The Meal Interview
Here’s our next installment of Argentus series: How to Nail the Interview. Here we discuss different types of interviews to help prepare you as a candidate for the interview process. Why have you ended up in this particular interview? What are some common pitfalls to avoid? And what are some potential opportunities to this type of interview that you can exploit? Read on to find out!
For today’s installment, Sam Manna, a veteran Supply Chain Recruiter with a specialty in manufacturing Logistics and 3PL at Argentus gives us some hard-won tips about this particularly tricky interview format.
The Meal Interview is most likely with a very senior-level executive. You usually find yourself in a meal interview when someone needs to come in from out of town to be part of the decision making process. Or maybe you’ve been flown from Vancouver to Edmonton or from Toronto to San Francisco to home office for the interview, or the EVP Global Supply Chain has flown from the U.S. for the interview. Because of a very, very tight turnaround before returning home or if she/he doesn’t have a convenient office in which to interview you, a meal is often a better alternative.
Often, interviews over a meal are very practical and happen because the interviewer has a busy schedule and needs to squeeze in a number of interviews around other routine business meetings. Meal interviews also sometimes happen for a confidential role, where the interviewer doesn’t want word to get out that they’re hiring.
Even though meal interviews tend to happen mainly because of these logistical considerations, there’s still a purpose in choosing this format: the interviewer can use the format to see how well one handles oneself outside the formal, in-office interview setting. However, as we’ll get into, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it equally seriously!
Pitfalls: When you get invited to a meal-based interview, you might breathe a sigh of relief at first because it seems less intimidating than an in-office interview. You don’t have to deal with the unfamiliar office environment and the assessing gaze of your possible future coworkers. But be careful: this interview format is fraught with pitfalls. Because you’re eating and multitasking, and because it’s a formal interaction in the guise of a social interaction, there are lots of variables that can trip you up if you aren’t on guard.
- Most important – don’t be too casual. Yes, you’re in a somewhat more casual setting, but it’s important to maintain your professional demeanour. Some interviewers use the more casual interview environment to see if the interviewee drops their guard too freely. Remember, you’re not with a buddy. Things to avoid: taking conversations to too personal a place, using too casual language or swearing, becoming overly friendly or flirtatious with the server, etc.
- Negotiating the meal itself can also be difficult. Sam Manna says, “Follow the interviewer’s lead on what they order, and where they order from on the menu. Get something that’s simple to eat. A salad or a sandwich always works. Don’t order a $50 steak if they order a $9 Salad.” Further to that, don’t focus too much on the meal itself, you can catch a bite later – you are there to talk about you and your goals and the possibility of a future role with the company. Speak frankly and professionally about your suitability for a role. The meal itself is incidental to that.
- Don’t drink during a meal-based interview. It might seem like a good way to get familiar with the decision maker, especially if they offer you a drink. Take a soft drink or a Perrier because you do not want to say too much when your radar might be down. You know the saying – “Loose lips sink ships”. Yes, occasionally positions have been lost when a little too much imbibing led to inappropriate behavior – it never ends well. Sam Manna says: “If the interviewer insists on you ordering a drink, nurse it and get a glass of water as well.”
Opportunities: The main area for opportunity with the Meal interview is that, once you’ve catalogued and balanced what we have said, it is a bit more casual than an in-office interview, and you have more opportunity to build a good rapport. Sam Manna says: “it’s a way to be professional, but you do get a chance to show your personality as well.” This means you can let a bit more of your personality come out. The person doing the interview is going to be somewhat less guarded too, and you might both find yourself going into details a bit beyond the current role – where were each of you working before, etc. If the conversation takes this turn, use it as an opportunity to develop rapport and don’t worry too much that you’re off course.
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