25 Tips for Acing the Lunch Interview

At this job interview, your table manners are scrutinized too.

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Karen Burns
As if the job interview were not already stressful enough—enter the lunch interview. Not only are you being judged on your skills, qualifications, and experience, your table manners are being scrutinized too!

Never fear. It is possible to wow a potential employer without getting indigestion. Here’s a quickie list of guidelines, roughly in the order in which you’ll need them.

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1. If you know the name of the restaurant, go to its Web site and double check the location. While there, take a look at the menu and decide in advance what to order (more on that later).

2. The morning of the interview, be sure you read the newspaper or wherever it is you get your news. This is recommended for all interviews, but lunchtime interviews often involve more chitchat.

3. Dress as you would for a normal interview.

4. Make an effort to arrive first. Wait in the lobby, not at the bar.

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5. No matter what time you arrive, check to see if your party is already there. You never know.

6. Wait for everyone to be seated before you put your napkin on your lap or open your menu.

7. First hurdle: Beverages. Your interviewer is likely to let you order first. Avoid the booze. Consider sparkling water. It’s both grown up and non-alcoholic. Depending on where you live, iced tea is also a good choice.

8. Do not drink straight from a bottle or through a straw, especially if you are a woman.

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9. Second hurdle: Entrées. Don’t order the most expensive thing. Don’t order the cheapest thing. Don’t order anything that is ostentatiously huge or smelly or crunchy.

10. Instead, order a smallish dish that you can easily and gracefully eat with a knife and fork. (Avoid spaghetti, spareribs, fried chicken, tacos, lobster, and big fat sloppy sandwiches.)

11. Order quickly and with no fuss or interrogation of the server. Do not make an issue of your food allergies, your weight, or your likes and dislikes.

12. If you’ve brought a portfolio or other papers, mention that you have them and let the interviewer choose when to bring them out. After the plates have been cleared is usually a good time.

13. Be polite to the servers. The way you treat them says a lot about your character.

14. If something is a little wrong with your order, let it slide. This is one meal that is really not about the food.

15. Eat your dinner roll by breaking off a small piece at a time.

16. Don’t eat too fast, or as if you’re ravenous. Don’t wipe your plate with your bread.

17. Don’t eat extremely slowly either, though you will probably be eating less quickly than your interviewer (a good reason to order something small).

18. Do eat something. If you don’t, you’ll look nervous. Try to finish at least half.

19. Do not ask for a doggie bag.

20. Here’s an advantage of the lunch interview: You can ponder your answer to a difficult answer while chewing! Do take small bites, though, so there’s not an awkwardly long lag time while your interviewer is waiting for you to swallow.

21. Only order dessert if the interviewer does.

22. In case Mom failed to mention it: Don’t talk with your mouth full. Don’t put your elbows on the table. Sit up straight. Use a napkin.

23. At the end, don’t wad up your napkin. Fold it loosely and lay it on the table next to your plate.

24. Be graceful about letting the interviewer pick up the tab. You were invited!

25. Don’t forget to mention the meal in your thank-you note.

Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.