Q: Dr. Ima Hirin, I have a dinner interview coming up and I’m not sure of the proper etiquette. What is the best way to go about being professional in a relaxed setting?
A: Many interviews in the entertainment industry occur in an informal setting. From sharing a most welcome adult beverage at the bar, to connecting at a trade show booth, to swapping information in front of your portfolio display at a conference. Spur of the moment informality is our stock and trade. One particularly challenging interview is the meal interview. Whether talking with your potential new employer over breakfast, lunch, or dinner, an understanding of this unique setting is critical.
Meal interviews are typically not quite as time bound as their formally scheduled counterparts. As a result, a meal interview feels more like a conversation than an interrogation, but some basic rules still apply.
1. Remember that you are “on” from the moment of first contact until the last possible moment that you are in the line of sight of the interviewer and others at your table. Don’t let the informality of sharing food and drink lull you into a sense of security. All involved, whether consciously or not, are making judgements about you throughout your encounter.
2. Have an awareness of the price scale of the restaurant. Hopefully, your host will order first giving you a clue as to the price point of the meal option that you should select. Try to avoid the highest price offering, while also avoiding the lowest priced food available. Have two or three options in your mind and follow the lead of others. If you must order first, pick something with a mid-range price that is easy to consume.
3. Wisely consider your order and the manner in which you will eat it. You will be doing a lot of talking, so avoiding foods that require prolonged chewing, require a lot of handling, or are messy is wise. Spaghetti, BBQ ribs, and even large salads are typically not good choices. (Unless you’re being hosted at a BBQ place known for its ribs, or everyone is having salad.) This is not your only chance to eat, so remember that the conversation is far more important than your meal selection.
4. If your hosts chooses to have a glass of wine or a cocktail, you can join them for one, but one is the limit. If no one else is having alcohol, you should never order something. Enjoy sipping water or a soft drink while others have their second or third glass, so that you can stay focused on your mission, which is to impress and be selected for the job.
5. You can assume that the host of your meal will be paying for your meal. If a potential future employer asks you to cover your own expenses, you might think twice as to whether you really wish to work for such a company.
6. When seated at a table with more than just your host, make a conscious effort to connect with all involved. Sometimes the logistical arrangement of the table makes this difficult. If out with a large group, you might even physically shift your chair from one end to the other to enable more complete connections.
7. Thank your host verbally, and follow up with a written thank you for the experience. Shared meals and drinks are a great time to get to know people and provide an opportunity for real human connection.
Many individuals have landed their first or next job over a meal. Make the most of these opportunities.