Tips For Successfully Managing Luncheon Interviews

Tips on how to successfully manage a career luncheon interview - etiquette, ordering and talking to a recruiter over a meal.

Interviewing for a new job? How exciting"¦ until you hear those dreaded words, "luncheon interview". Most of us face this at one time or another, and it's one of the true tests of a candidate. Your recruiter will be looking to see how well you handle yourself in a social situation, and will be evaluating you on an entirely different set of criteria.

All of the regular interview protocol still applies, but with a few new twists - you must present yourself as not only professionally accomplished, but socially adept as well. Here are some tips for making the most of your luncheon interview:

* No smoking or drinking, even if the interviewer does. Even if you'd love a huge glass of wine, decline and order iced tea. Some firms frown on drinking at lunchtime, and smoking may be taboo. Since you won't know if your interviewer really doesn't care if you smoke - or drink - or not, or if this is a "test" to see if you'll cave in to peer pressure, you're better off skipping the alcohol and cigarettes. Don't apologize, just decline and smile and order a soft drink instead.

* Brush up on your social skills and etiquette lessons ahead of time, if possible. Your interviewer wants to see how you handle yourself out in public. Don't interrupt, and if you aren't sure which fork to use (etc.) follow the lead of your interviewer. One general rule of thumb is that the silverware is arranged in the order it's used - salad fork on the outside, meal fork on the inside, etc.

* Eat a snack before you go to your interview, but don't tell your interviewer. It's best not to be starving when you get into the luncheon interview, as the focus is really on you talking and paying attention to the information offered, instead of on the meal itself. No explanation is necessary for ordering light, but don't skip your meal altogether as this is awkward for the interviewer.

* Order something light and healthy - try ordering something that reflects on the healthy lifestyle you are trying to project.

* Smart Menu selection - You should avoid finger foods, long pastas, anything incredibly hot or salty, new foods, and "messy" sauces or foods. Some interviewers will try to trip you up by taking you to a rib joint, or a spaghetti house. Almost any restaurant will offer some interview-friendly dishes instead.

* Some Good Interview choices include pastas with small shaped noodles, dishes with small chunks of meats, and some salads.

* Order what you know - If don't recognize an item, ask your server or host (or just order something simple). Don't try to fake your way through a menu, it's been heard of for an interviewer to take a candidate to a restaurant with the menu in a foreign language, etc. Ask questions, if necessary, and order something simple.

* Special Diets - If you have special dietary needs, decide if you want to mention that up front or not. If so, make mention of it to your host at the time you're scheduling the interview, then drop it. If you're a strict vegetarian and they take you to a steak place, see if you can find an acceptable option - pasta, or soup and salad perhaps? Don't make an issue of it, but don't apologize either. If it comes up, be matter of fact and don't let your host get embarrassed - remember, you are flexible and easy to work with.

* Get the Menu - If you know where you're going, try calling ahead and ask about the menu, etc. Do this anonymously, as you never know when the restaurant may be owned by a good friend of the interviewer, etc. You don't need to explain that you're coming for an interview, but you can inquire as to the general menu options and any specialties they have.

* Taste before you Season - one cardinal rule of interviewing is to make sure you taste your food before you season it. There's a story about a highly qualified senior executive who lost his job simply because he salted his soup before tasting it; the interviewer felt this indicated that he made decisions without all of the necessary information. In any case, it's better safe than sorry on this one.

* Stress Management - luncheon interviews can be highly stressful. Just try to relax (a little) and realize that this is an interview, no more, no less, and the meal is secondary.

* Pause for Thought - Since you have food there, you can use this occasionally to pause when you need time to think about your answers. Take a small bite, chew, then answer the question - or take a small drink of your water before answering. Don't do this for every question, though, or your interviewer may wonder about it.

* Eat neatly - As before, you should follow good etiquette - take small bites, chew completely, swallow before speaking, and lay fork down between bites.

* Be prepared - Remember, there are no cheat sheets at a luncheon interview, so you should go in knowing your job description and requirements, resume, etc. Don't plan on relying on your paperwork, especially to refresh your memory about your own experience!

* Be professional - this is a social situation but still an interview. You should act professionally, with no off-color jokes or slang, even if interviewer is cutting up (this may be trying to see if you'll join in). While it's okay to relax, it's not okay to drop your guard and act unprofessional.

* Dress Appropriately - dress nicely, with color if possible. Try to avoid white if possible (it's a spill hazard, colored food will be far less likely to show splatters if they occur!).

* Bill Time - the Interviewer pays the bill - always. Don't even reach for it; just thank them nicely when it's paid.

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