4 Tips for Acing the Lunch (or Dinner) Job Interview

I often tell my career success coach clients that business meals are not about the food.  They are about the conversation.  Tweet 75 in my latest career advice book Success Tweets says, “Learn and use simple table manners.  Good manners make you look polished and poised.”

The other day, I saw a great article by Kirk Baumann on the Corn on the Job blog.  It was about how to handle job interviews over lunch.  Check it out…

For recruiters or hiring managers, the lunch interview gives them additional perspective and insight into the “real you”.  People can memorize GREAT answers to the toughest interview questions; having a phenomenal resume, even appearing to have excellent communication skills can only get you so far.  The lunch interview (or dinner – whatever) puts you to the test.

It’s designed for two reasons:

1. To allow the recruiter or hiring manager to get to know you on a more personal level.

2. To see how you react to situations out of your comfort zone or element.  You’re not in the office conference room with the interviewer or a panel.  You’re in a much different setting with all kinds of variables to throw you off your game.

A few tips to help you make the most of your lunch:

  • Bring a notepad and something to write with – just because it’s lunch doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking notes
  • Be polite to the host, wait staff, ANYONE you interact with at the restaurant – people are watching and listening.  I’ve even known hiring managers to arrive late and ask the staff about their interaction just to test the candidate. to help you focus better.  NOTE: Wait for the interviewer to arrive before being seated.
  • Know before you go – check the restaurant’s menu ahead of time.  Most are online these days.  If you have dietary restrictions or are watching calories, you’ll have plenty of time to pour over the menu.  Select 2-3 (just in case the restaurant doesn’t have your first choice) dishes that look good and keep them in mind when ordering.  Be prepared and know what you want – you’ll  make a good impression.
  • Order something simple – the point is to land the job.  You can order the rack of ribs during your celebration dinner afterwards.  Stick to things that can be eaten easily with a knife and fork.  I’d also recommend water or other non-alcoholic beverages.  If the host orders wine, politely decline. 

Kirk is right on with this post.  A recruiter friend once told me the story of a young man who lost a sales position with a very prestigious company because he did not know the proper way to eat a foil wrapped baked potato. 

The proper way, by the way, is to cut into the potato with the foil on, open the potato, add condiments (butter, sour cream etc.) and eat the potato while it is still in the foil, leaving the foil and potato skin on your plate when you are finished.  The young man  removed the potato from the foil, balled up the foil and placed it on the table.

I think that the sales manager who decided not to hire this oung man was a bit impulsive.  If he was an otherwise outstanding candidate, I’m sure that once he was told how to properly eat a foil wrapped baked potato, he would not have repeated the mistake.  Unfortunately, he lost the job because of this gaffe.

There is some great career advice here through.  If you know basic table manners, you won’t have to worry about faux pas like this.  And, you’ll be comfortable at the lunch or dinner table because you’ll be able to focus on the conversation, not on worrying about the rules of dining etiquette.

Business meals provide you with a great opportunity to make a positive personal impact. They also can be disasters waiting to happen.  If you know and follow the simple rules of dining etiquette you’ll be fine. 

Here’s an embarrassing business dining story from my youth that goes to Kirk’s point about ordering something simple…

About 30 years ago, I had just accepted a job as the Training Manager for a division of a large company. Our division was located in New Haven, CT, a city with a large Italian population and a lot of great Italian restaurants.

About a month after I began my job, the VP of Human Resources for the corporation was hosting a two-day meeting of all of the senior HR people in the company at our location. Since the meeting was at our location, junior people like me were invited to a dinner held the evening of the first day of the meeting. I was looking forward to this dinner.  It was an opportunity for me to impress some senior people in other divisions.

One of my junior colleagues was a local woman. She was excited about the choice of the restaurant. Of course it was an Italian restaurant. She had been there on special occasions with her husband. She was very fond of a dish called zuppa de pesce, a medley of seafood served over spaghetti. A couple of days before the meeting she told me about that this dish and that it was available for two only and asked if I would be willing to share it with her. I said, “Sure.”

We arrived at the restaurant, and sure enough, zuppa de pesce was on the menu. My friend and I ordered it. What a disaster!

First the waiters brought lobster bibs for both of us. No one else had ordered this dish, so we were the only ones wearing our bibs. When the food arrived, everyone had a dish of pasta, or some grilled fish, or a steak. The zuppa de pesce was served on a silver tray so big that the waiters had to bring a side table for it. There was enough fish and pasta to feed the entire table. My friend dug in and really enjoyed her dinner. I felt like I was a character in The Godfather.

I spent my time trying to carry on an intelligent conversation with people I wanted to impress while I was wearing a lobster bib and working hard to make sure that I didn’t spill any red sauce, or “gravy,” as the waiter called it, on my suit. 

I didn’t lose any points that night – but I didn’t make any either.  It was pretty apparent to most people that I was there for the food, not for the conversation.

I learned a lesson that day. Always order something that is easy to eat and don’t call attention to you as you eat it. I try to be a good friend, and in social situations, I will often share an entrée that is available for two only – but I never do that in a business situation.  Because business dinners are not about the food.  They’re about the conversation.

The common sense career success coach point here is simple.  Business meals are not about the food.  They’re about the conversation.  That means you need to follow the career advice in Tweet 75 in Success Tweets.  “Learn and use simple table manners.  Good manners make you look polished and poised.”  You want to look polished and poised during business meals.  If you know the rules, you’ll be able to spend time focusing on the conversation – not worrying about which fork to use.  As Kirk Baumann points out in his guest post on the Corn on the Job blog, this career advice is even more important when you are being interviewed over lunch or dinner.

That’s my take on the Kirk Baumann’s career advice on lunch interviews in his guest post on Corn on the Job.  What’s yours?  Do you have any funny stories about business meals?  If so, please take a minute and share them with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for reading these musings on life and career success.


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  1. Thanks Bud. I appreciate the opportunity to be a guest blogger! Thanks for adding your take to the post. I love it when people add in their insight vs. the “good article” posts. It adds so much more value. You’re doing some great work – keep it up!

    PS. If you’re interested, I’d love to have you guest post on my blog!

    Kirk Baumann

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