Interview questions and structured interviewing
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How to Interview Over a Meal

Andrea Kay

If an interviewer wants to talk over lunch or dinner, be on your best behavior. You’re being seriously considered for the job and the company wants to get to know you in a less formal environment, to observe your social graces and how you treat strangers. (You should use this opportunity to see how they treat others as well.)

When should you be ready to break bread? The job you’re interviewing for could require entertaining and they will want to see how well you do in an out-of-the office setting. They may want to meet your spouse or partner because a) he or she may be meeting clients when you entertain, or b) they’re trying woo you and want the other person to feel comfortable. Or your interview could be in another city or an all–day affair.

Restaurants are difficult places to hold serious conversations. You have to work at staying focused. And you also want to use this time to get to know each other better while making a good impression. Here are some tips on how to be at your best:

• Don’t go famished. You need to concentrate on the main reason you’re there—your presentation, getting information and getting to know this person.

• Order food that’s easy to eat. Trying to twirl spaghetti or handle a messy, three-layered sandwich is probably not the best choice.

• Don’t order an alcoholic beverage. You’ll need all your faculties.

• Brush up on your table manners. If you have a briefcase or folders, leave them under the table until the entree plates have been removed. If you absolutely must take notes (I don’t recommend it) or show papers, don't cover the table with them. When it comes to ordering, let your host direct the server to who orders first. If you don’t know proper dining etiquette, get some advice from someone who does. Do not make or accept calls on your cell phone. Just turn the darn thing off.

The interviewer will be watching you closely over a meal, observing all kinds of moves you make and making judgments about your competency and credibility. Your poise and professionalism can make or break the deal.