How to do a Lunch Interview

David Luther
by David Luther
Get The Job, Guides - 3 years ago

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OK, a lunch interview.

Either they’re really busy and can just barely stuff you into their schedule while stuffing caesar salad into their mouths, or they’re the hip type who like to be non-traditional — you know, like they’ll say something like, “we don’t wear shoes in the office because we like to let people be themselves.”

And I know what you’re thinking, because we’ve all been there:

Are they serious? They want you to conduct what might be the single most important conversation of your life in the presence of mozzarella sticks?

I mean, how could they possibly expect you to focus your attention on what they’re saying when there’s fried cheese up in this place?

Well, never fear, it’s actually pretty similar to a standard interview in many ways, with only a few subtle caveats and some pretty obvious preparations you can do.

Follow the tips below, and there’s no way your lunch interview will be ruined….That is, unless they run out of marinara for your cheese sticks. That’s some end of days stuff right there.

They may want you to impress them, or they may want to try to impress you

There’s a strong possibility that they’re trying to impress you, if you’re actually a competitive candidate that they want to secure. Also, they might actually be trying to gauge how you’ll perform at a business lunch.

There are certain things that interviews are meant to cover: how you maintain eye contact, how you speak, if you can joke, and how you generally interact as a human being with other human beings.

But depending on the level of seniority or type of position you’re going for, some of your soft skills that make you more qualified than other candidates may simply be how enjoyable you are to be around.

The point of any interview and the secret to meeting expectations: Preparation

This is the fundamental aspect for any interview, and you’re doing a good job by looking at this guide. Think about it like this: they know your general qualifications and have a rough idea of what you’re capable of, because they have your application and your resume.

More or less what an employer is looking to do in any interview, particularly a casual one like a lunch interview, is to:

  1. Find reasons why they like you as a person, or
  2. Figure out if you’re going to be awful to work with.

Preparation is key to making employers think the first one is true, and hiding the fact that you’re awkward to talk to and kind of strange (or if you just suck to work with).

Take the same steps as you would for a traditional interview

Dress as you would for an interview, no matter how informal you think it may be.

You should get your elevator pitch practiced so well that it’s pitch perfect (so funny) and you should still bring the usual stuff with you.

Research the company beforehand — your time will be limited due to the length of the meal, and this will help keep you from asking questions that you could easily answer yourself and make you look prepared.

Lunch interviews often come up as the second interview format, so make sure you’ve got a solid list of questions to ask the interviewer — and be ready for behavioral curveball questions.

And then some not so traditional steps

And just as you should research your route to the office and read a bit about your interviewers, if you’re lucky or resourceful enough to find out about them, you should also familiarize yourself with the restaurant and its location.

First off, take a look at the menu and call ahead to work out any allergy issues — it’s best to avoid changing restaurants at the last minute, for obvious reasons.

You don’t need to be ready to order immediately, but in the event that this interview is taking place over lunch because of the interviewer’s packed schedule, you’ll want to minimize the time you spend deciding between sweet potato and regular fries.

(Go sweet potato, they make you seem urbane.)

How to get to the table

First off, confirm the location — don’t assume that you’re meeting at a particular branch of a restaurant because of its proximity to the office — and arrive fifteen minutes early.

Wait for them at the front, just as you would at a reception desk — combined with the early arrival, you can save yourself some awkward roaming around the restaurant looking for an irate businessperson by making sure that you catch them coming in.

Some notes on etiquette

In addition to the short-on-time and we’re-super-hip reasons for a lunch interview, you should alway assume that the interviewer is judging how you’ll present yourself in a similar business situation if hired, especially if it’s for a position that requires a lot of client-facing schmoozing.

Make your folks proud: elbows off of the table, say please and thank you, put your napkin on your lap, and maintain good posture. And even if you were raised by wolves, chew with your dang mouth closed.

And just in case you’re the type of person who believes that treating service staff as inferiors makes you seem important, I would also encourage you to both stop being awful people-garbage and increase your chances of getting the job by being engaging and polite to the staff. The interviewer is watching everything you do.

How to order

Last. Always try to order after the interviewer, so you can gauge what’s an acceptable price range and how the interviewer treats their lunches.

The odds are that the interviewer has dined here before, so you can typically play it safe and ask what they would recommend. If the interviewer tries to be courteous and insists that you order first, however, it’s a bit dicier.

Go light, even eating a huge breakfast so you can stick to a salad or something similarly forkable and clean. Whipping strands of sauce covered linguine all over the place is going to demand some attention and a heavy sandwich is going to risk your dry cleaning and embarrassment, so the suggestion here is to focus more on the conversation than the food.

Unless they order those cheese sticks, because then you go in on them thangs — they’ll respect your gusto, it shows that you’re a fallible human.

And on a parting note, I urge you to stay clear of booze, even if the interviewer(s) do not. You can celebrate over drinks later, but for now you need to stay on your game.

Be professional, even if you are being social

Again, remember that this is an interview, no matter how intimate and friendly sharing a meal can be. In point of fact, savvy companies may even send an almost overly friendly employee to the lunch in order to get you to let your guard down.

While feeling comfortable is definitely ok, maintain your professional demeanor. Sometimes a question is just a personal question…but not in interviews.

That said, let your server do the selling — try not to immediately start pitching yourself as a candidate, and be alert to the different types of conversations the interviewer may be trying to have, whether it’s personal or strictly business.

So, uh, about the bill…

Don’t worry about it, because they invited you and will almost certainly be expecting to pay for it themselves, likely on the company’s dime. If the bill is placed near you, just completely ignore it.

Your opportunity to mention your gratitude for their time and the meal will be in the form of the thank you letter that you’ll send — which is something that you’ll also want to do in the form of a thank you note you’ll be writing before the day is over.

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