Why we don’t do coffee chats

Bloom Blog
6 min readMay 25, 2023
Credit: Noma Bar. Image Description: In the foreground of this illustration sits a black coffee mug. The shape of a face appears in the negative space of the mug handle, and a chat bubble appears at the top of the mug. Behind the black mug sits a white mug with the same face and chat bubble depicted. Both rest on a flat, coffee-coloured background.

As a workplace design consultancy on a mission to build better organizations through the lens of anti-oppression, we spend a lot of time thinking about how bias leaks into practices, policies, and processes at work. The unfortunate reality is that if we don’t intentionally build systems that mitigate bias, we may unintentionally invite biases that can lead to inequitable outcomes and disenfranchising experiences, particularly for folks from historically marginalized communities.

One of the instances where we observe this play out is in informal “coffee chats” between job-seekers and hiring managers. Quick, get-to-know-you conversations are so commonplace that you may be surprised to learn how detrimental they are to building fair and equitable interviewing and hiring processes. Whether these coffee chats are solicited from candidates (how many of you recruiters have received a LinkedIn DM requesting a “quick chat”?) or hiring managers (we’ve witnessed countless messages on Twitter and LinkedIn inviting candidates to “DM me to learn more about the role”) these unstructured conversations can inadvertently invite bias in several ways.

Here’s how:

  1. Similarity bias. Hiring managers may feel more comfortable and drawn to candidates who resemble them in terms of background, interests, or experiences. This bias can lead to a preference for candidates similar to the hiring manager, potentially overlooking qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds.
  2. Affinity bias. Much like when similarity bias crops up during casual conversations, hiring managers may unconsciously develop a liking or connection with candidates who share similar hobbies, interests, or personalities. This bias can influence their evaluation and decision-making, favouring candidates who they personally relate to rather than objectively assessing qualifications.
  3. Halo/horn effect. Positive or negative impressions formed during coffee chats can impact the overall evaluation of a candidate. If a hiring manager has a positive initial impression, they may be more inclined to overlook or downplay potential weaknesses in the candidate’s qualifications or performance. Conversely, a negative initial impression can cloud judgment and lead to dismissing strong candidates.
  4. Confirmation bias. Hiring managers may unintentionally seek information that aligns with their preconceived notions or expectations about certain candidate characteristics. This bias can lead to selectively focusing on details confirming their beliefs, resulting in a biased evaluation.
  5. Lack of structure. Informal coffee chats lack a standardized format, making them more susceptible to subjective judgments and personal biases. Without a clear framework, hiring managers may rely on gut feelings or personal preferences, increasing the potential for bias.
  6. Lack of consistency. Unless you allow every candidate the opportunity for an informal coffee chat, you are not creating a fair or equitable process for applicants.

To mitigate these biases, it’s essential to establish structured and standardized interview processes that focus on objective criteria and qualifications. Here are a few helpful scripts you can use as you work to honour more structured (read: consistent and equitable) hiring practices.

For recruiters, here’s how you can advise hiring managers against soliciting coffee chats.

Hi [Hiring Manager],

Although having casual talks with candidates may seem like a great approach to getting to know them in a less formal atmosphere, it’s crucial to be aware of potential risks and guarantee a fair and objective recruiting process. Here are a few things to think about:

  1. Consistency and standardization. By following a structured interview process, we ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly and consistently based on their qualifications and alignment with the role. Informal coffee chats can introduce subjective elements and personal biases that may compromise the integrity of the selection process and your decision-making.
  2. Equal opportunity. Encouraging informal coffee chats with specific candidates can inadvertently create a perception of favouritism, nepotism, or bias toward those who have been granted such opportunities. Other candidates who were not invited to these chats might perceive the selection process as unfair, potentially undermining their trust in the hiring process and the organization as a whole. In relation to external concerns, internal employees may become aware of this process and question the integrity of your interview and selection process.
  3. Unintentional bias. Informal conversations can unintentionally introduce bias into the evaluation process. Factors such as shared interests, personalities, or backgrounds may influence the hiring manager’s judgment and detract from an objective assessment of qualifications. Ensuring that our hiring decisions are based solely on job-related criteria is crucial to making an informed hiring decision.
  4. Time and resource management. As hiring managers, our time and resources are valuable. While coffee chats can seem beneficial for relationship and rapport-building, conducting multiple informal meetings can be time-consuming, leading to potential delays in the hiring process. Focusing on structured interviews allows us to effectively assess candidates within a reasonable timeframe and make informed decisions efficiently.

To maintain a fair and equitable hiring process, I advise sticking with our current interview framework, which includes structured interviews, standardized evaluation criteria, and diverse interview panels. This approach allows us to evaluate candidates objectively and select the best fit for the role based on their qualifications, skills, and experience.

I understand the importance of establishing a positive candidate experience and building relationships, which can be accomplished through various stages of the hiring process, such as formal interviews, especially when diverse panels are included in the process. Through these channels, it’s possible to interact with candidates while upholding consistency and fairness.

Thank you for considering these points. By upholding a standardized and unbiased hiring process, we can attract top talent, foster diversity, and make well-informed hiring decisions that align with the company’s values and objectives.

Please get in touch if you have any inquiries or wish to continue this conversation. I value your dedication to maintaining high standards in our hiring procedures.

For hiring managers, here’s how to thoughtfully decline a candidate’s request for a coffee chat.

Hello [Candidate’s Name],

Thank you for getting in touch and sharing your interest in the role at [Company Name]. I appreciate your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn more about our company and the position, and I’m excited to potentially learn more about your experience.

We’re asking everyone who gets in touch about our roles to apply directly via the link and submit their application before we can start the interview process. We do this so we can maintain a consistent interview process so we can have more ethical, equitable, and inclusive hiring outcomes. Our goal is to ensure that every candidate has had an equal opportunity to show us how they are uniquely qualified for the role we are hiring for. Not offering informational interviews or casual chats alongside our existing process supports our DEI initiatives and efforts. You can apply here: [link].

I appreciate applying for a role can be a big decision, so I’d be happy to answer any company/role-clarifying questions you may want to send here.

Conversely, if you’re a job-seeker interested in learning more about an organization, here’s how you can inquire without requesting a coffee chat.

Hello [Hiring Manager/Recruiter],

I recently came across [Company Name] and have been impressed by the work the organization is doing. I would be very interested to learn more about the company and its culture since I am actively looking for new career opportunities.

Could you kindly provide me with any available resources or materials that offer insights into the company’s mission, values, and workplace environment? This could include company blog posts, videos, or other content that can help me better understand the organization.

Additionally, I would be grateful for any recommendations you may have regarding upcoming events, webinars, or industry conferences where I can learn more about [Company Name].

Thank you for considering my request. I am genuinely interested in [Company Name] and believe that understanding the company better will help me determine if there could be a potential fit for my skills and aspirations.

Want to learn more about building anti-oppressive hiring and recruiting practices? We offer context-specific DEI training for recruiters, hiring managers, and other People & Culture folks committed to building more inclusive and equitable hiring processes and workplace systems. Get in touch with us to find out more.

--

--

Bloom Blog

We help startups and the people who work at them grow.