I’ve led several interviews over lunch during my years in recruitment business. Believe or not, the reason was nothing else than a busy schedule. Trying to squeeze in as many interviews as possible in one long, interview day, I used to invite one of the candidates for a lunch, and interviewed them while we both enjoyed our meal.
The message I try to convey with this opening is the following one: Unless you apply for a job in a restaurant (or other facility that serves food), or unless it goes about a very final interview in the company, you should see nothing special in a lunch (dinner) interview invitation.
Once you eat with the recruiter, however (or with the CEO, HR Manager, HR Generalist, anyone who leads the meeting), there are a few things you should remember. At least if you want to succeed. We will look at them on the following lines.
It’s an interview before anything else
The most important thing is to remember why you came to the restaurant. You didn’t come to eat in a nice company. You came to make a great impression, and to get the job.
Try to keep this always on your mind. Focus primarily on the words of your interviewer, and not on the food on your plate.
You do not have to eat
If you feel that eating something might distract you, or that you wouldn’t be able to give your very best while enjoying a juicy steak (or a vegan curry), you can order just a drink, or a small sweet desert. You can always say that you have already eaten.
Inviting a job candidate for a lunch, or for a dinner, is mostly a selfish move from the interviewer. They want to eat, and that’s why they invited you to the restaurant. They do not care whether you will eat or not. But you should order at least something to drink. It would look occurred if you had nothing at all.
Concentrate your attention on the words of the interviewer
Sound of forks and knives fighting over plates is mixing with the smells from the kitchen. Nice woman sitting at the table in front of you gives you a look. A waiter is running around, speaking loudly.
Lot of things happen in a typical restaurant during around lunch time. But you should try to eliminate all distractions. Actually this is one of the advantages of dinner interviews–we can test your attention, whether you can keep your focus on the task at hand (which is an important skill in most jobs).
Keep an eye contact with your interviewers. Look in their eyes, not in their plate. Don’t pay attention to the distractions around you. Doing so, they will feel that this interview really matters to you. And that’s exactly the impression you want to make.
Do not get confused by the informality
It may easily happen that you won’t see any interview template on the table. The HR guy, or the recruiter, will simply ask you questions, without seeking assistance in their notebook, or on a piece of paper.
This doesn’t mean that you get different questions than the other candidates did before you, however. Believe me, once we interviewed ten candidates for the same position, and interview the eleventh over lunch, it’s easy for us to remember the questions we want to ask you.
What is more, while some recruiters rely on scientific approach to interviewing (think psychometry, careful analysis of both your answers and non-verbal communication after the interviews, etc), many other relay on the impression (sometimes the first one), and on the feeling they have from your mutual discussion.
I do not want to advocate for the first, or for the second approach to interviewing job candidates. Just want to say that while something may look informal, it doesn’t mean that the recruiter doesn’t do their job, or that they do not care about you.
Informal style of leading job interviews may simply be their style of doing their job. And they may be darn good at it…
Try to enjoy the experience
Sitting in a restaurant feels definitely more familiar than sitting in a white quiet conference room in a big corporation. And once we feel more familiar with the place (or setting if you want), it is easier to let go and stop worrying.
Try to use this for your advantage. Order something you like (drink or even food), breath the air, and relax. We always deliver our best when we are relaxed. Interviewing in a restaurant is definitely less stressful, and you should get the most of this special setting.
If they insist, let them pay
Expenses for lunch are typically covered in the budget allocated for the interviews. It is definitely polite to suggest that you pay for your lunch/drink, but if they insist of paying the entire bill, you should let them.
People feel good if they do something nice for another person (in this case for almost a stranger). Do not take this opportunity away from them. Do not argue about who’s going to pay the bill. If they want to pay, let them pay. Easy as that.
Everything else remains the same
Though there are some specifics about interviewing for a job over lunch (or over dinner), the foundation of your success remains the same in every job interview.
You should so some research about the company, put on some nice interview attire, you should prepare for the most common interview questions, and you should show the right signals and emotions with your body language.
The more time you spend preparing for this meeting, the better your chances of succeeding will be. I wish you good luck!