June 24, 2018

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Meal Interviews are Multi-Tasking Nightmares

Meal interviews are multi-tasking nightmares. Although the primary purpose is the interview, there's a secondary purpose to these mind-your-manners interviews: how well do you handle yourself during a business meal? During the course of my career Iíve seen quite a few ghastly faux pas that have nixed an otherwise capable candidate. So follow these pointers and mind your manners!

Drinking - No. Not even if the interviewer does. You want to add a third complication to the mix? An interview, a meal....and alcohol? Most people can handle one drink, but that's not the point. You need to be clear, concise and focused. This company hasnít hired you; this company is deciding if they want to hire you. If your host or hosts order you a drink, donít make a fuss; drink it slowly or leave it sit. But only have one and only under those circumstances.

Alcohol can very easily cause you to forget that a decision hasnít been made, leaving you with the feeling that youíre the guy, youíre the one, youíve got it in the bag. If you feel thatís the case, you probably donít have the job. Drinking on an interview is bad form and can lead to assuming a casualness and camaraderie that doesnít exist.

Food Choices - Should you order what the interviewer does? Some say yes. I say, who cares? If it sounds good, order it. If it doesnít, order something else. On the other hand, as much as you love spaghetti, do you really want to deal with talking while not slurping your pasta? Likewise anything else that's messy. Any food eaten with your hands is off limits and having a napkin doesn't change that. And small bites make conversation easier.

Some also say that if the food isnít cooked to your liking, don't send it back. I say, "bother that" also. As long as you are gracious and polite, if you don't like your tuna rare and didn't order it that way, send it back.

Don't order the most expensive thing on the menu. Don't slurp your soup. Spoon it away from you as you eat, and when youíre done, it goes on your plate. Skip the garlic steak! No elbows on the table - left arm stays on your lap; right arm holds your fork. That's your bread plate to your left, and your water glass to your right. Don't bite hunks of your roll off - break it into pieces and butter the pieces as you eat them. When you're finished, donít stack your dishes!

If in doubt, instead of looking lost and wondering what to do, just smile and relax a minute. Follow your interviewer's lead.

Dessert and Coffee - Like drinks, you'll be asked first. If you want either or both, ask your interviewer. If they're partaking, fine. If they aren't, pass. First, he may not want either. Secondly, he may be done with the interview. It's not your place to hold things up while your interviewer sits there watching you eat and either continues the conversation or has to continue the conversation because you ordered a last course.

A Word on Paying - It's smart to bring cash (cash!) and be prepared to pay, but don't be expected to, and don't offer! The interviewer is the host, and he pays both bill and tip. On the other hand, if you do have to pay, be nice, part ways, and sever all future contact! Asking you to pay is grossly inappropriate and - small things telling - the person is likely to be as inconsiderate if he were to become your boss. Either that or the company is in financial trouble, and do you really want that issue connected to your paycheck?

If you've done your preparation then you've come with questions, which not only give you information about the company and your prospective job but also chewing time! Throw one of your questions out there, then take a bite of food. Let your interviewer deal with the chewing-and-talking process for a few minutes.

Meal interviews, like the rest of the interview process, follow the same principles: common sense, politeness, preparation (always!), being honest about who you are. Who you are may be hamburgers and a beer - but that's not common sense under the circumstances. However much you don't like being under a microscope, that's where an interview puts you - with or without food in the equation.

Mind your P's and Q's and exhibit proper decorum, because, as always, it's about you remaining in control of seeking your perfect job. You want the choice to be yours, not theirs. So all the more reason to pay attention, lest an offer that was to be, suddenly becomes an offer that wasn't, and all because you talked with your mouth full!

- Judi Perkins


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