Food for Thought on Lunch Interviews

10 Dos and Don'ts for Making the Best Impression over a Meal

Food for Thought on Lunch Interviews

By Caroline M.L. Potter, Yahoo! HotJobs

Dining out is usually associated with pleasure and relaxation -- except when you're being interviewed for a job while you're eating.

There are many reasons why an employer will choose to conduct an interview over lunch. "A hiring manager may not want office staff to know the company is hiring for a particular position," says career strategist and workplace consultant J.T. O'Donnell. "Also, both parties may be pressed for time and unable to sacrifice office hours."

Outside of practical concerns, you may be invited on a lunch interview because "you're a leading candidate and an employer wants to impress you, or the position may involve heavy client interaction and business meetings, and you're being evaluated for how you'll perform in such a setting," says O'Donnell, who blogs about career issues.

Whatever the reason, in a tight job market, it's best to be prepared for anything, including breaking bread with a potential employer. Use these dos and don'ts to make sure you can land a job over lunch.

  • Learn About the Restaurant in Advance: William Arruda, author of Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand, suggests, "Use what you can learn about the establishment to connect with something about you. For instance, 'I understand this building used to be a printing press. I really like the architecture of these 1920s commercial spaces.'"
  • Engage Your Interviewer About the Restaurant and Why He Chose It: Arruda recommends asking questions such as, "Have you been here before?" or "Do you have a favorite dish?"
  • Beware the Overly Affable Interviewer: "Companies will often send you to a lunch interview with a 'friendly' employee -- someone around your age, with a similar background, who adopts a relaxed approach that may prompt you to let your guard down," says Jodi Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "While you certainly can interact less formally, be extra wary of what you say."
  • Ask Questions About the Hiring Manager First: "Questions such as, 'How did you join the firm?' and 'What do you like most about working there?' are good ice breakers," O'Donnell says.
  • Turn Off Your Mobile Phone: "Do not check your phone -- not even once," O'Donnell says. "Even if the hiring manager is checking hers frequently, do not check yours."


  • Immediately Start Selling Yourself: "Let the hiring manager lead the conversation," says O'Donnell, author of CAREEREALISM: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career. "She may not want to talk about the job until after lunch. Don't dive into selling yourself."
  • Appear Picky: "Aside from a death-inducing food allergy, order what's on the menu, being sure to avoid onions and garlic," she says. "Order water to drink and a food that can be eaten easily with a fork. Pass on sandwiches, pasta and messy dishes."
  • Talk Too Much: In both lunch and regular interviews, interviewers love to use the pregnant pause. "It is phenomenal what people will say when nervous and faced with dead air, says Smith. "When you are done answering a question, stop talking."
  • Order the Most Expensive Thing on the Menu or Multiple Courses: "Keep costs down and order a reasonably priced item," says O'Donnell. "Skip dessert and only have coffee or tea if the hiring manager orders it first. Demonstrate that you are fiscally responsible and are not taking advantage of the situation."
  • Be Rude to Wait Staff or Show Up Late: According to a survey of advertising and marketing executives by The Creative Group, half of the respondents said being impolite to a restaurant's wait staff is the single biggest blunder a professional can make during a lunch meeting. Showing up late ranked second.