We get a lot of questions from candidates about etiquette at career-related meetings that take place over a meal. Job interviews over meals can be very stressful.
I remember an interview for my second job, very early in my career. It was the final interview. I wanted the job very badly. We were eating lunch in the lobby restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The restaurant is now called American Craft Kitchen & Bar, right by the escalator. The tile floors and high ceilings made the room very noisy. I was focusing hard on the conversation, trying to make a great impression and answer questions at the same time. I ordered a simple meal. Things were going great when a bus boy with a huge tray of dirty glasses tripped over a tile and dropped the entire tray right next to me. Glass went everywhere. Startled, we all jumped up and I realized I had a chunk of glass sticking out of my calf! What to do?
I laughed and played it down, pulled the glass out of my leg and applied some pressure. The bleeding stopped and we sat down to finish the meal. I got the job!
I think I got the job because I appeared to remain calm during the commotion. I wasn’t calm. I just appeared to be calm and didn’t get excited.
Interviews over a meal can be very tricky and stressful under the best circumstances. Here are some tips to make your next meeting a success:
- Don’t order sloppy food like spaghetti and salads where little pieces can slip off your fork or go into your mouth in a funny way. There is nothing worse than wearing spaghetti sauce on your shirt front or having a bit of piece of lettuce stuck in your teeth.
- Don’t drink alcohol or limit the amount you drink if it is unavoidable. Keep control and stay aware at all times.
- Order something low to medium priced. This is not the time to order lobster or an exotic fish at the high-end of the price list. A good trick is to order last so you can see what the other person orders and order something similarly priced. A best bet is to order simple foods like roast chicken or a small steak in a nice restaurant.
- Establish who will pay or at least anticipate who will pay. If you invited the other person to a restaurant for a meeting, then you should offer to pay and be prepared to follow-through. For networking meetings, if you go to a self-service place like Panera then each person normally pays for their own meal. If you are on a job interview, then the company representative will pay. Tuck a credit card in your wallet just to be safe.
- Be prepared for small talk. If you are not normally glib, then be prepared for small talk such as current events. Read a newspaper. Check out your contact’s LinkedIn profile to identify his or her personal interests and then do some research about those topics. Formulate some questions about the other person’s interests. If you are networking, prepare some questions in advance that will give you information you needneed about the company, a career, connections, or business initiatives going on in the world.
Every meeting is a chance to learn more and make a positive impression that can enhance your reputation and brand. Be aware that other people are watching and evaluating your every move. Be confident and sensible. Good luck!