I have a second interview with a large firm next week. My recruiter told me that my interview will end with a lunch meeting with three other attorneys. Do you have any pointers on how to properly conduct myself during a lunch interview? I just want to make the best impression possible on this firm. Thanks in advance! - M.H.
Congratulations on getting a call-back interview with this firm! Your question is a good one, as lunch interviews can indeed be treacherous. It's always a little difficult to balance being professional in your demeanor with being sociable in a more casual luncheon setting. Below you will find a couple of tips that I hope will be helpful to you in acing your lunch interview.
1. Wear nice but comfortable shoes.
During interviews it is imperative to look your best. Keep in mind, though, that if your interview includes a lunch meeting, you may find yourself walking several blocks or more to the firm's restaurant of choice.
If you have a pair of shoes that look sharp yet are also comfortable, definitely pick this pair for your interview. There is nothing worse than trying to act social and friendly when your feet are killing you.
Try to also wear clothes that "breathe" and will allow for good ventilation. If it's a warm day, you don't want to arrive at the restaurant looking like you just left the gym.
You mentioned in your question that you will be attending the lunch meeting with three other attorneys. Try to ensure that you are giving equal attention to all interviewers present. This can be a tricky predicament, especially if one of your interviewers tends to be more dominant in the conversation. You can make everyone at the table feel equally important if you make eye contact with all of your interviewers.
Even if one person is generally asking all of the questions, make sure that you acknowledge and address everyone there so no one at the table feels snubbed by you. At most firms every attorney who interviews you will generally have a say in whether or not you get an offer. Thus, you don't want to ignore the more junior-level associates in your attempt to make a great impression on the more senior-level attorneys at the lunch.
3. Order wisely.
Believe it or not, your interviewers will evaluate everything about you, including what you order at lunch. A good rule of thumb is that you should never order a meal that is more expensive than your interviewers' meals. Try to gauge what your interviewers are ordering first, and then pick an item on the menu that is slightly less expensive than what they are ordering. In addition, if none of your interviewers are ordering beverages, refrain from ordering one for yourself and stick to water.
Also remember to order "neat" foods that are easier to eat and have minimal chances of spilling or splattering. Foods that you can cut up with a fork and knife are generally a good bet. Stay away from foods that require you to use your hands or that are liquid like soup, as you want to avoid getting messy during the interview.
If possible, also try to order food that is more "elegant" in nature. Ordering a simple fish filet or chicken breast plate will probably create a more sophisticated impression than ordering something more "grubby" like a bacon cheeseburger.
Lastly, try to avoid eating food that may get stuck in your teeth. It will be difficult for your interviewers to take you seriously if they are solely focused on that big piece of spinach stuck in your teeth.
4. Don't drink alcohol.
Refrain from drinking any type of alcohol at your lunch. No good can come of it. Even if you are at a lunch with a bunch of junior-level associates and they encourage you to order an alcoholic drink, politely decline their offer. Your interviewers are free to get as tipsy as they would like during the interview; you, however, are not. Keeping focused and sober will surely help you succeed in making a good impression during the meal.
5. Don't get too comfortable.
If you are fortunate, you may encounter interviewers with whom you have an instant rapport. This is a wonderful occurrence when it happens and something you should strive to create with everyone you meet during the interview. But remember not to mistake having solid rapport with your interviewers for an opportunity to get too comfortable with them.
You need to constantly remind yourself that you are being judged from the time you arrive for your interview until the time you physically leave the firm. A lot of candidates make the error of thinking that if they are having lunch with junior-level associates, they can be more informal than they would be with a partner. Some of your interviewers may tempt you into gossiping about other firms and "bad-mouthing" your current employer, but stay clear of this type of behavior.
If you put yourself into a situation where you are seen as negative or gossipy, this can seriously endanger your chances of getting an offer. Qualified candidates have been rejected from interviews for exactly this reason. Thus, try to stay positive and upbeat in everything you say during lunch. If your interviewers start gossiping, try to make neutral statements in response or gently steer the conversation into a different topic.
Also remember to abstain from cursing or using slang during your interview. As tempting as it is to let your guard down, you are not having lunch with friends or colleagues - you are having lunch with people who are evaluating your every move. Don't bring up issues that are highly personal or controversial in nature, and remain even-keeled throughout the conversation.
6. Be ready to talk about your interests outside of practicing law.
During lunch, in addition to finding out more about your legal background and experience, the interviewing attorneys may also try to gauge whether or not you are someone they would like to work with at the firm on a personal level. Be prepared to discuss interests outside of practicing law. If your interviewers feel that you are not a well-rounded person, they may be more hesitant to provide a strong recommendation of your candidacy to the firm.
Before your interview, think about a couple of hobbies or interests that you would feel comfortable discussing during lunch. Sports and travel are generally safe subjects to bring up during your interview. Remember: being someone who has fascinating interests outside of the law is something that many firms find very attractive in candidates.
7. Use your manners.
Bring your best manners to lunch, specifically with regard to dining etiquette and general politeness. Also, don't forget to extend your appreciation for the meal by thanking everyone both for their time and for buying you lunch. Being humble, gracious, and thoughtful during your lunch interview will likely create a great impression on your interviewers, which will hopefully result in getting you the offer you deserve. I wish you the best of luck at your interview!
Caroline Lee, Esq.
West Coast Division