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What is a Walk-In Interview?

By Osmand Vitez
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A walk-in interview is a job screening that happens without an appointment or scheduled meeting. They are common at career fairs and informal meet-and-greet sessions, and they tend to be relatively short and often consist of only a few questions. Employers may offer candidates a job at the end, but more often than not, the meetings are used as a way to quickly narrow down the applicant pool. Top candidates are often invited for a more formal interview at a later date.

The Setting

The basic nature of the walk-in interview is that it is spontaneous and unplanned. In most cases, there is still a bit of structure to them, though. Many occur at job fairs, where employers have a chance to meet hundreds of interested workers at once. Interviews at these sorts of events often happen right at the employer’s booth or in a private or semi-private conference room somewhere nearby.

Companies sometimes also host walk-in interview events at their offices when there are a lot of positions to be filled at once. Announcing a mass interview day can be a good way to screen a lot of people at once without having to actually go through the formal job application and screening process. Anyone interested in working at the company is usually free to drop into events like this and be interviewed without much hassle or stress.

Getting Prepared

The ease with which these sorts of meetings happen can make them look more casual than they really are. Though most are designed to be informal, applicants are usually smart to do at least some preparation beforehand. Thinking about common questions is often a good place to start. Interviewers are likely to ask why applicants want to work at a given company, for instance, or why they think they would be good at a given job. Talking about general strengths and weaknesses is also common.

It is usually a good idea for applicants to dress formally and come prepared with a list of references and a few copies of a recent resume. Those who appear polished and professional, even in such an impromptu meeting, are usually the best positioned to make a good impression that could eventually lead to a job offer.

Next Steps

What happens after the interview can vary depending on the employer and what sort of job is at stake. Entry-level work that needs to be filled right away is sometimes hired for on the spot, which means that successful candidates might be offered a job as soon as the interview is complete, or else later that day or week.

It is more common for walk-in interviews to serve as initial screenings. Employers will think about who they liked the best from the initial meetings, then will invite their top candidates in for more formal question-and-answer sessions. These are usually more structured, and applicants will often have a chance to meet with other executives, tour the offices, or ask more extensive questions about the potential job and its responsibilities.

Benefits to Employers

Companies often choose to conduct walk-in interviews because of how efficient they are. Meeting candidates for brief periods of time allows recruitment officers a chance to talk to a lot of people at once, for one thing, and also cuts down on the paperwork involved in running a large-scale job search. Rather than spending the time reading through stacks of resumes, recruiters can simply meet people in a fast, face-to-face setting where they can make quick impressions about who might be a good fit.

The walk-in process also allows a company to interview multiple candidates for different departments. Recruiters can have several managers from various departments meet with candidates, which saves time and resources.

Benefits to Job Seekers

Applicants sometimes prefer walk-in interviews to more formal meetings, too. More casual meetings allow seekers to get a quick sense of a company and its philosophy without having to spend a lot of time researching it, and can give them an almost instant feel for whether a particular job would be a good fit. If so, more connections can be made; if not, new opportunities can be sought out.

Possible Downsides

Job seekers who do not take the process seriously enough can often destroy their candidacy without even realizing it. Recruiters’ first impressions are often decisive, which means that someone who comes in unprepared or who doesn’t respond well to questions might be out of the running relatively quickly. Once eliminated, it can be hard to get back into an employer’s good graces.

There also tends to be a lot of competition at walk-up events, as there are often many of candidates to choose from. This can be both good and bad for applicants, but makes it all the more important to make a favorable first impression. Standing out from the crowd can be challenging under these circumstances.

Employers also face some disadvantages. They need to make personnel available for processing paperwork and interviewing candidates, for one thing, which takes them away from their regular jobs. The company will also need to create a strict policy about which candidates to call for additional interviewing, which can create tension between recruiters who disagree.

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Discussion Comments

By geekish — On Aug 19, 2011

My husband who used to hire people for a retail business gave me this interview tip - always help out, you never know when a task may actually be a part of the interview.

He used to have an employee come into the room where the candidate was being interviewed and have an employee come take some chairs out of the interview room, saying they needed the chairs for the next room.

My husband would excuse the interruption and get up from the interview and help with the chairs and at this time would look to see if the candidate would also take the initiative and help move the chairs.

He said most people did not help move the chairs. He never ended up hiring anyone who did not move the chairs.

By Tomislav — On Aug 19, 2011

@sinbad - I have had one in particular that I can still remember that caught me off guard. I had my interviewer ask me what I had failed at or been unsuccessful at. I drew a complete blank as I went through all the goals i had made and achieved; I never found one that I had felt at that time that I had failed at.

I have always remembered that, because after that question I realized I had not taken enough risks, and I vowed after that question to take more.

The good news was that I was hired for the job even though I did not come up with a good interview answer for that question.

By Sinbad — On Aug 18, 2011

I have done both types of interviews and I felt much less intimidated at the walk-in type interview.

However, that may have been because at the time the walk-in interview did not involve many interview questions because the person interviewing me was in dire need to fill many positions. So rather than it feeling like a walkin interview it felt like the person was trying to sell the job to me.

During my non-walk-in interview; it was much more the typical interview where I was asked the frequently asked interview questions such as "What are your strengths?" and "What are your weaknesses?"

Luckily I was prepared for those types of questions as my graduate school had also prepared us for interviews as well as training us in our future profession.

Has anyone ever had a question from an interview that caught them off guard?

By Sunny27 — On Aug 18, 2011

I wanted to add that I used to be a recruiter for a technical staffing company and we used to have job fairs all of the time to help fill open positions. A lot of times we would offer preliminary interviews in order to screen the candidates before calling them in for a formal interview.

We did this to see if we could potentially set these candidates up to be presented to our clients. I think that the walk in interview has a distinct advantage in that it allows you to see how someone presents themselves and what type of interview skills they have.

This is a lot more effective than a telephone screening because you can see how well groomed they are and how good their interview skills are as well as their body language.

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