How do I succeed at a lunch interview?

I have been asked to come back for a face-to-face which will include lunch with the person to whom I would report (on Dec. 20th). Listened to the Meal Etiquette pods but it didn't cover the reason for the lunch besides business.

Are they looking for me to let down my guard, how I eat. Is this an opportunity to get to know the real me or are there other reasons? Why lunch? Obviously there are a lot of faux pas that can affect their opinion about you just when you're trying to impress them.

Thank you,

RichRuh's picture
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The point is to see how you behave when you let down your guard a little.

It is simply amazing what people will talk about during an interview lunch. Some will talk about their passion for the industry, or about what they like to do in their free tie.

Others will tell about the time when they took a blowtorch to a rattlesnake in their backyard, or will ask about which first-person shooter computer games their would-be teammates play at work.

It can be fascinating stuff...


jhack's picture

Lunch interviews reveal much about a person's manners and social skills. They will definitely want to know if you chew with your mouth open, and if you can carry your weight in a real conversation.

- Be well behaved.
- IT IS AN INTERVIEW, so be ready to talk about accomplishments, etc.
- Brush up on current events, industry news, and other tidbits for the conversational components.
- See a recently released movie the weekend before, and be prepared to discuss it. Or a play, or some other cultural event.
- Listen to the "everyday conversations" cast from Oct 1, 2007.

This is a good sign. If you've done all the interview prep work, you are 80% of the way there.


juliahhavener's picture
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If you've gotten this far, they're pretty sure they like you. Now they want to be sure you won't embarrass yourself or their company in social situations.

It's been covered what topics you should be prepared for. It very much IS an interview and you should be ready for anything. I suspect this will be much more about YOU and how well you'll fit into their organization.

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

[quote="ksweeney"] Why lunch? [/quote]

I can tell you whey we include lunch with candidates. We don't do "lunch interviews" we just have lunch (usually 3 or 4 people) with people we're interviewing. Sometimes people flunk lunch.

We want to know what candidates are like as people. People tend to relax over lunch, and sometimes a stiff candidate will loosen up and talk about their experience. We stay away from the illegal questions, but if a candidate brings up their kids, I'll ask about them, and mention my daughter, or somebody else with similarly-aged kids.

We want to see how candidates treat people. When I can, I try to watch how candidates interact with our receptionist. (You have to come in and get a parking pass, and I can watch from the lobby balcony.) I watch how they interact with the Cafe staff. Poor interactions with those people are a red flag.

We want candidates to see what we are like, even if we usually are "on our best behavior". I try to mix up talking about work and nonwork stuff: I ask my guys about how their work is going, how a requirements review went, or whether their pool cover finally got delivered.

We want to see if they'll talk to us. The best candidates ask lots of questions about our (odd) organization, about Baltimore and it's suburbs (none of us actually live in the city), and what the Institute is like beyond the work. They also tell us they know something about what we do, often by commenting on what they've heard about Hubble, and occasionally about the James Webb.

We want to see if they're adequately socialized, whether they're polite, and can get through lunch without committing a major faux pas. (Minor ones are okay.)

We don't set any traps, we don't arrange for orders to be screwed up, we don't plan for somebody to spill something to see how the candidate will react, but I know some interviewers do.

The point is, this is part of the *interview* process, and the focus is probably more on your nontechnical skills than on your domain expertise.


huntbk's picture

I learned this lesson the hard way: don't order what you want to eat -- order what you can eat without making a mess!

Mark's picture
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Sorry our podcasts aren't out on this yet.

What's above is good advice.


KS180's picture

I remember from the podcasts to not order salad with dressing. Is dry OK? Stay away from anything that drips. I might add anything that has parts that could fall off on the way to the mouth.

Stay away from strong odors.
Stay away from everything you might have any kind of a biological reaction to.

No soup. Applesauce is safe.

So far I'm down to bread and water. Oh, and applesauce.

Actually, I have already decided to go for the little cocktail sandwiches.

juliahhavener's picture
Licensee Badge

I would probably be wary of items you have to pick up to eat. Fork, knife, small bite-sized bits are good.

tplummer's picture

Can I offer a more mundane reason? As the hiring manager, I've done it simply because I knew I could expense the lunch and eat for free! Another reason I've done it was because it was the only slot I had available that day. Not great reasons, but honest ones that I'm sure happen every day across the globe.

KS180's picture

This is for a government job and they don't usually have an expense account for lunch. However, some of the more forward thinking governments do have a lunch allowance.

Thank you for the suggestion. Maybe I'll find out which one they are.