Are You Going to Eat That ... During an Interview? How to Handle a Lunch Interview

lunch interview I'm not a big fan of the breakfast or lunch interview. Perhaps for an all-day, meet-tons-of-people type of interview, a meal might serve as a nice break from the standard format. However, I've been witness to many interviews where the only meeting is at a dining table. Why am I not a fan of the mealtime interview? A simple rule my mom taught me years ago: Don't talk with your mouth full.

Don't lose sight of the purpose of the meeting

So many candidates show up to a breakfast interview all excited about what they'll order or getting to try out a new restaurant. Some completely lose track of why they're there. They also get lulled into thinking this is a "casual interview." Although I agree some interviews are more comfortable than others based on the interviewers, there is no such thing as a casual interview. Either you're interviewing for an open position or not. If you are, it's "all business."

Don't come hungry

When invited to a mealtime interview, don't come hungry. In the majority of cases, you'll be doing most of the talking. With that in mind, you don't want to have a nice hot plate of food cooling right in front of you as you share your life history. At some point, the interviewer might notice you haven't taken a bite and encourage you to do so. And then promptly ask you a question while your mouth is full. I recommend ordering items that are not cooked (fruit, yogurt, salads) and in small portions. Quiet food is better than crunchy, loud food, too.

Be healthy

Some interviewers might judge you based on what you order. It's human nature. Ordering a huge meal full of unhealthy foods might send a signal that you live an unhealthy lifestyle. Sure, that is your personal business, but who wants to raise concern that you might be going on doctor appointments or taking leave of absence due to illness or worse?

Be neat and polite

Never order finger food (hamburgers, ribs) or items with lots of sauce (spaghetti): It's a recipe for disaster (pun intended) to end up with greasy hands or a stained shirt. For some roles, seeing if you can take clients or vendors to lunch without embarrassing yourself is part of the interview. Along the same lines, know basic dining etiquette. It's always good to know the bread plate is on your left and the water glass is on your right.

Stay away from alcohol

It might be common-sense to steer clear of the lunchtime beer. But when everyone else is ordering a beer with lunch, it may seem acceptable for you to do the same. However, you're the one interviewing -- you're the one who has to stay sharp. If you're concerned they will think you're a bore or not one of the gang, you can say, "If I were not the interviewee, I'd gladly join you." If you don't drink alcohol at all, simply say, "I'm not up for a beer right now, thanks."

Bottom line

You are not there to eat a large, fancy meal. Focus on the interview. The one good thing about having a cup of coffee or glass of water nearby: You can be taking a sip as they're asking a question that requires more time to think of the best answer. Sometimes this interview format works to your advantage.

And for goodness sakes, listen to your mother: Swallow your food before responding to the next question.

Next: Now That You Know How to Handle a Lunch Interview, Find Out What to Do Before and After

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Another "self-appointed expert" telling us what to eat, how to eat it, and how to interview for that next fantastic job that is going to futher our careers! Whatever happened to Dear Abby?

March 31 2011 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was at a table when my boss was interviewing a company rep who was going to get a $400,000.00 order from us. That is until he thought it would be impolite not to keep up with my boss(who could out drink anyone) drink for drink. An hour and a half later I dropped the drunk salesman off at the airport, without an order.

March 31 2011 at 10:31 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to damartin01's comment

Now that's funny....LOL

March 31 2011 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

That's bull. I ordered a meatloaf with mashed potatoes and the interviewer ordered the same thing!

March 31 2011 at 10:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I only had one lunch interview and I ordered what I love a hamburger with fries, all finger food. My interviewer then spen the entire lunch bitching about her job and how horrible it was and her prior boss who was in the papers at that time. The next I went for the 3rd interview, the previous person was gone and I didn't get the job thank goodness. They were never able to keep anyone long in that position and then her previous boss got involved in a public scandal. She was right on both counts. At least I got a free lunch out of it!!

March 31 2011 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bulletinboardsn's comment

Yeah...just a lousy hamburger....

March 31 2011 at 11:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yeah, but on this advice you have them thinking that you're a picky little weight watcher. What you need to do is order a sandwich and soup, if that's on the menu, or a non-messy sub (this means no meatball subs). And you have to be ready to pick up your part of the bill, because even if your prospective boss is rich they could still be a penny pincher - and picking up your own share is only fair. If it's a lunch interview in a higher class restaurant, you still don't want to order just a salad and yogurt.... and I thought it was a *given* that you don't talk with your mouth full!

March 31 2011 at 9:58 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Theresa Randis

I'll tell you what. If anyone would stick around and have someone dictate what they shouldn't eat and what they should, deserves to be manipulated and controlled by the very person in power over them. What this says to me is that the lunch interview is only a way of weeding out a potential candidate based upon what they eat and not about their abilities as salting, peppering, or whatever they put on their food is somehow deemed scientific fact that signifies their ability to perform a job? Certainly not the control freak I would want to waste my time with anyway. What this has taught me is to avoid all meal-type interviews at all costs. I just don't have that kind of time to waste on bullsh*t tactics.

March 31 2011 at 9:47 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
thom nickels

I think that breakfast or lunch time interviews are not a good thing. People
can get weird when food is involved. It puts the interviewee at an unfair advantage. If the interviewer says, "Would you like dessert?" do you play a game and say No just to appear "Spartan?"
Too many landmines here. When you are invited to eat, you should be able to eat in full
relaxation mode.

March 31 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
thom nickels

Lunch time beer? De-classe! It's wine! And yes, one glass of white wine
would be fine, just don't overdo it.

March 31 2011 at 9:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Dumb article.

I'd dare advise that you don't Hurl your lunch at the so-called "Lunch Interview." that's sure to cost you the job.

The Bible is way ahead of this crowd. The Bible tells us to "Desire not of their dainties, for they are deceitful meats."

March 30 2011 at 5:09 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
A. Edwards Sr.

I can agree with this in general, however if the interviewer is more intererested in how you eat as apposed to how you'll work, it sounds as if you might be going to work for an idiot. Good manners are always wise, but over kill shows lack of confidence. If they seemed to be concerned that much with how you eat, that might be all they're capable of. Time to move on.

March 30 2011 at 5:02 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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