are especially prevalent during this time of the year is because candidates aren’t willing to commit to jobs before bonuses are doled out, adds Tan.
The onus is on the firm to foot the bill.
The setting may be casual, but this isn’t some boozy shindig. Behave as you would in a formal interview. “Put your best foot forward. You need to present yourself well and this means dressing like you would in a proper interview,” advises Tan.
Even if the meeting takes place over the weekend, Yap advises candidates to avoid jeans. Smart casual is preferred with collared shirts and slacks for the men and dresses for women.
“Prepare exactly as you would for a structured interview. This means finding out as much as you can about the role, the hiring manager and the company,” says Yap. Tan also recommends asking the potential employer lots of questions. And of course the usual protocol, like not being late, applies.
Discussing compensation can be very tricky in a casual setting and recruiters we spoke to had mixed views on the issue. Yap says: “I don’t think it’s presumptuous to bring salary up because if expectations aren’t managed, it could end up wasting the time of both parties.” Keep it simple: state your current remuneration and the increase you hope to get. “As long as you aren’t being too demanding, it won’t create a negative impression.”
Tan on the other hand, thinks it’s best not to bring up compensation at the initial stage. If the subject does arise, he suggests giving a flexible salary range. “Convey the fact that you are open. You don’t want to appear to move jobs only because of money, which can be a huge turn-off.”