The Lunch Interview

Michael, one of the vice presidents that we actually placed a number of years ago, takes all of his candidates that he is serious about hiring to lunch. Last week he took one to lunch and he not only did well at the lunch but was very successful in his interview with the CEO and is getting an offer. As we were talking about it, he mentioned about how often candidates really screw up a lunch interview. So I asked him what he looked for in a candidate at a lunch interview. Here are the things he mentioned that you should look for:

• When the candidate suggests a restaurant that is fairly pricey. Michael thinks that the candidate ought to let him pick the restaurant, since he is the host. Common sense and common manners would probably dictate that.

• When the candidate arrives late or after Michael does. Never be late!

• When the candidate’s eyes look around the restaurant at the people instead of looking at Michael when he speaks. Michael says that so often, even when the conversation is low, it is really easy for the candidate to lose focus and start looking around at all of the people in the restaurant. This is especially true in noisy restaurants, which, Michael adds, should be avoided.

• The candidate is either rude to or totally ignores the wait staff. Anybody with any brains on them should know that they should be nice to everybody, especially when they are in an interview.

• It’s awful when the candidate comes to the “interview” to actually “eat” rather than to interview. Michael claims that the candidate needs to forget that it’s a meal, but that rather it is an interview. Michael says that the candidate needs to remember that he’s there to get a job, not relieve his hunger. I’ve always recommended that candidates eat something before the “meal interview.” Never go to a meal interview hungry. Michael even says that in his taking clients to a meal in a sales situation, he hardly touches his food. He will let the other person eat all they want but he doesn’t eat much.

• When the candidate eats all his food. To Michael, that says that the candidate is more interested in the meal in the interview.

• Ordering a meal before Michael does. The candidate doesn’t pay any attention to the host doing the ordering; he or she simply starts ordering. The host should always order first even if the host asks the guest what he or she would like. The guest should defer to the host.

• Ordering the wrong kind of food. Anything that can’t be cut into small pieces and eaten easily should be avoided. Never order spaghetti, chili, soup… anything that can spill over dribble. And then, of course, there’s eating the wrong kind of food in the wrong manner. A person doesn’t need to use their imagination much to realize or imagine how badly this can go.

• Cutting up all of their meat before they eat it. I have to admit that this might be a bit picky on Michael’s part, but nonetheless, he thinks it’s really bad manners. The truth is, it is very bad manners.

• Starting to eat before the host is served. Once in a while, a candidate’s food will arrive at the table before Michael’s does. He thinks it’s very rude…and it is, to begin before everyone is served.

• Having more than one alcoholic beverage. I don’t recommend ever drinking an alcoholic beverage in an interviewing situation…lunch, dinner… any of them. Michael thinks that it’s okay to have a beer or glass of wine at a lunch interview…but only have one and nurse it through the whole meal. In the same way that the candidate should not be there to eat, the candidate should not be there to drink. I’m a firm believer that “alcohol and interviews don’t mix.”

• Picking up the whole roll, buttering it and eating it without pulling a piece off of it first. Okay, this is a bit picky (no pun intended) but, nonetheless, it is poor manners.

I’m sure that there are all kinds of other issues that people have about candidates eating a meal during an interview. But most managers, like Michael, would consider these very poor.

I think people should totally avoid any kind of lunch, dinner or social interview. Just too many things can go wrong that have nothing to do with the candidate and the candidate’s ability to do a job. But if you must, mind your manners.

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