Preparing for an interview is nerve-wracking enough, let alone when your potential employer suggests it over a meal. What should you order? How will the conversation go? And how can you highlight your strengths and accomplishments while trying to maneuver a mouthful of chicken Piccata?
When I interviewed for my current position, both of my interviews were over lunch. I was a first-timer at this interview format and had little knowledge of what to expect. But I survived—and so can you. Here are a few things I’d encourage if you find yourself in my same position.
How to Prepare
Do some basic research on the restaurant in order to figure out the location, menu, clientele, and noise level. Even if you’ve been to the restaurant before, take some time to review the menu and pick out few options you might order. It’ll reduce the amount of time you spend looking at entrée options (time that could be spent engaging your future employer!).
Next, remember that one of the hardest things about an interview over a meal is that you can’t have notes available to refer to—easily, anyway. So, you’ll want to spend plenty of time beforehand outlining the key points that you want to get across and the key questions you need answers to.
Finally, dress the part. Though a restaurant might feel more casual than a conference room, you still want to wear interview-appropriate business attire.
When to Get There
Plan to arrive 15 minutes prior to the reservation and wait for your interviewers at the front of the restaurant—this will prevent the whole, “I wonder if they have a table yet?” awkwardness. (If you haven’t met them before, do a quick Google image search so you have some idea of who you’re looking for.)
What to Order (and Not Order!)
One of the trickiest things about an interview over a meal is figuring out what to order. The best thing you can do is take the lead from your interviewers. When you sit down, casually ask if they’ve been to the restaurant before and what they think are good options—hopefully their recommendations will give you a sense of an appropriate price range. If not, when the wait staff arrives, try to have your interviewer order first and choose something at that price point (or less).
Also, be sure to pick an option that will be easy to eat while you’re talking. (Hint: Forkfuls of Caesar salad are easier to maneuver than that massive sandwich.)
Finally, no matter how casual your employer may be, you want to put forward your very, very best self. This means: Stay away from ordering alcohol, even if the interviewers do. If you get the job, you will have plenty of opportunities to share a drink with them—the interview is not the time or place to start.
How to Present Yourself
An interview spent sharing a meal with your potential employers is typically more of a conversation than a Q&A format. So, don’t be afraid to engage in a two-way dialogue. Yes, answer questions they ask you, but also insert any questions you have where appropriate, and know that it’s OK if the conversation veers into more personal topics (e.g., “Where did you grow up?”). That said, follow your interviewers’ lead and listen closely for when they switch from casual dialogue to questions about your fit for the position.
Also remember that one reason for having an interview over a meal is that the employer is looking at how you present yourself in this setting (and how you would represent the company in future social settings). So, be aware of all of those table manners: Sit up straight, keep your elbows off the table, maintain good eye contact, and don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you.”
Wrapping Things Up
At the end of the meal, don’t be worried about the check. The interviewers have invited you to the meal, and therefore, they’ll pick up the tab.
As the bill is being paid, make sure to ask about any next steps, which will help guide what you write in your thank-you note (yep, you need to write one after every interview—meals included!). And also take the time to genuinely thank your interviewers for their time and the meal, both as they are paying the check and as you leave the restaurant.
Having an interview over a meal is a good thing—it means the interviewers are interested in spending more time with you, and it’s a great way to convey your skills and personality in a less-formal environment. Be prepared and remember these guidelines, and you’ll have a great interview (and, hopefully, a great meal).
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