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The Top 10 Things NOT To Eat During A Lunch Interview

lunch, interview, hamburger, job, resume, pizza, messy

I think we all struggle with this question.  We have an important day of interviews with a key company and to our dismay, one of them falls during the lunch hour.  And the pressure is on.  What do you order that will make you look healthy and thoughtful without leaving an embarrassing stain on your fine interview outfit?

Now you may be saying that a lunch interview sounds kind of nice.  A chance to unwind, get a free meal and get out of a stuffy office environment.

Think again.  Lunch interviews are evil.

Don’t ever assume that the person taking you to lunch is just a nice person who had nothing else to do.  It is still an interview, even if it feels more casual.  Although every once in a while, an email will go out saying:  “Can anyone take (candidate) to lunch?”.

To the untrained job seeker, this lunch interview can be the trojan horse of job search.  The big test.  And you don’t want to be known as the guy or gal who fell on their sword based on a poor decision with menu in hand.

So I’m here to help.  In the most light-hearted way I can.

Before we get to the list, here are some key considerations for the menu selection:

How Much To Order? A delicate balance because you don’t want to be perceived as a “big eater”.  And too little may have your interviewer thinking you are changing your eating patterns just because of the interview.  Which, of course, you probably are.

Healthy or Indulgent? Of course a leaning toward the healthy doesn’t hurt – especially if you know your interviewer looks fit.  But try to avoid asking the waiter for seven variations on the menu to suit your needs.

Who Orders First? You probably won’t have a choice here as most interviewers will defer to you as their guest.  So you have to make a gut call.  Perhaps your first big decision.

Now to the most important part.  The vital list.

Here are my top 10 things NOT to eat during a lunch interview.

10.  A Cheeseburger. Unless you are taken to a famous burger joint with nothing else on the menu, avoid the cheeseburger.  It is indulgent, hard to eat and messy.  A job interview is no time to test whether you can fit a certain food in your mouth.

9.  French Fries. Or any other food that requires your using your hands to eat (see cheeseburger above).  Not cool.  Plus you end up with greasy fingers and a napkin that looks like it was put through a paper shredder.

8.  Steak. No one eats steak for lunch anymore though, right?  The problem is two-fold.  Steak takes a long time to chew and it is a bit pricey.  Add to this anything that needs to be cut. Too much work.

7.  Soup. Soup falls under the “potentially too hot” category.  You don’t want to be blowing on your food or quickly grabbing your water glass to put out the fire.  Soup also tends to build up on the bottom of the spoon allowing possible bombs dropping on your lap on the way to your mouth.

6.  Any Hard Breads. If it crumbles or explodes when you try to eat it, you must avoid it.  These are also “loud foods” that make big noises when consumed.  We want quiet foods when interviewing, right?  Keeps the focus on the conversation . . .

5.  Traditional Salads. Now you might shudder at this one.  It’s the solid choice, right?  Safe and healthy.  Well here’s the problem.  Most salads come with greens that are too big and getting them in your mouth without a three point turn is next to impossible.  Also, salads don’t tend to stay on the fork very well.  So unless you like building a rain forest between you and the table, be careful.

4.  Appetizers. While this seems like a safe, easy to eat choice, most appetizers are not healthy, fall under the “finger food” category and may have your interviewer thinking you are not confident enough to order a main plate.

3.  Pizza. Remember, you are not out with your kids watching a ball game.  You are trying to get a job.  So pizza loses out for a number of reasons.  You have to either pick it up or cut it.  You will likely not be able to finish it all (or suffer the consequences later in the day if you do).  And you have no idea how big it will be – you don’t want the waiter bringing out a huge pizza tin on a rack that takes up half the table.

2. Dessert. The odds are you won’t have time.  And you don’t need to over-eat, especially sweets, if you have two or three interviews left in the day.

1.  Spaghetti and Meatballs. Yes, it is the classic one to avoid.  Red sauce makes big, splashy stains that are impossible to get out.  Plus, there is no elegant way to ingest a four foot long piece of pasta without it slapping you in the eyeball on the way in.  Think Indiana Jones.

So now that I’ve reduced your options to just about zero.  You are all asking: so what do I order that won’t make me look silly, overly-healthy, indulgent, littered with food parts, over-heated, rosy-cheeked or face-painted?

Is that what you are asking?  Well, I have no clue.  All foods have their issues.  But here’s a few that seem to avoid violating the assortment of problems identified above.

Cooked Fish: generally really easy to cut and fork.  Perceived healthy (assuming it is not drowned in sauce) and easy to chew.

A Chopped Salad: unlike the traditional salad above, easy to eat in small bites, usually light on the dressing and perceived as a safe choice.

Penne Pasta: or any other “easy to fork and transport” pasta.  Easy to find on most menus.  The cleanest of the pastas.

OK, now it’s your turn.  Can you share your best or worst menu selections for a lunch interview?  Made a menu mistake that you’d like to share?  I’m sure I missed something above, but I can’t think of it.

Maybe you can . . .

Thanks Marshall Astor for the great photo via flickr

Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Job Interview Tips

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