Monday, June 29, 2009

Eating and Interviewing

As a recruiter, I often meet candidates at coffee shops, restaurants and bars. Having done this for years, it comes as second nature for me to eat, talk and interview. But recently I was recruiting for a scientific position, and realized that interviewing and dining is a learned skill.

With home offices and telecommuting becoming the norm, more people are getting together over food to conduct business. Thinking back, when I first did this it seemed very awkward. How can you look intelligent while you have a mouth full of food. What if spinach gets caught between your teeth. And what if, horror of horrors, you spill your pasta all over your lap. Well here are some tips to make it a little less intimidating
  • Be on time: This goes without saying for any interview. By being on time you can meet your host in the lobby of the restaurant, allowing you both to be seated at the same time. If you are early, you may even be able to scan the menu and know what you are having, giving you more time to interact with your interviewer.
  • Let people know you are there: If you arrive before your host, let the staff know you are waiting for someone, and give them your name. This way when the other person gets there they may be introduced to you by the restaurant staff.
  • Follow the other person's lead: Once you meet your contact, defer to them about where they would like to sit, and what type of food they are having. When the waiter asks what you would like to have, you can always let your host go first. This gives you some time to plan your meal, and make sure you are ordering a similar or smaller size meal. You don't want to order a five course dinner if your interviewer was just having an appetizer.
  • Hold off on the liquor: Yes, we are wine industry professionals, but many companies frown on their staff drinking during business meetings. While your interviewer may order a drink, it is safest to stick with a nonalcoholic one. Evening meals are a bit different, as are meetings in bars. Err on the side of caution, but if the interviewer orders a bottle of wine and offers you a glass, it may make more sense to have a drink. Just watch yourself and don't overdo.
  • Think logistically: In recruiting we are always meeting people for lunch and dinner interviews. A former competitor of mine would require their staff to only order food they could eat with utensils--no burgers, no sandwiches, etc. This is a good idea, but can limit your food choices at a diner. And even though clam linguini requires a fork and knife, dealing with those clam shells can be quite a feat. Think about what's involved with the food you are ordering, and go on the safe side. This isn't your chance to try oysters on the half shell, it is an opportunity to spend time with a potential employer.
  • Don't be a glutton: Think back to any and all manner instruction you have had in your life. Listen to what your mother said and don't slurp your soup. If you realize you haven't heard a thing the interviewer has said, maybe it's because you are so focused on the food that you aren't paying attention. Again, this isn't about the food, it is about the meeting. Do eat the meal in front of you, just pace yourself and stay professional.
  • Eat: I know I say that the interview is more important, but this meeting may be held during a mealtime because it was the only time your host could carve out time to eat and meet with you. No one likes to eat alone, and if you are not even touching your food, it could be awkward. Take the plunge and eat.
  • Don't talk with your mouth full: Again, listen to your mother. If the interviewer asks you a question just as you have taken a bite of food, they will understand if you need to take a minute to respond. Planning can limit this. Take a bite of food after you have completed a comment, and eat while the other person is describing the job or outlining the company's policies.
  • Don't clean your plate: While your mother may have forced you to clean your plate growing up, don't worry about it here. If you have been eating throughout the interview, it won't seem odd if you don't eat everything. I also recommend not taking your leftovers home. While you may always do that when you dine out, this is a business meeting. It is somewhat awkward to have to get your food boxed up, and can be even more unweildy to have a to-go box in your hand while you are trying to shake the person's hand at the end.
  • Who pays: While I would recommend bringing along enough money to pay your way, if you were invited to the meal by your host, it is customary for that person to pay. Do not worry about this. As I tell my interviewees, the restaurant is my other office, and I am happy to pay.
  • Thank your host: At this point hopefully your interviewer has picked up the check. Once they have paid, thank them. It is always polite to do this, and is something that the person will expect. The worst thing would be to forget to thank them.
  • Thank your waiter: Be gracious with the wait staff. By showing good manners and being appreciative to them you will show your good manners for future coworkers and colleagues. A thank you when you get your water filled can show that you appreciate everyone who is part of the team. This graciousness will be very important when you work at the company you just interviewed with.
Bon Appetit!


Laura Brasnan said...

hi amy
It's nice idea, like this candidate feel free and not nervous, you can know his personality also.

Amy said...

Thanks Laura, it seems a lot of people liked this post--some good info and helpful hints for interviewing.