How to Ace a Lunch Interview


If a prospective employer you're interviewing with invites you for a lunch interview, congratulations! This typically indicates you're nearing the end of the interview process. Or sometimes it comes full circle – you met with a hiring manager or contact in the company over lunch or coffee, they invited you to start the office interview process and here you are again, this time at a roundtable with five or six of their employees breaking bread – either way, you've made it through another round!


Here's what you need to know to get you through this last lap in the interviewing process to hopefully get an offer.


It's not about the food, so don't arrive hungry. Typically the lunch interview is toward the end of the job interview process so that candidates can meet with a few people from the team to be evaluated for a social fit.


Definitely don't arrive hungry. In fact food should be merely an afterthought. Eat beforehand but just enough to keep you satiated so you can still eat a little during lunch; keep in mind that the purpose of the lunch is to talk and listen – not eat.


Order food that's easy to eat. Craving that bowl of spaghetti and meatballs? Save it for dinner (it could get sloppy). Skip any food that might get stuck in your teeth and lead to embarrassing interactions between you and your potential new colleagues. Select something that's relatively easy to eat and won't get cold (unless it's already cold) once you engage in conversation.


Drink nonalcoholic beverages. Yes, even on a Friday, even if the group seems cool and even if they're all ordering drinks, you should still opt for a nonalcoholic beverage – save the cocktails for celebrating with friends after you've nailed your interview. You want to remain professional and on top of your game at all times during the interview process.


Relax. The purpose of the lunch interview is to see how you interact in everyday conversation with the team, especially if the job is client-facing and meetings are often taken over lunch. It's OK to let your personality shine, they actually want to see that and it is part of what separates you from the competition. Be yourself and take this as an opportunity to build upon the rapport you've already started to establish.


Pay attention. You're interviewing them just as much (if not more) as they're interviewing you! You can learn a lot by watching – does the team seem to have good camaraderie? Remember, they should be on their best behavior as well. And if they're behaving poorly during a time when they're supposed to be at the top of their game, pause and take a step back to see if this is a good fit for you.


Prepare. Lunch interviews can be fun, but can get serious at the drop of a hat – one minute you're talking about the best tacos to get in town and the next minute someone can be asking you casually why you want to work there. Prepare for a lunch meeting as you would prepare for an office or phone interview: Prior to lunch, give some thought to how you would answer any tough questions that might come your way.


If your first interview occurred a few weeks ago and time has lapsed, definitely go online to see if the company has made new headlines. Feel free to ask them about new developments, even a community service project you see on their Instagram feed. Not only is it an opportunity to learn more, chances are other candidates at this stage in the process aren't leveraging the lunch interview to ask questions during the casual setting.


Follow the same rules for standard interviews. Different scenery doesn't mean different rules apply. Even if members of the interviewing team nonchalantly bring up topics that are typically taboo – like religion and politics – during lunch, refrain from commenting or use it as a way to pivot to another topic that you are comfortable talking about. For instance, if someone talks about their stance on football players taking a knee during the anthem, you can start talking about how your favorite team is performing this season and how exciting the playoffs will be. It's best to keep your personal beliefs and feelings out of the conversation while remaining engaged.


Be polite. This should happen anyway, but the interview team is paying close attention to small yet powerful clues attesting to your behavior. Are you nice to the wait staff? Do you have table etiquette? This works both ways so be sure to assess the team in these areas as well.


Ask about next steps. As the interview wraps up, ask about next steps in terms of timing. When should you expect to hear back, and whom will you be hearing from? You can mention your timing too, especially if you're concluding a project or starting one that impacts your availability. And if you're being actively pursued by other companies, definitely mention it! It makes your candidacy more attractive and tends to expedite the offer process to get approvals up the chain and out the door.


Have fun! Interviews shouldn't feel like doom and gloom. In fact, perhaps this will be your last interview. This lunch could be the first of many among your new work family. Enjoy it, smile, make eye contact and finish it just as you would with others – with a handshake.