by Danielle Golinski, Assistant Director of Career Services – Love School of Business, Elon University
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the final round of the interviewing process with your dream company. You’ve been told that there will be a networking social the evening before the full-day interview and then there will be a sit-down luncheon after the first half of the interviews the following day. “Oh my” you think, “I wasn’t expecting this. I didn’t know that food would be involved with my interviewing experience.” You keep thinking: “What should I expect at the social? What do I order at the lunch? What’s my job when I’m interviewing with a plate of food in front of me? Do I pay?”
When food is a part of the interviewing experience for you, it should be an exciting time! Although it may be a little unfamiliar to you, you need to rely on guts, common sense, and a bit of knowledge in order to make the experience go smoothly. This article from The Muse goes into further detail about interviewing with food in a quite comical – but relatable – manner. At least watch the two minute video at the bottom of the page, you won’t regret it! Below are some basic (but important!) tips that you can apply into any professional interviewing experience that will make you feel like a pro!
Rule 1: It’s not about the food!
Although food may be a part of the process, it is not the focus of the experience. Your energy should be focused on the conversation and your ability to answer the questions thoroughly and clearly. You’ll have to be able to multi-task a bit in regards to eating and talking. This will take some practice, but it is not impossible to master. Remind yourself how excited you are about where you are and keep yourself focused on the goal. Hopefully this is to land an internship or a full-time role!
Rule 2: Use your manners!
Manners are something that should be used every day as it will not only make a good impression on others but it will also make you feel good about yourself. In a professional context the rule remains the same. Holding the door open for another coming in behind you, saying “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me” cannot be forgotten. If you have food in your mouth and someone asks you a question, please swallow your food in its entirety before speaking (and signal non-verbally by placing a finger to your lips that you have food in your mouth). Sit up straight and place a napkin on your lap in case you have any food droppings. Your napkin will catch any fallings and not your interviewing attire! Keep in mind: people are always watching you so maintain your professional presence, always.
Eating 101: Use your fork and your knife when you have something to cut and don’t rest your dirty utensils on the table – rest them on the plate. Take small bites and chew with your mouth closed. It is recommended that you don’t order anything off of a menu that you haven’t had before. This is not the opportunity to get adventurous with your food choices! If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, please don’t be shy in politely bringing this up. Play it safe and keep it simple. It is recommended to not order a handheld item (i.e. a burger or a wrap) as these can be quite messy and difficult to navigate. Keep in pace with the “host” of the luncheon when eating; this will most likely be a hiring manager or boss. Take pauses between your bites to engage in conversation with those around you. Genuinely thank those that you have lunch with – your peers and upper management.
Payment: The format of the luncheon may vary from opportunity to opportunity. You may find yourself in the company’s café or you may be at a formal restaurant around a white-linen table cloth. As the interviewee, it is not your responsibility to pay for the lunch. Although, good etiquette says to always be prepared (and expect the unexpected). It would not hurt to bring a little bit of cash with you just in case but it is not your obligation to pay for any portion of the meal.
Rule 3: Navigating the Social Networking Event
Keep in mind that although this event may seem a bit more casual, it is still very much an interviewing experience. You’ll have the chance to meet the other individuals interviewing with the company (either for the same position as yours or for another) in addition to management and potentially some of the individuals that you’ll be interviewing with tomorrow. You should use this opportunity to talk with as many people as you can and be your best professional version of yourself. No need to talk about the day tomorrow or practice interviewing questions. Hopefully you’ve done all the interview prep that you have needed to do before this date! Use this chance to find similarities among others and get comfortable in the environment. Get to bed early as you should get mentally ready for a big day tomorrow!
Alcohol: You may find that at professional gatherings alcohol may be a part of the experience. This can be a tricky topic for many students to navigate. A good rule of thumb: If you are 21 years old or older, you may have one alcoholic drink and nurse it throughout the duration of the evening. But, most importantly, you are at a company for an interviewing experience, and that should be your priority. It is not about the food or the drink (see Rule 1)! Drinking can be perceived as a social activity, so if you are concerned with not “fitting in”, feel free to grab a soda (or a water!), add it into a rocks glass with a lime wedge and a swizzle stick. It will allow you to hold onto something and stay hydrated. If you are not 21 years old, you are not legally allowed to drink so please politely decline any offer of alcohol and keep it with the non-alcoholic choices.
Our hope is that with these tips, you’ll feel a bit more comfortable and confident in your interview when food is involved. You’ll be able to focus your attention to the interview, and the conversation and connections that you are making. Food will just happen to be there! “How wonderful!” you think. “I do feel ready for this experience!” What have your experiences been like? We would love to hear!
As the Assistant Director of Career Services for the Love School of Business at Elon University (Elon, North Carolina), Danielle meets with students to support their professional and career goals. She enjoys getting to know students as a well-rounded, talented individuals while exploring their interests, strengths, and values. Danielle collaborates with faculty and staff throughout the business school to provide career-related programs and presentations.
As an advisor she works with students from all majors to help them set and reach their career goals. She supports students through conversations revolving around resume and cover letter development, networking and personal branding, creating strategies for the job and internship search, interview assistance, and professional and dining etiquette.
Outside of Elon, Danielle loves running, teaching group fitness classes, trying new and unique recipes, listening to country music, and spending as much time outside as possible.