It may seem odd at first to be asked to interview for a job or meet a prospective employer over a meal. After all, restaurants can be crowded, busy, and noisy, and it can seem hard to focus with the distraction of a waiter coming and going. But at some point during your career transition, you may be invited to share a meal with a hiring manager, potential colleague, or a networking contact.
Business meetings and interviews over a meal are common because they can reveal a great deal about a person’s personality, ability to work with others, and general level of professionalism. So while this may not be a regular occurrence during your job search, you must still be prepared for the possibility.
Dress appropriately: Whether you are meeting for an interview or for networking purposes, business attire is likely the appropriate choice. If you are unsure of the restaurant’s dress code be sure to call ahead and find out. Just remember, when it comes to interviewing and business in general, it is always better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.
Mind your manners: Good manners are critical to a successful business meal. This is the perfect time to practice all those things your mother taught you as a child. Wait for everyone to be served their food before you begin eating. Keep your elbows off the table. Leave your cell phone in a purse, briefcase, or pocket—and make sure to turn it off or keep it on silent. Place your napkin in your lap at the beginning of the meal. And always say thank you. Demonstrating good manners will go a long way to impressing your dining partners.
Sweat the small stuff: In this situation, you should be aware that your behavior will be closely watched. Whether consciously or not, your dining partners may make decisions about you based on how you act. Ordering the most expensive item on the menu, treating the wait staff rudely, being the first to reach for the appetizer, or ordering one too many cocktails will send a very specific message to those you are with. Be sure to plan ahead and think before you act so that you can make the best possible impression.
Keep your goal in mind: While a dinner interview or networking meeting may feel more casual because of the setting, it is important you not lose sight of your ultimate goal. As the conversation progresses, be sure to discuss the company, its goals, and how you fit into that picture. Position yourself as the solution to their challenges.