A reader writes:
I have what I think is going to be an amazing opportunity with a just starting up private school. I am super excited about the potential for this position. I have been to many standard interviews, both at offices and at schools. I know the drill for those. This interview, however, is going to be at a coffee shop because they don’t yet have a location.
How does this work? I haven’t actually met any of the people in real life before. I’m assuming that I shouldn’t email them saying that I will be the one wearing the pink sweater with a blue travel mug on the table. Is there some kind of standard protocol for meeting unknown people professionally in a public setting? (Should I arrive extra early to make sure we get a table for example?)
Also, does a coffee shop interview change what I should wear? I generally wear a nice woman’s pant suit to interviews. But I am wondering if that would make me overdressed for the situation.
I am ridiculously excited about this prospect and want to come across as professional and competent. I know that my portfolio will speak for itself, but I want to make sure that I don’t make any mistakes with the other stuff.
If you can, look up your interviewers on LinkedIn or elsewhere beforehand and see if you can find photos of them. That will help you spot them. But it’s also perfectly appropriate to say, “I’ll be the woman in the grey suit with the large blue travel mug.”
And speaking of suits: Yes, you should wear one. The fact that the meeting is in a coffee shop doesn’t change that. You still want to present yourself at your most polished and professional.
It’s also smart to arrive a little early, scope out the space, and pick a spot to sit where you’ll be comfortable — for instance, maybe at a table toward the back where it’s quieter, or a table with chairs rather than getting stuck sitting on a deep couch where you won’t be able to sit up straight. This way, you can also get your drink beforehand and avoid the awkward “who pays” moment (but if that happens, the employer should always pay).
However, if you show up early and your interviewer is already there, she may ask if she can get you something to drink. Say yes, and give her a simple order — “I’d love a latte, thank you” is fine; “a no-fat no foam two Splenda peppermint mocha with light ice” is not.
Other things to keep in mind: Don’t wear lipstick that’s going to leave a noticeable red stain on your cup. Don’t order a drink that’s going to leave you with a foam mustache. Be polite to people working there. Don’t leave trash on the table when you leave.
What other tips do people have for coffee shop interviews?