Job Seeker Blog - Spark Hire

How to Have A Successful Lunch Interview

So, you’ve been on the hunt for a new job and have decided to take some of my advice on how to job search while employed. Instead of lying and telling your current employer that you have a doctor’s appointment to go to, you make ample use of your lunch break and set-up a couple of lunch interviews. You think about how relaxing it will be to sit down with an employer over lunch and candidly discuss the job and how you are right to fill it.

This all sounds great and the picture illuminated in your mind is so neat and clear that you are sure you can ace this lunch interview. Then you start to picture what you will order, what you’re going to say and how you’re going to eat and you start to break out in a nervous sweat. Your picturesque daydream suddenly turns into a whirlwind of sloppy eating, talking with your mouth full, spilling food everywhere and any other worst-case lunch scenarios you can come up with. Was this a bad idea?

Truth is, lunch interviews can be a great opportunity to sit down and truly talk to an employer. The atmosphere is a little less stuffy and you really have the chance to let your personality shine. On the other hand, if you don’t act professional or show that you have proper lunch-time etiquette, then this interview can turn out to be quite a bad idea. Thankfully you have Spark News, and me, to set up some guidelines for you and point out some of the things you should avoid in this kind of setting. If you are searching for an entry-level job, though, the chances of you being invited to a lunch interview are pretty slim. These kinds of interviews are usually set-up for job seekers on the higher tiers. At the same time, you never really know what an employer is going to whip out of their magic hat, so it’s best to be prepared for anything. Take a look at some of these tips and be fully versed on how to have a successful lunch interview.

Manners
First thing’s first, mind your manners. Hopefully, your mother taught you a certain set of table manners to observe during mealtime and she didn’t just teach you for your health. She taught you these manners because table etiquette is important and without it you could look barbaric, rude and just plain gross. For starters, general table etiquette like chewing with your mouth closed, keeping your elbows of the table and laying your napkin over your lap should be easy and known by all. No one wants to see how easy it is for you to chew up a steak, so keep that mouth closed. However, this rule encompasses politeness as well. When you are on a lunch interview with an employer, note how you treat others around you. You shouldn’t be rude to the server and should in fact be making an effort to be polite to everyone. “Please” and “thank yous” go a long way, so don’t forget them here. Also, if you have an issue with your food, this would be the time to sit down, shut up and just eat it. Don’t make a big stink about it here, it’s not the time.

Follow the Interviewer’s Lead
You may be unsure of when to stop the small talk and start talking business. Thankfully, this is the interviewer’s job, so you should just follow their lead. If they get right to business as you sit down, be ready to wow them. If they want to engage in small talk so you can order your food and relax a bit, then follow suit. With small talk though, you should remember that this is still an interview and your main goal is to wow this employer into offering you a job. Don’t forget this main objective.

Ordering
You may want to go straight for the garlic-infested pasta dish or the messy, delicious burger, but I would advise you to think about what you order before you order it. As stated above, you don’t want to forget the meeting’s main goal: to talk to this employer and impress them. That can be really hard to do while you’re shoveling forks loaded with pasta into your mouth or chomping on a gigantic, messy burger. Order something that is simple and easy to eat like a sandwich or salad. Furthermore, ordering a beer or a glass of wine may seem like a OK idea since you are out to lunch, but it is not proper for a lunch interview. Forget about the alcohol and keep the messy foods at bay.

It’s also important to note that, since the interviewer asked you to come on a lunch interview, they will be picking up the tab. Since they are paying, it’s probably in your best interest to order a modest meal. Don’t go for the most expensive dish and don’t order an appetizer, an entree and a dessert as well. Keep it simple and order one thing. This isn’t a chance for you to snag a free meal. It’s your chance to tell the interviewer why you are special and why you will be the best at this job.

Balance Between Food and Talk
In a traditional interview setting. there is not much else to do but talk. The interviewer asks you questions, you ask them questions, you talk and then talk some more. With a lunch interview, you have to maintain a fine balance of talking and eating. You don’t want to continuously talk, because that may cause the interviewer to think you are nervous. You don’t want to only eat and not talk, because that is rude and on top of that, the main point of the lunch meeting was to talk. Maintain a balance of the two and you will be OK.

Ask Questions
Remember that this is still in interview. That is why you have to be ready with your own questions for the interviewer. Don’t hesitate to ask them questions just because you are in a lunch interview and you think they want to eat. Again, the main goal of this meeting was to talk about you and how you could be good for the company. Asking questions shows that you are involved and genuinely interested in this position and company.

Follow-Up
Sometimes with traditional interviews you forget to send a follow-up message and thank you to the interviewer. If you are invited to a lunch interview and attend, then you most certainly cannot forget to send the interviewer a thank you. It’s a good idea to also bring up some points of interest from that interview in the thank you letter or email. This shows that you appreciate the interviewers time and that you were thankful for them taking you out to lunch. Plus, if they were a good interviewer they paid for your meal, so that itself should be reason enough to send along a thank you. You should do this at the end of the lunch interview anyways, but an additional thank you effort is necessary.

All in all, a lunch interview isn’t much different than an interview in a traditional setting. What trips people up is forgetting this fact. It’s so important not to forget the main goal of the lunch interview: to show this employer why you would be a great fit for their company. Don’t forget this goal and you will be fine. A couple more things, though. If you have left over food from your meal, don’t take it home in a doggy bag. It’s not the appropriate action for this kind of setting. No matter how good it was, leave it there. Remember to relax, this isn’t heart surgery, it’s an interview. And lastly, if you forget all about table etiquette and what utensils you are supposed to use for what, etc then you should brush up on them before you head into the interview. You can find rules on table manners and etiquette anywhere on the web. Good luck!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Big Interview

Nicole Nicholson

Nicole is the Content Editor for Spark Hire and mainly writes for and edits the work for the Spark News blog. She graduated in 2010 with a BA in Journalism from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. She has a passion for writing, editing, and pretty much anything to do with content. In her free time she frequents the Chicago music scene and writes reviews on shows for her own personal blog. Connect with Nicole and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter