How Not to Dine and Dash... Your Hopes and Dreams Upon the Rocks of Unemployment and Shame: An Interviewers Guide to the Meal Interview

Your interview has presently been ongoing since 8:00 AM that morning.  Volley after volley of questions have been hurled at you.  You have framed and re-framed in innumerable ways the value you would bring to the organization, deftly discussed your weakness without intentionally taking aim at your foot with a high caliber bullet, and gracefully recovered from that ever so awkward moment when your mind mercilessly emptied and left you unknowing your own name (much less where you see yourself five years from now).  Now as you sit listening to your potential supervisor extol to you in meticulous detail how they are a magnificent human being, your thoughts wander to the perceived oasis that is the lunch portion of your interview.  First, stop mentally wandering.  Second, you aren’t out of the woods yet.

As long as you are with an agent of the organization you are being interviewed.  Strolls through the hallway, small-talk during breaks during the day, and especially at the dining table you are being evaluated, critiqued, and cataloged.  Many an intrepid interviewer has met their demise at the hands of the formal place setting and a too casual response to questioning.  Before we tackle the questions let us first acclimate to our surroundings. 
  1. Place your napkin in your lap while seated.
  2. If you’re unsure which is your drink and bread plate make “b” with your left hand and “d” with your right.  B is for Bread, D is for drink.  Should your interviewer be so uncouth as to take either of yours, discreetly ask your server for a replacement, do not continue the vicious cycle of mannerlessness and steal one of your other dining companion’s items.
  3. As a general rule one should work their way toward the plate with the various forks, spoons, and knives.  Forks on the left, knife on the right (should you be unrolling from a cloth napkin).  The sharp edge of the blade should always be facing your plate.
  4. Do not concern yourself with the wine glasses.  You are on an interview, not an evening on the town.  Politely decline if encouraged to do so, your friends may love the intoxicated version of you, Ferguson from accounting likely will not.
  5. Order something simple enough that you do not need the finely honed concentration and dexterity of a trained neurosurgeon so as to eat without spoiling your clothes.  Ultimately you are here to talk, not engorge yourself.

Knowing what to do mechanically at the table is only part of the puzzle, you must also have effective conversation.  The food portion of the interview is, thankfully, a more casual opportunity to discuss you.  In many respects it is flattering to be the center of attention, but when you remember that your words carry the weight of your future upon their syllables it is no longer quite as fun.  Often employers and potential colleagues are looking to see how you would fit into the already established office culture.  As clichéd as the advice may sound, it is important during this stage to be yourself.  Authenticity and earnestness are important character traits, and traits which individuals who conduct many interviews will have a talent in discerning in their potential employees.  You might say that’s all well and good, but what do I actually talk about?  If it would make your grandmother blush or be uncomfortable, it is probably not in good taste to discuss at the table.  Furthermore, allow your host to lead the discussion, and if you don’t know anything about the topic at hand, do not pretend that you do. 

Interviewing is rarely an activity that many of us look forward to, but it holds the opportunity to be an enjoyable experience.  If you’re concerned about your upcoming interview and want to speak more about it feel free to come to the Career Center, and if you’re especially concerned when the when the crab cracker or the honey dipper should be used we can help with that as well.  

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