Interview techniques: You are what you eat!

Busy professionals often schedule potential new hire interviews during meals because it is the best time to bring people together, but also because the dinner or lunch interview presents an opportunity to evaluate how a candidate handles herself or himself in a social situation. The ability to combine social and business skills is especially important when the position requires entertaining clients or conducting business at meals away from the office. Candidates who are used to casual dining should dust off their etiquette books and consider what restaurant behavior can reveal in a more formal business setting.

Ordering the most expensive item on the menu or spending time browsing a wine list can show a lack of concern for business expenses or the bottom line. Also, executives at many firms watch how the potential new hire treats the waiter, according to Inc.com; this is often considered to be an indication of how the candidate treats other people.

At a meal interview the interviewer is the host and the candidate is the guest. Generally the candidate should follow the host's lead when ordering a first course or dessert. The interviewer's efforts to make the candidate comfortable and offer suggestions can reveal much about how supportive he or she will be as a manager, CareerJournal.com says.

Following the lead of the interviewer in terms of food and price selection can also tell a great deal about your powers of observation and your decision making skills, according to Kim Stinebaker, employment correspondent, in an article that appeared in the Houston Chronicle. "If the interviewer orders a salad, you would be safe to choose something that costs roughly the same amount."

Job applicants should remember that they will be required to answer a lot of questions and should order food that doesn't require too much work or attention. For example, the candidate should try not to order a sandwich at lunch because it requires two hands and a lot of chewing. Dishes with lots of sauce like spaghetti can also be a problem because spills are more likely. And while it might be unusual for an interviewer to bring a potential hire to a restaurant that specializes in hand-eaten food like seafood or ribs, if that happens, the candidate should try to find something non-messy on the menu, and then just try to enjoy the experience as much as possible.

Another purpose of interviewing at lunch or dinner is determining whether the applicant and the firm he or she wants to join are a good match. Interaction over the menu or service should be pleasant and businesslike, and the interviewee should avoid making negative comments about the quality of the food.

Many professionals are vegetarians or have allergies or are following low-carb or low-fat diets, but candidates should refer to these in a low-key way, if at all, according to Careerjournal.com. They should try to find something on the menu they can eat or ask the waiter for a substitution. And keep in mind that the potential employer should not be made to feel guilty about his or her menu choices.

Sometimes it may be necessary to forget about eating, just to answer questions coming from more than one interviewer. This is more likely to occur because of time constraints. Daniel Walton, a senior at New York University, who interviewed with Deloitte's consulting firm, spoke with two interviewers over lunch, according to a report in CollegeJournal. "One guy would ask me a question and eat his food while I answered it, then the other guy would ask a question and eat during my answer. They'd continuously take turns, so I barely had any time to eat myself," Mr. Walton recalls. "By the time they'd both finished their meals, I'd taken about two bites."

Job applicants should arrive at the meal time interview prepared to converse on a few general social topics, but should always be ready to shift gears and talk about qualifications and what they can bring to the position, demonstrating their ability to conduct business with clients over a meal. Interviewing managers should use the meal to showcase their firm and what it can offer the candidate.

By the time the check arrives, which the interviewer as host will take, the applicant will have had a chance to present himself, and both parties should know whether they can look forward to a productive working relationship.

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