A potential employer has just invited you to a lunch meeting, hopefully, to discuss the position you are keen to acquire. You hang up the phone or hit reply to their email, and give yourself a mental high five for making it this far. But then you start to panic. What if you knock ice water into their lap? What if you drip alfredo sauce down your blouse in front of six senior partners? Suddenly a lunch meeting sounds like a recipe for disaster. But not to worry. Here are a few helpful tips to help you come through prepared, poised, and ready to impress no matter what.
Potential employers frequently schedule an interview over lunch, perhaps as a practical way to fit a meeting into a busy day. Sometimes, however, there are other motivations such as wanting to learn about a candidate when he/she is more relaxed and slightly off guard. Lunch interviews give an employer the opportunity to assess your social skills and personality in a more informal setting, and to watch how you interact with other people. This helps them to gauge whether you will fit well into a larger team and specifically into their culture.
It’s important to let your host set the tone for the discussion once you sit down to lunch. If they decide to jump right into the particulars (job skills, education or where you see yourself in five years), be ready to dazzle them. But also be prepared just for small talk. Have a few conversation topics ready to demonstrate your personality, your interest in other people, and your likability. It’s always helpful to review the day’s headlines before a lunch interview, to ensure that you’re ready to chat knowledgeably about news relevant to your industry. But be prepared to keep the conversation light. The old adage of avoiding politics and religion remains sage advice. Try to engage each person at the table in conversation at some point.
Remember to follow basic norms of courtesy such as being on time, being polite to servers, and keeping all smartphones on silent and in your purse or briefcase. Research the restaurant ahead of time and preview the menu so you can order quickly. Don’t make comments about diet or food allergies, and if the food isn’t to your liking, this is not the time to complain to the waiter.
Below are some basic etiquette reminders that will help you conduct a lunch interview your mother would be proud of:
- Put your napkin in your lap upon sitting.
- Avoid alcohol. Sparkling water or iced tea are good choices.
- Expect your host (interviewer) to ask you to order first, and try to order something simple like a salad or sandwich.
- Wait until everyone is served before eating.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full or put elbows on the table.
- Eat a reasonable amount, not too fast or too slowly.
- Never ask for a to-go box.
- If you bring materials, tell your host you have them but leave them in a briefcase on the floor or extra chair. Wait until after the plates are cleared to bring them out.
- Offer to contribute to the bill, but don’t argue if your host takes the check. “May I contribute?” is a good way to respond when the check arrives.
- Remember to relax. You’ve been asked to lunch because you’re a compelling candidate. This is a chance for you to let your unique personality and character shine.