Q. I am interviewing regularly with no offers yet, but I think I am getting close. I was asked to have lunch with two people from the group I hope to join and the hiring manager. I know not to order spaghetti, but what else do I need to know about meeting three people over food, so I can turn lunch into a job offer?
A. The message that is often associated with an invitation to interview over food is “we like you, and now we want to get to know you even better.” So take the opportunity seriously, and do your research. If you know where you will be going, check out the menu in advance. Select something that looks easy to eat and isn’t something others would be appalled to see you order (not the time for liver and onions or steak tartare).
I consulted with Jean Papalia, owner of A+ Etiquette in Boston, who provides business protocol programs. Jean has found that dining etiquette skills are an essential part of our business culture, and a blunder can cost you a job or lose you a client.
Papalia suggests that before you go to that business lunch, you brush up on your dining etiquette so that you will be confident and comfortable. “You want your interviewers to pay attention to what you bring to the table (i.e. your skills and experience) not what you are doing at the table.”
Though Papalia has a comprehensive list of tips, the keys seem to start from knowing which utensils are yours. Forks, for instance are to the left of your plate.
And some basics that we know you know but just to reiterate, don’t talk with your mouth full and always chew with your mouth closed.
Consider this a business meeting. Meetings don’t start until everyone has the materials, and meals don’t start until everyone has been served.
Papalia offers one additional piece of advice about business meals. Do not arrive starving. “It’s not about the food! You want your focus to be on the conversation and the relationships you are building, not on the next course.”
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston, and serves on the board of Career Partners International.