What Is an Exploratory Interview?

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Searching for a job is akin to soul searching as you find surprising things about yourself. Every once in a while, you might find new things about your career track. And the number one way to gain clarity and avoid negative surprises is to get an exploratory interview before a formal one.

An exploratory interview is an informal session where a candidate learns more about a specific organization while the interviewer learns about the candidate. Both parties then assess whether the other fits their interests, and a job interview is set up if there’s mutual interest.

In this article, you will learn more about how an exploratory interview is different from a job interview, what questions you can expect, and how you can answer them to be successful. You will also discover the two types of exploratory interviews, and what success looks like in each one. But first, let’s go deeper into the definition of an exploratory interview.

Exploratory Interview Definition

An exploratory interview between an applicant looking to settle into a career track and an organization that might have multiple positions that might suit the candidate. Unlike a formal interview, the exploratory session isn’t about a specific job position and is more open-ended.

Since the word “interview” makes one think about the formal hiring interviews conducted by employers to fill specific positions, the best way to truly define exploratory interviews is to compare them to the “standard” job interviews. The table below covers the differences between a job interview and an exploratory meeting.

Job InterviewExploratory Interview
It can happen at any point in your careerUsually happens at the earlier stages of your career
It is triggered by applying for a specific positionIt is triggered by applying to a hiring manager regardless of job openings
It is conducted close to the hiring dateIt can happen well before a suitable job is available
It can happen in a series of two or more sessionsIt is a single session, ideally followed by a formal interview
Questions are asked from the job-fitness perspectiveQuestions are asked from the cultural-fitness perspective
The end goal is to get a specific jobThe end goal is to decide whether you want to get into an organization
Duties, tasks, and KPIs are discussedHobbies, Interests, and unconventional accolades are discussed.

What Is the Purpose of an Exploratory Interview?

The purpose of an exploratory interview is to gain clarity regarding the opportunities at an organization and one’s fitness for the kind of work done there. Depending on who initiates the request, the candidates want to know more about a business, or a recruiter wants to attract top talent.

There are two types of exploratory interviews that are open-ended in nature but have different end goals. A majority of exploratory sessions are candidate-driven and serve to inform a professional about their options at a specific company. These sessions feature the HR manager or the talent specialist of the organization. 

Sometimes, a recruiter or headhunter might approach you to set up an exploratory interview. Such sessions are organization-driven and are meant to attract you to a specific company. The latter usually has a job offer in the backend, while the former is more about your interest in an organization.

The easiest way to find out what the purpose of the exploratory interview is is to think about who initiated the interview. In case you sent your cover letter and resume to a hiring manager or a recruiter, the interview is meant to educate you about opportunities. Success in such an interview means your resume is placed on a preferred shelf.

If you received the request without applying anywhere, the chances are you are being considered for a role, and the session is meant to attract your interest. These interviews are easier to ace as they consist of the other party selling you on their organization. Success in such an interview is decided by how accurate your assessment of the opportunity is.

Getting a job is easy when a specific company wants you. But knowing whether a job at that organization is good for you is the real test. If you find out in an exploratory interview that the company isn’t the best fit for you, you should consider it a success. Of course, the same applies to finding out that an organization is a perfect fit for you.

How Do Exploratory Interviews Work?

An exploratory interview is requested by a candidate or a recruiter, followed by an arrangement or time and place. In the session, both parties discuss expectations and unique points of strength. Finally, the result of the interview is revealed after a follow-up or a set period.

Initiation

If you’re a fresh graduate or in the beginning stages of your career, you can write a cover letter to an HR manager or talent specialist at a company you like. As long as you are clear about wanting an exploratory session, you’re likely to get a response. That’s how the initiation stage works for most young professionals.

Later in your career, you might receive an email requesting an exploratory interview. If you’re in HR, this means someone wants to join your company. But if you’re on any other career track, the email is from a talent scout or headhunter looking to persuade you to join their organization or client company, respectively. That’s what the initiation stage looks like for senior professionals.

Acceptance

An acceptance of the request comes with a time and place from the HR department. But if you’re the one being requested, then the time and place might be included in the invitation. It is also possible that you might have to respond and ask for the time and place.

Interview

The interview seems less structured from the organization’s end and more scripted from yours. The reason is that you know what you want. In contrast, the company might not even know whether it has a job for you. That’s why there’s more openness to serendipity on the potential employer’s end.

Follow-Up

Once the interview is over, you’ll need to request a feedback date. Because there is no job tied to the session, getting a tangible acceptance or rejection is not really possible. To avoid the “we’ll keep your resume” answer, you should ask by when you can request feedback. This gives you a chance to follow up and take the temperature of the other party regarding what you have to offer.

What Questions Are Asked in an Exploratory Interview?

To make sure you get your best shot at your next exploratory interview, you must prepare to answer the following questions or a variation of the following questions.

  • What are your daily tasks at work? – You must answer this question with slight depth and a large enough range of tasks to make the recruiter understand the breadth of your skillset.
     
  • What career choices did you make when going from Job A to Job B – Here, you should be clear about the level of thought you put into your career and emphasize how considerate you are about the organizations that employ you. Go over intra-organization moves you made that benefitted the business.
     
  • What is the work culture like at your current job – This helps the HR manager understand whether you’re a cultural fit for the organization. Avoid badmouthing your current or ex-employers. You might be invited to compare different companies from your past. Don’t get over-critical.
     
  • What do you love about your work? – When asked this, you must clearly outline what you enjoy about work alongside what specific tasks or duties could be added to make work more enjoyable for you.
     
  • What do you hate about your work? – This is a tricky question, but it has a goal. You must communicate in well-chosen words what your current job leaves to be desired. Get very specific because vague complaints might even apply to the organization you’re interviewing for.

Read this post here on how to prepare for a job interview.

How to Succeed in an Exploratory Interview

50% of an exploratory interview’s success depends on you. The other 50% is on the organization itself. The session is conducted to help both parties judge how well the other fits their interests. 

Your goal should be that no matter how you feel about a company, its HR manager should want to hire you. That way, regardless of whether you’re the right fit, you get to decide if you want the job. Here is how you can have universal appeal in an exploratory interview.

  • Be punctual – This trait is desired by all organizations regardless of their specific culture, category, or history.
     
  • Show your ability to learn – This offsets any reservations the manager might have about you not knowing enough. A learner can become an earner for any department.
     
  • Display initiative – Initiative is attractive even though some companies like employees to have no agency. By displaying initiative, you repel bad employers while attracting good ones.
     
  • Do your research – When you do your research about the company, you show that you don’t resort to asking questions if you can get answers yourself. This is something all managers love.
     
  • Do not appear desperate – By showing a stoic detachment from the position, you make all your answers more credible. You don’t want the recruiter thinking, “she will say anything for the job.”

For more tips, check out: Top 5 Ways to Succeed During an Interview in 2022

Final Thoughts

Exploratory interviews are interviews that qualify you for a job interview. The bar to succeed in them is assumed to be low, but it is not. The standard is broader, which increases your odds for success, but long-term success comes from paying attention and deciding how well a company fits your five to ten-year career goals.