The most revealing part of a campus interview can take place over lunch. When the employer and candidate break bread together, look for the trail of bread crumbs that lead to both parties recognizing their compatibility.
Here’s some food for thought for your next lunch interview:
Get your fill on campus. The college campus is a communal learning environment and the dining hall is the most common space to share this experience regardless of status or area of interest. Employers may want to impress candidates, especially executives, by taking them off-campus, but there’s a lot to learn by grabbing a tray and eating among the students, faculty, and staff that you could be serving. If given a choice for a breakfast or lunch, consider suggesting that you stay on campus.
The Waiter Rule. Even if you’re in a buffet line, keep in mind one of Bill Swanson’s 33 Unwritten Rules of Management. Also known as the Waiter Rule, it goes: “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.” Pay attention to how hiring managers treat dining hall employees, and while you’re at it, notice if they say hello to students and colleagues and if it seems genuine.
When you come to a fork in the road, take it. To borrow the Yogi Berra quote, think carefully about your food selections. Avoid sandwiches or food that you could potentially wear on your lap. Use a fork and don’t talk with your mouth full. No food that fits on a fork will take long to chew before answering a question. This and other basic dining etiquette should be closely followed, but sticking to the fork will increase your communication efficiency.
Spoon-feeding shared tastes. Lunch interviews are a great opportunity for candidates and employers to get to know each other on a more personal level. But neither should force-feed direct questions like ‘Where did you grow up?’ Instead, you can comment on the cherry pie and mention a restaurant in your hometown that bakes delicious pies. You might have shared acquaintances in that town, but everyone has shared experiences eating something. Take advantage of this informal setting to find them.
Major in Food-ology. Behavioral food expert Juliet A. Boghossian identifies different traits that employers can use to evaluate a candidate over lunch. How particular you are ordering from the menu, how you cut your food, and the speed and sequence at which you eat your food are all on the table. She calls it Food-ology. Some candidates may call it crazy for an employer to use lunch to conduct a psychoanalysis, but if either party is hungry enough, there are clues to consume while eating. For example, if your would-be boss sends food back several times just imagine when he or she evaluates your work. A better sign is a boss open to trying new foods, which could be your ideas.
“Our food habits are one of the most instinctual habits we have,” Boghossian said in an article on DivineCaroline.com. “It’s a universal need with no boundaries, regardless of economic or social status. You can fake a food habit… but eventually, the instincts will kick in.”
There’s a lot to chew on during campus interviews, but the less formal, more instinctual lunch portion of your interview can provide a generous helping of the perspective both the candidate and employer need to make a decision.