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How to Ace a Dinner Interview

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If an employer invites you for a dinner interview, it's a good indicator you have made it to the final round. Before hiring you, employers often want to see how you interact with others in a social setting. That does not mean the dinner interview is just a formality, however. Instead, the interviewer will scrutinize everything from how you interact with wait staff to how you make conversation.

Practice Proper Etiquette

If the position requires meeting with clients or frequently representing the company, employers want to know you’ll make a good impression. Brush up on basic dining etiquette, including which utensils to use and how to use them. Take small bites so you don’t speak with your mouth full. Keep your elbows off the table and don’t reach for items not near you; instead, ask the interviewer to pass them to you. Also, treat servers and other restaurant staff with respect. Your interviewer is sizing up your people skills, so smile, make eye contact and say “please” and “thank you” to everyone.

Follow the Interviewer’s Lead

The rules for a dinner interview are less clear than for those conducted on-site. It’s tempting to let your guard down and approach the meeting as you would a casual dinner with friends, but it is still a job interview. Consider the type of restaurant whether it's-formal or laid back. Visit or research it beforehand to determine the appropriate dress code and to evaluate the atmosphere. When it comes to dinnertime conversation, take your cues from your interviewer. The interviewer may prefer to make small talk before getting down to business or may frown on addressing personal subjects. Wait for the interviewer to start the discussion and direct the course throughout the meeting.

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Focus on the Interview

Don’t get distracted by the quality of the food or the ambiance of the restaurant. It may feel awkward trying to sell an employer on your qualifications over a meal, but stay focused on persuading the interviewer that you’re the right candidate for the job. Prepare just as you would for an on-site interview, rehearsing your answers for common interview questions and choosing examples and anecdotes to illustrate your skills. If you find the conversation veering away from work-related topics, find ways to redirect the discussion toward the job and what you have to offer.

Order Wisely

Instead of ordering your favorite dish and savoring a glass of fine wine, choose foods that are easy to eat and stick to nonalcoholic beverages so you don’t start slurring your words halfway through the meal. For example, no matter how much you love spaghetti, you don’t want to ruin your professional image by splattering sauce on your shirt. Opt for simple, light dishes and avoid heavy sauces, gravies or messy finger foods. Don’t spend too much time deciding what to order, which can make you appear indecisive or hesitant. Research the menu so you know in advance what you want.

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