Going out to a business lunch can feel like a first date. Even more so if an interview is involved. Nerves are at an all-time high and you want to make a great impression, all while remembering to chew with your mouth closed and keep your elbows off the table. Recently, I had a friend reach out and ask my opinion on how to handle an interview over lunch. Because this seems to be a common concern among interviewees, I figured I would share my advice.
You got the interview, now what?
First, get some information about the restaurant the interview is being held at. Usually companies will have a place they commonly take potential candidates, so it should be determined well ahead of time. Figure out the parking situation at the restaurant, how long it will take you to get there, and take a look at the menu. If you have dietary restrictions, be sure the restaurant is able to accommodate them. Otherwise, you need to let the interviewer know with enough time to make alternate arrangements. Dietary restrictions are nothing to be ashamed of, however, if you are a picky eater who tends to “substitute” almost every item on a dish, it is advised you choose a selection that will not require you to do this.
As for any interview, you must “dress for success”. However, there are a few added elements when interviewing while having a meal. You will be using your hands more, between talking and eating, so be aware of watches and bracelets. Make sure if you wear them, they fit well and do not move about the wrist too much. Also, be sure your nails are nicely manicured (whether you are male or female). As I stated before, hands will be much more involved and there is nothing worse than fingernails that do not look clean (no dirt underneath, trimmed, if there is polish it should not be chipping, etc.).
Check out the Styleshack blog for more outfit inspiration.
Be sure to choose an outfit ahead of time. Chances are you will be wearing a suit or blazer. Make sure it fits properly and is not too large, to ensure it will not get in the way while eating (ladies, a good solution for this is a jacket with cropped sleeves). This way, you can focus on answering questions instead of on trying to avoid getting sauce on your sleeve! I also believe it is important to showcase a bit of your personal style, while remaining professional. Unless the company you are interviewing with is very traditional, it should not be frowned upon to have a pop of color or an out-of-the-box tie (guys, if you’re concerned, wear some funky socks). Wearing something you like will help you relax a bit and hopefully help you to stand out among the other candidates.
Since the interview is taking place at a restaurant, over a meal, you will not be able to leave as soon as the questions regarding the position wrap-up. Make sure to have a few appropriate topics on hand, so when the time comes you have more to talk about. These types of interview do not allow you to reference notes written prior, meaning topics and questions for the interviewer will need to be memorized.
You’re prepared, it is time to shine!
On the day of the interview, arrive to the restaurant early, much like you would if it were to take place in an office. This will allow for you to wait for the interviewer at the front of the restaurant and not have to peek around to see if they have already been seated. Once they arrive, you can greet them and follow their lead to the table.
Since you have already looked at the menu, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to eat. Asking the interviewer for a suggestion, as they have most likely been to this restaurant several times before, is a great way to get the conversation started. Even if you do not go with their recommendation, it is another way to see the price point and stay in that range with your entree. No matter what, do not order an alcoholic beverage, even if the interviewer does firsts and asks you. Hopefully, you will get the offer and there will be a more appropriate time to enjoy a drink with them!
Finally, when it comes to pay the bill, do not offer. This can be an uncomfortable situation, but rest assured, it is on the company that is interviewing you. Instead of offering, be exceptionally grateful and follow up with a hand written note, again expressing your gratitude.
It’s over, you can breathe.
This type of interview is one that causes many candidates additional stress, on top of an already stressful situation. In my experience, it is best to just breathe and be as prepared as possible. In the end, remember that if a company is taking the time to interview you and pay for a meal, they are interested in you.
Have an experience or advice you’d like to share? Please leave a comment!