The Art of Lunch Interviews

Joe Burridge, senior recruiter for computer software company Hudl, has written an article on LinkedIn advising recruiters on the little details that, when on a lunch date, indicate whether a candidate is a potential hire.

A huge of fan lunch interviews himself, Burridge says that they are “becoming more common – not only do they boost the interview experience (candidates, like everyone, love free food) but [they] also can be [an] effective assessment method. At the heart of the lunch interview philosophy is the view that you can observe candidates in a more natural, relaxed setting and therefore genuinely get to know them.”

What are the things you should look out for when making hiring decisions over lunch? Shannon Brayton, Global Marketing and Communications Executive for LinkedIn, offers three areas that need to be evaluated:

(1) the way that candidates interact with restaurant staff;
(2) the way they order their meal; and
(3) their manners.

Brayton explains: “I now realise that a key indicator of any good candidate is going out to a restaurant with them. There is so much you can learn during an hour of dining with someone – the type of diner someone is can subtly reveal what type of employee they may be.”

If, for example, a candidate is rude to the staff serving them, you can assume this person is generally impolite. A recruiter needs to consider whether they want to hire somebody who doesn’t value the work that everybody does, irrespective of hierarchy and social status. Behaving this way also suggests that the candidate doesn’t have a very good sense judgment, because being rude to anybody during an interview can only be a bad idea. The way they engage and converse with the server is also interesting to note, especially if the role you’re recruiting for requires the position holder to be approachable and warm.

When it comes to ordering their meal, Brayton says that how the candidate does this is a good indicator of how they will make decisions at work and under pressure. “It’s important to be able to make decisions with both speed and quality in the fast-paced business world,” Brayton writes. “So, if someone is unable to decide between the Caesar salad and the fish tacos, they’re likely to struggle prioritising during, say, budget allocations.”

Lastly, general manners are interesting to note because they have the potential to tell you everything that the person won’t. Did the candidate arrive on time? If not, time-management is clearly an issue for this person. Did they choose the most expensive meal on the menu? If so, perhaps they’re the type of person who takes advantage of people and situations. As Burridge notes, it may also show you whether they are “fiscally responsible”.

Ultimately, the question you need to ask yourself by the end of the meeting is: is this the kind of person that I want to spend time with in and out of the office? Is the type of person that I want my clients and customers to interact with? Has this person demonstrated social qualities that will work well in a professional setting?

As interesting as these ideas surrounding lunch interviews are, the truth is that candidates are under a huge amount of stress during interviews – even if it is one that takes place in a restaurant. Because of this, it is unrealistic to suggest that a lunch interview (alone) could provide you with the answers you need to decide whether to hire a candidate. It is completely plausible that under such strain a candidate might (unintentionally) be a little off with servers – unable to communicate as openly as they usually would. The interviewee may forget to say please and thank you, and they might be a little less open than normal, but only because they are trying to feign a relaxed and friendly atmosphere when, actually, they know that their entire career rests on this one meeting.

At the same time, it is true that lunch interviews can point to certain character traits that recruiters might be interested in noting. It could be argued that if a hiring manager does choose to have an interview over a meal, that this meeting is just one of several stages. That way, the candidate has more the opportunity to present themselves in numerous settings, and the recruiter also gets the chance to evaluate them in a more traditional environment. Either way, there is a case for executives and HR directors to at least place part of the interview process out of the boardroom when they are considering hiring candidates for key posts.

Written by

Cambridge University graduate and professional career sector writer.

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