What could be more nerve-wracking than an interview? How about an interview with a meal?
Eating in front of other people can be a source of anxiety, and for good reason: There are so many ways to mess up! There are the extra forks, making conversation around chewing, the potential for broccoli in the teeth. Navigating all that while trying to secure a job is no small feat.
But you can ace a lunch interview…even if you make a mess of your lunch. All it takes is an abundance of grace and a few practical tips:
Be prepared for small talk. In a lunch interview, there will be more down time. Have a few topics on hand—best are those relating to the company with which you’re interviewing. Do a Google search beforehand for positive news and developments to reference.
At all times, of course, keep the conversation professional. Interviews over a meal can get personal and casual quickly. Stay on track and don’t digress.
Choose your meal strategically. Yes, they’re picking up the bill for a lunch interview, but this is not the time to order the lobster. Choose a dish that’s somewhere in the middle of the price range. And pick something easy to eat. Spaghetti sauce, clams, broccoli…some foods are bigger hazards than others. Look for a thick soup or a dish that you can consume with a fork.
Learn what silverware goes where. Speaking of forks: If you’re not sure which one to use, seek out a course on business etiquette or look for a video on YouTube that demonstrates fine-dining etiquette. You can practice at your kitchen table in advance of your lunch interview so that you have less to think about.
Keep in mind basic interview skills. Carry a sleek briefcase in which you have extra copies of your resume, as well as a notepad and pen in case you need to take notes. Dress as if you were meeting at the office. Add a breath mint if you have to speak to other interviewers after your lunch interview.
And keep your cool. Even if you make a mistake, don’t let it rattle you. I once interviewed a woman who, while at lunch with a few of my colleagues, hit the plate with her forearm and spilled the entire meal down the front of her suit. She continued through an afternoon of interviews making light of what happened and moving on. She was certainly our first choice for the position! Who better than someone who could navigate a messy (literally) situation like that?
Eating while competing for a job isn’t easy. But with some practice, preparation and a healthy serving of grace and humor, you can savor the sweet taste of success.