A lunch interview, though it might seem casual, is an important opportunity to wow an employer during a job search. No matter how relaxed the locale, you can rest assured that the interviewer is observing how you conduct yourself professionally in a social setting. To make the most of your time and create a great impression, observe standard etiquette and prepare thoroughly.
The casual nature of a lunch interview can lull you into a sense of informality, but it's important to prepare as you would for an in-office meeting. If you're unfamiliar with the restaurant's location, do a drive-by in advance at approximately the same time of day. Lunch crowds can have a big impact on parking availability, so this small step can keep you from being late. Know the names of your interviewers, and look up their photos online so you can spot them in the restaurant if they are seated first. Consider your clothing carefully — choose clothes that you can sit in comfortably for more than an hour, and avoid full sleeves or big scarves that might get in your food as you reach for a glass or lean forward.
A menu is a minefield during a lunch interview, so it's important to choose your meal carefully. Choose something that you can eat without making a mess, such as a salad or a basic meat-and-vegetables dish. Avoid splash-prone foods such as soup or sauce-laden pasta, and stay away from anything you need to eat with your hands. When you don't have to worry about staining your shirt, it's easier to focus on impressing the employer with your conversation. If you have dietary restrictions or you're a picky eater, look up the restaurant's menu in advance. That way, you can order quickly and avoid holding up the group at the interview.
Mind Your Manners
During a lunch interview, an employer is observing your professional demeanor, so it's important to break out your best manners. Start with the basics: place your napkin on your lap, and don't speak with food in your mouth. Cut your food one bite at a time, and place your utensils on the plate rather than the table between bites. If you're in doubt about which utensil to use or whether to order alcohol, follow the employer's lead. When the bill comes, don't fight over it or offer to split it. Instead, allow the employer to pick it up with a simple thank you.
Prepare for Chatting
Thanks to the social nature of a lunch interview, you can expect a greater percentage of casual chatter. In addition to reviewing common interview questions, prepare conversation topics before you arrive. Spend 15 minutes reading through the top headlines on your favorite online newspaper. Use LinkedIn to research the people who are interviewing you, and see what hobbies you have in common. A small amount of preparation can make you a more engaging and memorable dining companion — which indicates that you can entertain clients and make a pleasant addition to the office culture.
When you perform well, a seemingly casual lunch interview can be a powerful way to move your job search forward. By following etiquette rules, you can keep the focus on your qualifications and conversational skills.
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net