September 19, 2013
In the corporate world, the concept of meeting with job candidates over a meal has rapidly gained popularity in recent years, as more companies are trying to escape the stifling atmosphere of the boardroom in a social setting that allows for a more personal, in-depth interview experience.
In the hospitality industry, however, the dining interview has already long been established as one of the preferred settings for applicant meetings. Whether you're applying for a position as the head sommelier or as a member of the bus staff, there's a good chance that you'll be discussing your application over a meal. In restaurant settings, especially, managers often schedule interviews for the "down time" between lunch and dinner service, so they have to multi-task by meeting with job applicants as they sit down to their own lunch or dinner.
The dining interview can be a great opportunity for job seekers -- the meal setting makes everyone more comfortable and sociable, and some of the awkwardness of the traditional office interview is alleviated by the fact that everyone is attending to the "business" of eating.
However, even though it has a lot of advantages over the traditional office interview, the dining interview comes with its own set of hazards. The thought of simultaneously trying to eat and make a good impression on a hiring manager can seem overwhelming at first. Here are a few tips and pointers that can help you succeed in your next dining interview.
The point of most dining interviews is to provide a backdrop that is conducive to easy and meaningful communication and interaction. However, it's vitally important that even as you maintain a sociable demeanor, you are thinking strategically about how you should act and respond. Keep a mental running commentary about the actions you are taking and how they will be interpreted by your interviewer. Although the dining interview may include more chit-chat, small talk, and personal questions than the traditional office interview, you have to remain focused on responding professionally throughout the entire process. Most importantly, stay focused on the task at hand -- getting hired -- and don't allow yourself to be distracted from that goal.
Hiring managers like dining interviews because they put some candidates at ease. Friendly is fine, but don't loosen up too much. You're not eating an intimate dinner with friends, so maintain an air of formality and professional detachment. Paul Powers, author of Winning Job Interviews, suggests that you avoid partaking of any alcoholic beverages during a dining interview. If your host insists, nurse a single drink slowly over the course of the meal. Also, avoid smoking, even if your interviewer lights up during the meal.
Any interview is an exercise in brand management, so make sure your behavior and comportment during the meal are fully befitting a professional. Be mindful of all those rules your mother used to nag you about -- keep your elbows off the table, place your napkin on your lap, and chew with your mouth closed. If the setting for your dining interview is a high-end establishment, you may want to brush up on your formal mealtime etiquette beforehand so you'll feel more confident in your ability to steer clear of mistakes and mishaps.
Dining interviews can be unnerving, but armed with these tips, you'll be prepared to sail through your next mealtime meeting with style and flair. The goal is to be able to split your focus between the etiquette demands of dining and the more intellectual rigors of the interview process. If you pay too much attention to either one of these factors, your dining interview could veer off-track.
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