When a full table of food enters the interview equation things can get messy. Meal interviews may seem less formal than office interviews, but they are just as important. During a meal interview you are not only evaluated on your answers, but also your demeanor. Can you hold intelligent conversation? What are your manners like in a social setting? Are you a pleasant person to talk to?
In order to excel in a meal interview it is crucial for you to learn the basics of table manners – all those rules about keeping your elbows off the table, placing your napkin on your lap, chewing with your mouth closed, and treating the staff with respect. To brush up on table manner basics, read the definitive book on the subject, Emily Post’s Etiquette.
When trying to impress an interviewer during a meal, you want the interviewer to focus on what you are saying, not what you are eating. To excel at a meal interview avoid foods that could compromise the task at hand.
- Avoid foods you eat with your hands, such as hamburgers, sandwiches, or corn on the cob. Find something that can be cut into small pieces.
- Avoid foods that are messy, can splatter, or take a lot of concentration to eat correctly, such as spaghetti, ribs, buffalo wings, or rotisserie chicken. Find something that is less likely to end up on your shirt or lap.
- Avoid foods that are loud and crunchy, like potato chips or celery. These foods can be distracting when trying to hold a conversation.
- Avoid alcohol, especially early in the interview process. If you are asked if you want an alcoholic beverage by the interviewer, then follow their lead, but only order one drink. Remember, you are here for an interview, not a party.
The best thing about a meal interview, it’s free. Almost all meals that take place during an interview will be charged to the company budget, but don’t take advantage of this fact. Follow the interviewer’s lead. If possible, consider ordering the same item, or stick to the middle of the road. Make sure you don’t leave the interviewer eating alone, so be sure to pace yourself. We don’t suggest starving yourself, but it is acceptable to leave food on your plate. Avoid dessert unless you are following the interviewer’s lead.
During an interview you may be expected to do a lot of talking. Come to the interview prepared with some interview questions. They can help provide you with some time to eat your meal. We suggest having a snack prior to the interview so that you are not ravenous when your meal arrives.
You should not offer to pay for the meal. It’s never expected of you as a candidate. Remember to thank the interviewer for the meal to show your appreciation. Do not ask for a doggy bag. If you are interested in the position, remind them you are interested and why you feel you are suited for the job. We recommend asking them about the next-steps so you will know how and when to follow up if needed.
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