Working Strategies: Mastering the ‘soft’ interview dance


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Have you ever wished you could interview with someone without having a job on the line?

Amy Lindgren

As you already know, job interviews come in all shapes and sizes. There are group interviews and panel interviews, video interviews and phone interviews, screener interviews and interviews with hiring managers … one thing these versions all have in common is their purpose: Job interviews are designed to help employers fill a job.

So what happens if the job opening isn’t a certainty, or perhaps the worker isn’t definite about becoming a candidate? These are situations tailor-made for a less formal process, sometimes called a “soft” interview.

Not to be confused with an informational interview, the soft interview is a conversation between two individuals to explore the option of working together. The potential employer could be the manager of a different department in the same company where the candidate already works. Or this person could be employed in a different company altogether.

The main distinction between this kind of meeting and its better-known cousin, the informational interview, is that in a soft interview, the two participants are closer to being peers.

As a refresher, in an informational interview, the would-be candidate is conducting initial research to identify which career path to follow or, perhaps, what kind of training might be needed to enter a profession. Whether young or old, this person is new to the field and probably not ready to be hired. That creates a one-way dynamic of tutoring or mentoring, with the interviewee providing expertise that helps the worker make decisions and move forward.

The soft interview, by contrast, is a meeting between two people who already share the same industry or profession, or who have enough in common that they could be considered peers in some way. In this case, one or the other has initiated the conversation to explore the possibility of working together in some capacity.

Perhaps the most common soft interview scenario is when a worker wants to know if he or she would find a home in a different part of the company. The inquiry could spring from discomfort or even toxicity in the current job, but it could also be inspired by something more positive, such as a desire to learn more skills.

When the soft interview is conducted with someone outside the company, the conversation might be a little more guarded. In these cases, neither party wants to lead the other person on, but each is interested in what could transpire.

As you can see, with this kind of dancing around, the soft interview might not be the process for someone in a hurry to change jobs. But if you’re at the stage of checking out possibilities, it’s a good way to network with intent.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of this strategy.

Don’t rush things. Unless there’s a specific job available or an opening you’ve been told is imminent, there’s no reason to create urgency around these meetings. In fact, urgency could work against you, if someone perceives that you’re moving too quickly for whatever opportunity they’d be able to pull together.

Request the meeting. For the most part, it’s best not to call this an interview, as that puts the other person in an awkward position. Instead, reach out to ask if they can spare time next week because you want to get their advice on something that you’re thinking about.

Communicate openness. When you meet, the other person will benefit from a general understanding of your career goals. That said, be careful not to seem rigid in your objectives. If there’s going to be an eventual match, flexibility will be the key.

Learn about their needs. Part of being open is the willingness to consider work you hadn’t been imagining. But even if their needs don’t fit your goals, you may be able to help them in some other way, once you have a better understanding of the circumstances.

Stay in touch. A follow-up note or email expressing your thanks is essential, so be sure that’s on the way within a day of the meeting. After that, an occasional note or call will keep you front-of-mind as things develop on the other end. And if you make a decision that precludes this option, such as taking a different job elsewhere, it’s only courteous to share that news in a timely way, while offering to be of future assistance yourself.

Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected]



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