Any advice or tips on attending my first lunch interview?

Q. I have a third interview for a job that I’m really interested in. The next part of the interview process is a lunch meeting at a restaurant with 4 members of the team I’d be working with. This is my first “meal” job interview. Any tips for me to ensure this goes well?

A. Congratulations on being invited for a third interview over what is supposed to be a casual lunch meeting. Keep in mind that every aspect of your behavior will be scrutinized, and as it is an interview, you will need to be on your best behavior. The first thing you should do is go to the restaurant’s website to check out directions, parking, their menu and their dress code. You will want to determine what is the easiest thing for you to eat. For example, don’t order something messy such as spaghetti or chicken wings. And don’t order the most expensive item on the menu.

If you haven’t yet met all the individuals attending the lunch, your goal is to find out more about them, how long they have been with the company, and how your potential role will interact with them. They have been sent to this interview for a reason and your goal is to find out why. If you are given their names in advance, take the time to do some background research on all of them so you know something about them, perhaps where they went to school or where else they worked, so you can personalize the questions you ask everyone. Preparation is key.

On the day of the lunch interview, be early to arrive at either their office or the restaurant. Be social and friendly. You can ask the group if they have been to the restaurant before and what they have had and what they might recommend. This also puts a price framework around what they might order, and you can follow suit. Stay within the price range of what others are ordering and don’t be the first to order. If everyone is ordering a salad, now may not be the time to order a burger. Now is not the time to order alcohol, even if the rest of them are ordering drinks. This is also not the time to order something extra large so that you can take half of it home for dinner.

What you want to do is have a few food options to select from, without sharing any of your food quirks, which most people have. You can be gluten free without making a big deal of it. You can be lactose intolerant without bringing everyone’s attention to it. You might be a vegetarian or vegan. This isn’t the time to have everyone focused on your food issues or preferences, but instead to be focused on you and your ability to fit in with the team and your engagement with each of them. Try to order something that requires a fork and a knife and can be eaten in small bites. Recognize that you will be doing a lot of talking by asking and answering questions.

Recognize that your interactions are with all four of these people and with the wait staff, whether it’s the host, the waiter, the bus person. All these people deserve your respect and consideration. Be sure to be polite by saying please and thank you as much as possible. And you may want to refresh your restaurant etiquette by going online for a refresher on table manners. Remember that you want to put your napkin in your lap at the right time. Recognize that you don’t butter the whole roll at once. Recognize that if you are ordering a steak, don’t cut the entire steak at one time.

After lunch, they may grab an UBER or walk back to their office. Do not smoke anywhere in their vision. Now is not the time to light up or change shoes or do any behaviors that don’t allow you to be the perfect candidate. These are all real-life things that I’ve seen people do that have derailed their chances of getting a job offer. If the job has a lot of socializing and meals with clients, they will be paying even more attention to your behavior and your interactions.

You want to be very appreciative of them treating you to lunch in a more informal setting and expressing your thanks for their time. At the end of the interview process, you can also ask them when you can expect to hear something from them. The etiquette and the food are part of this lunch meeting, but communication and building rapport with the team is going to be key. And as you have made it to the third interview, be sure to send thank you notes to each of the individuals who attended the lunch. Never be complacent about what number interview it is – an offer isn’t yours until it is in writing in your hands.

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