A “coffee interview” is an informal meeting between a job applicant and their potential employer that takes place at a café. Despite the relaxed and informal atmosphere, it is one that still requires consideration in regard to behaviour, timeliness, preparedness, and attire.
The coffee interview is still a job interview, and candidates must make a solid first impression if they want a chance at securing a job.
This means carrying yourself with professionalism even while loosening up a little and having a more casual conversation. It means opening up about yourself while still sharing points on why you would make a great employee. You should understand that your interviewer is still a person who can offer or deny you a job.
One of the most obvious differences is that a coffee interview allows you to think a little differently about your attire. A coffee interview dress code is important, but the formality of it is much less than heading into your potential employer’s office.
Business casual, or smart casual, is the ideal option, but if you are not used to dressing “somewhere in the middle,” this can be a challenging task. In general, muted colours fly, and modesty is king. You want to feel comfortable in your outfit while showing that you know how to make a professional impression.
Be sure to try on multiple outfits and articles of clothing to find the one that fits these narrow guidelines, and remember that confidence sells. Just make sure to get ready in advance!
How do I prepare for a coffee chat interview?
So, what do you need to consider before going to a coffee interview?
- Clean, freshly ironed clothes. Prep these in advance.
- A sharp haircut. If you need to get one, get it days before the interview.
- Good personal hygiene. Trim or shave, clean your nails, and brush your teeth.
- Light or no makeup. This is still a professional environment.
- Light or no scents. A little perfume or cologne goes a long way.
- Neutral colours for pantyhose or socks.
What do you wear to a coffee shop interview? Tips for Men
Men’s coffee interview attire should be similar to something you would wear to a family dinner or when meeting someone’s parents for the first time. You can let a little of your personality shine through, but it should be in the form of colour matching and garment choice.
Avoid graphics on sweaters and when possible choose shoes that would be acceptable at high-end restaurants. Because it is corporate casual, you can mix these more formal items with more casual items like dark denim jeans or high-end sneakers, but always make sure your overall outfit says “professional” rather than “fun.”
Chinois is the classic choice. Stick to beige, navy, or khaki, and match them to your other clothes. Chinos are the perfect pants when the dress code is ambiguous.
That said, you can also explore a more comfortable look, a pair of straight-cut jeans with a buttoned shirt can lean to the casual side of business casual without crossing the line into “too casual.”
Long sleeves are a must, though you can roll up the cuffs for hot weather or a relaxed look. White is the simplest choice, though matching other colours to your pants, shoes, or accessories are acceptable.
Make sure the shirt fits well and has buttons or at the very least a polo. Anything beyond this could be seen as street-wear and is generally not appropriate for a professional interview. The coffee interview is a blend of professional and casual, your outfit should reflect your understanding of this.
Classic leather shoes help finish up a look in a way that can both highlight and punctuate a well-put-together outfit. Stick to brown, black, or grey leather boat shoes, loafers, chukkas, Chelsea, or other shoes considered “dress” in most circumstances.
In a pinch, a pair of high-end sneakers will work as well but stick to high-quality materials like leather and one to two colours maximum. You want these shoes to compliment, not draw attention.
An afterthought in the case of the coffee interview, but if you decide to get one, invest in good material that will last for years.
Blazers are great for multiple occasions. For the coffee interview, they are definitely optional, but in many ways are articles of clothing that can make your smart casual look more “business-like”. The classic navy is the easiest to match, though black or beige are also popular options.
A good watch, belt, or wallet can really add some personality to an overall look. Make sure to match them to your overall look and never underestimate their utility, especially in wallets.
High-quality men’s leather wallets can last for decades and add to a man’s image as the item he will most likely have on his person.
Following the ever-present wallet, a good watch is a great way to make a statement without saying anything. Watches have become more a fashion item than a functional timepiece, so wearing one that fits your outfit and matches your style will be attention-grabbing without being distracting.
How should I dress for an interview at a coffee shop? Tips for Women
For women, the idea is to dress sharp while keeping modesty in mind. This means dressing for confidence and physical comfort in an outfit you would feel at home in an office.
Always opt towards neutral colours and simplicity, except for accent pieces, and remember that professionalism should shine through. When in doubt, dress as professionally as you want, and then switch out 1 or 2 items to a more casual fit.
Remember that you have a lot of options, so experiment. Just be sure to look at yourself in a mirror at the end, and decide if this is how you want to look in a professional environment.
1. Blouse or Shirts
The trick here, as with most professional women’s fashion, is to find articles that fit well without being tight. Unlike your bottom articles, tops and blouses are an opportunity to add colour to your outfit.
White is the most obvious choice for a pure professional, but most colours will work well if matched. You can even go further with prints like floral or polka dot, but in general, choose something that makes you feel confident.
Finally, the neckline should be collared, v-neck, or boat-neck, though always keep modesty in mind.
Keep skirts at or below the knee, high-waisted, and either loose or fitted, but not too tight. Slits should be modest and appropriate when seated. Blues, blacks, or muted colours are a must and match most of the outfits you put together.
Your pants should be fitted or only slightly loose. Quality material is preferred, and the pants should not feature any rips or frayed hems.
Sadly, denim does not always fit women’s attire and should be avoided, though dark-wash jeans can fit in a pinch. Finally, blues, blacks, greys, and muted colours are the preference as they are easy to match and offer a sharp overall look.
While not overly typical, dresses can be acceptable business casual, though a skirt or pants are usually preferred. Dresses should end below the knee, be high-waisted, and be fitted or semi-fitted. Avoid wide-legged pants that resemble dresses!
5. Jackets and Sweaters
Not necessarily a must, but a semi-fitted blazer or jacket can suit you well and be used on multiple occasions. It is a great colder-weather option and can compliment your overall look.
Cardigans in particular can be a smart-looking option if fitted well, and the addition of a belt can hit that fine line between professionalism and casualness.
Women have many options for business casual footwear, though as a rule, you should avoid open shoes like sandals or flip-flops.
That said, heels, wedges, flats, and boots are all completely acceptable. Stick with muted colours or ones that compliment your outfit well. Remember the idea is to enhance your look, not distract from it.
Flats and heels can afford to be more striking in colour, while wedges and boots should be more muted or natural. Finally, comfort should be a high priority.
7. Right accessories
Accessories make a statement, but too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Simple earrings, delicate necklaces, and solitary rings go a long way to accenting a look correctly.
Bags, belts, and wallets should match your ensemble and can go a long way to tying your look together from start to finish. With bags, in particular, make sure it is one that can be easily accessed and give the impression of the organization. Rummaging through a bag during a coffee interview is a bad look.
What should you wear to a coffee chat interview?
A coffee interview is increasingly common and can feel like a wildcard if you are unprepared. Your best approach should be to find the line between casual and business and strive for that.
Wait to order your drink together, use conversational language, put your phone away and pay attention. Come to the coffee chat interview prepared with questions for the company and answers for why you are the best candidate.
Finally, pick your (appropriate) outfit ahead of time, and walk into the coffee chat interview with the confidence you need to secure a job. Happy hunting!
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Mariam Simmons is a fashion enthusiast and Content Manager at Alpine Swiss. She loves travelling to the world’s top stylish destinations and gets inspired to create helpful fashion and lifestyle guides. With over a decade of writing experience, her main goal in creating content is to ensure readers learn something useful and provide value instead of noise.