Navigating Lunch Interviews

Q.  I’ve had two interviews for an entry-level agency job that I really want, and the HR person just called to arrange an interview with the head of the practice at a restaurant.  Never having been in a stressful interview situation and expected to eat at the same time, any advice?   -TK

A.  Your question brought several flash backs beginning with my first such interview when the entire contents of the stubborn ketchup bottle buried my french fries.  Lesson:  Never order food that requires ketchup or anything that doesn’t already come on the plate.   Another experience involved Dover sole that was riddled with bones, one of which lodged in my throat and required a lot of coughing, bread and several glasses of water to dislodged.  Lesson:  Don’t order anything with a bone.  (Steak bones don’t get caught in your throat, but they look unsightly on your plate).  I also ordered soup once and after it was served a colleague of the interviewer stopped by the table, so we, of course, stood to shake hands.  When I sat back down the tip of my tie went into the soup bowl.  Lesson:  Never order soup.  If the soup sounds irresistible, be careful with the tie, but also know how to sip it.  Proper etiquette that is seldom followed, but observed by some:  Always move your spoon away from you as you scoop up the soup. 

One of my first interviews was in a 4-star New York restaurant where the interviewer was a regular.  When we sat down, two martinis were placed in front of us.  At 24, it was my first martini and tasted very good.  When the second one arrived, I knew I needed a plan.  Fortunately, he had to excuse himself to make a telephone call (pre-cell phones), and I was able to dump all but the olives into my water glass.  Lesson:  Despite how much you want that drink, don’t be tempted.  Request the politically correct iced tea or Diet Coke. 

So what do you order?  The last few young people I’ve interviewed over lunch have gone with safe things like hamburgers, but I recommend being a bit more adventuresome with food choices that show creativity.  I also don’t like the idea of finger foods, especially after having shaken a lot of hands.  Swordfish and tuna steak are both delicious and easy to eat.  Meal-size salads also should be considered carefully or avoided, although there’s a 50-50 chance that’s what the other person will order.  Most salads require three times the fork-to-mouth action than other basic lunch choices–and you must remain focused on the interview without a constant mouth full of food.  Of course, you also can order the salad–just don’t feel a need to consume the entire thing. 

There are several online resources that can help you navigate interviews during meals.  Ball State University’s Career Center provides excellent dining etiquette tips.  Don’t over study for the experience, however.  Try to stay relaxed and focused on the conversation.  Bon appetite

By the way, I received job offers from three of the four above experiences.  (No job offer from Martini Man).

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