Advice from the Expert: It May Look Like Dinner, But...

Alumni Society - Advice from the Expert - Spring 2014

You’ve made it through the phone interview. Now you have to nail the in-person interview, and sometimes, that might happen over a meal. I know what you might be thinking: I eat several times a day. How hard can this be? But beware: You will be evaluated on your etiquette and your manners. This isn’t dinner, this is the chance for you to land your dream job. So here are a few tips on how to do that, and in the process, I’ll explain to you the proper way to butter a roll.

Show up early, locate the restrooms, and get yourself situated. Let the host or hostess know that you’ve arrived. If your interviewer is already seated, you will be escorted to the table. Remember, do not sit down until you are offered a seat—your interviewer will determine where he or she wants you to sit.

Put your napkin on your lap when your interviewer does so. And remember, that napkin is to blot your mouth should any food go rogue, otherwise it should stay put. Dinner napkins are folded in half, with the fold facing you. Luncheon napkins, generally smaller, should be opened fully. Should you need to excuse yourself from the table, place your napkin on the seat of your chair—never put a soiled napkin back on the table until the meal has ended.

Consider it all a game of “follow the leader.” Pick up your menu when the interviewer picks up his or her menu. If she orders an appetizer, you order an appetizer; if he orders dessert, you order dessert. The rules change only when alcohol is involved. If your interviewer chooses a martini, you’re better off with sparkling water or an iced tea. Oh, and stay away from heavily carbonated beverages, the results can be embarrassing at best.

If you’re not sure what to order, ask your interviewer what she would recommend. By asking, you will get an idea of a price range. By no means is this an opportunity to order the most expensive item on the menu or to try something you’ve never had before. Play it safe and stick with an entrée that is easy to manage—stay away from meat or fish with bones and never order pasta or other potentially messy foods.

Is that bread and butter plate hers or yours? What about the water glass? Here’s a trick to figuring out which plates and glasses belong to you. Take both hands and join your thumbs and index fingers. Your right hand forms a “d” and your left hand forms a “b.” Drinks are on the right, and bread and butter plates are on the left. But, please, if you need this guide, reference it inconspicuously under the table. (Speaking of that bread, if there is a basket of bread or rolls, always pass it to the right, and you never spread your butter on the entire piece or tear your roll open and slather both sides. It may be efficient, but it’s wrong! Always break off a small piece of bread or roll and butter each piece. )

What about the forks? Which one when? Always start from the outside of your place setting and work your way in toward your plate, course by course.

And just because your mother won’t be there, let me fill in for her: Don’t slurp your soup; don’t tuck your napkin into your shirt or pants; don’t take medication at the table; don’t pick your teeth; don’t text or take a call. In fact, turn your phone off. Don’t apply make-up or ChapStick at the table. And, of course, don’t put your elbows on the table. The entire meal should be spent sharing your skills and knowledge and the reasons you are a good fit for the position. If you’re doing it right, you won’t even notice the food!

Published March 2014