how to interview at lunch

How to Interview At Lunch

Interviews conducted over lunch always remind me of something Ginger Rogers once said about Fred Astaire, “He’s an okay dancer, but I can do everything he does backwards and in high heels!” Doing an interview over lunch is similarly tricky; it seems more casual and feels kind of ‘off the record’, but don’t be lulled into thinking this is in fact a casual lunch. It’s an interview with an added degree of difficulty. Getting through a lunch interview successfully is doubly difficult because you not only have to interview well and make an impression, but you have to do it while displaying impeccable manners, matching your pace to the rest of your table, and making sure the people you’re with are focused on what you’re saying instead of on their meal. Here are the things you will need to keep in mind for a successful lunch interview:

  • In preparation, follow the same rules as in an office interview; wear appropriate clothing, make sure you have copies of your resume with you, arrive about 5 minutes early, and be prepared to talk experience, not chit-chat.
  • Have something to eat before you go- the point here is not to eat lunch, it’s to excel in your interview.
  • If you arrive first, wait for your party at the reception area, not the bar.
  • If you’re being interviewed by one person, sit directly across from them for solid eye contact. If it’s a panel interview, try to select a seat across from the highest-ranking person or the person whom you would be reporting to; you want to be very visible to this person.
  • Never order alcohol during a lunch interview. Seriously. I don’t care if you’re the only one at the table who’s not drinking. Do not forget for one second that this is an interview.
  • Order something small and simple. Ideally something that doesn’t require the use of fingers or a knife, such as soup or a small salad. You want to have your mouth empty of food as much as possible since you will be doing most of the talking. When you take a bite, make it half the size of a normal bite so that it only takes you a few chews to swallow. If your mouth is full of food every time you’re asked a question, their lasting impression of you will be that you spent the entire meal shoveling food in your mouth.
  • Put down your fork after every single bite. Lean back and relax, listen, talk, use your hands, sip your iced tea. Again, this meeting is not about eating.
  • When there are lags in the conversation, ask a positive but neutral question about the company you’re interviewing with. Something like, “I’ve read up on your company’s wellness benefits and they seem very progressive. Do you find it convenient to take advantage of these benefits?” if in a group, pose the question to the table at large- this will accomplish several things; it will demonstrate that you have social skills and can hold up your end of a conversation when engaging people whom you do no know well; it will give you a chance to gain insight into the company under the guise of a casual question; and it will give you a chance to take a couple bites of your meal while others are talking.
  • Basic table manners;
    • Put your napkin in your lap immediately and do not put it on the table until you stand up to leave.
    • No elbows on the table, no cell phones, no chewing with your mouth open, no talking with food in your mouth.
    • Your bread plate is to the left of your setting and your beverage glasses are to the right.
    • The small fork on the outside is for a salad or appetizer. If you do not have a salad or appetizer do not use this fork.
    • Once you’ve used your knife, always keep it on the edge of your plate, never put it back on the table top.
    • Do not wipe your plate with your bread, nor use your fingers to push food onto your fork.
    • If you need to excuse yourself from the table, just say “Excuse me please.” And put your napkin on your chair.
  • Be prepared to leave with everyone else, even if you’re not finished eating. Once again, this is not about the meal!
  • Assume the company will pick up the tab. Don’t make a scene or be too effusive in your gratitude for the free meal, you will appear unsophisticated. A simple and direct “Thank you for lunch, I enjoyed it” to your host is sufficient.
  • If it’s the end of the work day and the group discusses continuing on for a drink; politely decline if they invite you to join them. Just say you have a prior commitment for the evening. Remember, you want to give them a chance to talk about you, and honestly, they probably only invited you to be polite.
  • Follow up with a thank you note just as you would with any other interview. In your note reiterate your skills, experience and why you are an ideal fit for the position, not how delicious your prawns were.