While awaiting the departure of a delayed flight recently, my travel companion and I decided to pass the time by having some liquid refreshment in one of the restaurants in the main terminal. During our conversation, I happened to glance at the table to my right. At this table there were two middle-aged women who looked to be in no hurry, having lunch and chatting pleasantly. This scene is neither unique nor that interesting, and I doubt that I would have paid them much notice except for the fact that when one of the women took a bite of her sandwich, an appalling scene ensued.
Imagine me, enjoying a a drink and conversation with my friend. Suddenly, I am confronted with an open-mouthed, food-swirling, lip-snapping atrocity such as I have never seen before in a woman of that age. Now seriously - I have lived through the teen-age years with my daughters and I have seen some horrendous table manners in some of their friends. Elbows on the table, arms folded on the table, leaning over their food, noisy chewing, not even an attempt to keep their mouths closed while eating, gulping their drinks, talking with their mouths FULL, etc. They seem to learn a little as they grow older that this is socially unacceptable, and I watched most of them evolve from a complete lack of manners to being presentable enough to have over for dinner at holiday time.
But this woman was breaking the land speed record for disrespectful eating! And the recruiter in me couldn't help thinking, "Geez, I hope she never goes on an interview that involves food." I couldn't imagine what it must have been like for her friend sitting directly across from her. That woman almost required a bib just to keep the food particles from her friends' mouth from getting on her clothes all the way across the table!
This scene begs the question: How much effort have we put forth in preparing our candidates for job interviews that involve food? Does it even cross our mind that the stellar candidate we have pre-qualified and presented to our clients may come across as The Missing Link when eating? Does the candidate think that if they're invited to a lunch interview that they will actually get to eat their lunch? That they should order a salad? That they should order lobster? How about spaghetti or eating Chinese food with chop sticks?
Candidate interviews that involve food can be a veritable mine field of obstacles! I thought I'd share a few tips that I go over with my candidates before their meeting.
Be polite to EVERYBODY you meet; the hostess, the waiter, people in the restroom. You don't know who's watching your behavior and a snide remark or slamming the door (even unintentionally) in someone's face will not impress anybody.
Follow basic food etiquette rules. In case you don't know what they are, I will share with you: Do not eat with your elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed, and do not speak with a mouth full of food. Put your napkin on your lap as soon as anything goes into your mouth (bread from the bread basket, etc.). Sip your water, do not gulp it. And rather than blow on your soup, allow it to cool naturally.
Order something that is easy to cut into bite-sized pieces and is not overly chewy. Do not order anything that you have to de-shell, peel, or otherwise handle excessively. Do not order anything that can be difficult to eat gracefully, like spaghetti, or that can easily splatter or fall apart while eating, like tacos.
You've got your napkin on your lap, use it often! It can be unpleasant to talk to someone with ranch dressing lips or mustard on their chin. And it's a little hard to take them seriously as well.
Do not order any type of food that gets easily caught in your teeth. If there is food caught in your teeth, do NOT remove it until you are in the restroom! Don't even think about trying to dig said food out of your teeth while at the table, I don't care how uncomfortable it is.
Skip the alcohol, even if everybody else is drinking it. Same goes for dessert.
Remember to make eye contact and look at your interviewer! Do not allow your food to be a distraction by staring at it, or playing with it - pushing it around the plate, etc.
And if the unthinkable happens - you know, you are cutting your steak and your knife slips and your bite-sized chunk of meat ends up across the table in the interviewer's lap - keep your cool. Stay poised, apologize, take precautions that it doesn't happen again, and get back to your conversation. This type of real-life situation says a lot about you as a person - don't let it say the wrong thing.
There! Now my candidate is all ready for their lunch or dinner interview. I expect to hear an excellent report back and move to the next step of brokering an offer of employment.
And it all comes down to good food etiquette!