“The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.” ~Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde‘s quotation is a metaphor for the choices he made. Its meaning for you is although you’ve made it this far, all can be forfeited if you fail the final test that many employers require: a demonstration of your table manners. Many positions require attendance at meetings and events that involve dining; exhibiting top-notch table manners proves that you can be trusted to represent the company well. In a close race, the smallest details can reveal the victor.
Your prowess at the dining table can clinch the deal, but a misstep can lose it. And grossly poor behavior such as licking your fingers, blowing your nose into your napkin, talking with your mouth full or chewing with your mouth open could not only cost you the job but damage your reputation.
So, take control. Dress appropriately as you would for a regular interview. Arrive 15 minutes early, whether your interview lunch is in a corporate dining room, local restaurant or private club. Wait in the lobby, not in the bar. If other candidates are gathered wait with them but do not order an alcoholic drink or anything else, even if others do. You’re walking a delicate line of fitting in while standing apart and head and shoulders above.
As with any other event, don’t arrive ravenous. If necessary, eat something light to take the edge off your appetite but not ruin it. You want to dine with dignity and elegance while focusing on the business at hand.
To ensure that your table manners sparkle, kindly review my series on dining etiquette. Meanwhile, here are some quick reminders to help you avoid some of the most noticeable gaffs:
Stand Until Asked to be Seated
Stand respectfully until your host indicates that you may be seated. Workplace etiquette is not gender-specific, and both men and women can assist each other in being seated if it makes sense. For example, a male job candidate should be on firm ground if he pulls out and holds a chair for a female job interviewer. In an upscale restaurant the maitre d’ often performs this courtesy. In any case, a wise woman will simply smile and say, “thank you,” when such a courtesy is performed.
No Personal Items or Elbows on the Table
Personal items such as handbags, smartphones, pens, keys, etc., should not be placed on the table prior to or during the meal. After all dishes have been cleared and coffee is being served, it’s okay to place papers and other items required to discuss business on the table. This rule also applies to your elbows. Remember: food on the table, elbows off; food off the table, elbows on.
Turn Off and Leave Off Personal Devices
Employers won’t forgive your lapse if your personal device is seen or heard. Only produce your device during any interview situation if your interviewer asks you to do so in connection with your interview. Once you’ve used your device for that purpose, immediately turn it off and put it away. Don’t decide to “take just a minute” to check your messages or mail or “take this call quickly.” If you do, it could be game over.
Sit Up Tall
Remember your posture. You look smarter, sharper and more respectful, confident and in the zone when you sit up tall at the dining table. Slouching makes you appear to be the opposite.
Remove Your Napkin
A sign of confidence and sophistication is knowing how to use your napkin! When you are seated, look to your host and when he removes his napkin and places it on his lap, follow suit. If your interviewer hasn’t removed his napkin by the time you’ve placed your orders, remove yours at that time. Check out this refresher on using your napkin properly to make the right impression.
Know How to Order (and what not to order, if possible…)
In a corporate dining room or private club the menu might be pre-ordered, giving you a limited if any choice. In a restaurant, you’ll order from the menu, so take your cue from your interviewer/host who might suggest something. If not, ask her to recommend a dish; either take her advice or order something in the same price range.
Avoid messy foods such as pasta and sauce, big juicy hamburgers, fried chicken, lobster, etc. Order foods that you can easily and gracefully manage with a knife and fork. Even when dining informally, keep things simple so you can concentrate on your interview.
Be Polite to the Wait Staff
You’ll be judged by how you treat the wait staff, from the maître d’ to your servers to the bussers. Treat everyone with respect, order quickly and with no requests for substitutions (unless you must for medical, religious or cultural reasons, but then do it discreetly) and let the interviewer(s) handle any problems.
Bread on the Left / Water on the Right
Your bread plate will be on your left. Remember to break your role or bread one small bite at a time and butter each small bite separately.
Your water and other beverages will be on your right. If you don’t wish to have a particular drink, rather than turning your glass (or cup) over simply tell your server.
Avoid ordering alcohol even if it’s suggested. The interviewer might be testing to see how you gracefully decline. Sparkling water or ice tea are better choices. Don’t use straws or drink from a bottle.
Use the Right Fork
It’s not the only dining skill you need, but it’s an important one. Refresh yourself on this topic, as well as the table setting in general.
Pass the Salt and Pepper
If there are salt and pepper shakers on the table, they are always passed together, even if someone asks just for the salt. Avoid seasoning your food until you have tasted it; it’s best to season lightly or not at all. Remember, your primary concern is not the food.
Be Gracious to All and Join the Conversation
Be gracious to other candidates and treat them as if they were valued business associates (because you never know, they might become just that!). Remember that every situation is a networking opportunity. Show your interviewer how you would handle yourself at a business luncheon by demonstrating your leadership and conversation skills. Do your research so that you can follow the interviewer’s conversation openers and comment intelligently and knowledgeably about the company and the industry and world news in general.
Don’t order dessert unless your host does — follow his lead alone.
When your host signals that the luncheon has concluded, gently remove your napkin from your lap and lay it loosely draped to the left of your plate or place setting. Stand when your host does.
Thank your interviewer(s)/host(s) for the lunch and offer sincere compliments on the conversation, remarks, food, etc. If you’re the only candidate present, ask what the next step in the interview process might be.
Unless the interviewer indicates that he wishes to speak with your further or invites you to accompany him back to the office, don’t linger but take your leave promptly and graciously.
The final touch will be your handwritten thank-you note or email, as discussed in last week’s entry. Stay tuned for additional post-interview follow up steps.
Until next time,