Dine your way to that job: handling breakfast interviews

Last month, I organized a breakfast session for a management trainee programme in an investment bank. The candidates were visibly nervous during this breakfast session, and rightly so. A breakfast interview is almost equivalent to receiving that job offer. You’re almost at the tail end of the interview process and have one final hurdle to face before you get that job.

Breakfast interviews are a common practice for executive candidates, but in recent years, some sizable organizations and MNCs have been known to invite junior candidates for such casual interviews as well. There could be many reasons for doing so, but a breakfast setting is usually more informal and conversational, designed to help you relax. With the delicious spread, it is easy to get carried away and forget that you’re in a job interview. If you’re not careful, you might let your guard down and divulge too much personal information.

When you’re invited to a meal or an interview over a cup of coffee, you’ll need to be equally prepared. Here are some topics your conversation should cover, and some of the basic “dos” and “don’ts”.

1. Prior to the interview

Do some research about the restaurant – get the exact location, find out what’s on the menu and if there is a dress code. Doing this research beforehand will give you an idea of what you can order, especially if you have food allergies or need to follow a strict diet.

2. During the interview

Table manners

Your safest bet is to shadow the interviewer. While your meal at the restaurant is usually paid for, order conservatively and do not pick the most expensive items on the menu. For example, if the interviewer is having a light breakfast like coffee and sandwich, do not order a full English breakfast. Stay away from “difficult foods” like a squid ink pasta or a giant burger, and try your best not to order alcohol, as you want to stay focused.

Enjoy the meal slowly and do not speak with food in your mouth. Remember that this is an interview with your potential boss, so you’ll need to practice proper dining etiquette.

Topic selection

The interviewer might still pose you some traditional interview-style questions. Tell them something which is not listed on your resume. For example, your strengths, an interesting project you’ve handled before, or an exciting hobby and try to tie this in with the job scope.

Sometimes the interview can get very personal. My candidate once met an interviewer who shared his life experiences and the lowest points in his life. My candidate was unfazed and shared a similar experience that he encountered. Remember that there may be a hidden agenda behind every conversation. Your hiring manager will be observing how you deal with stress, if you have proper etiquette and social skills. Do not let your guard down in any circumstance.

3. After the interview

Let the interviewer to check the bill. Express your appreciation for their time and the meal. Ask for a business card or contact details and send a follow-up e-mail to them. In the thank you letter, emphasize your interest for the role and highlight key skillsets. It is also a good idea to recap some specific topics that you’ve covered during the meal.

4. Various interview formats

Sometimes there may even be multiple interviewers in the meeting and the interview could take place as a long table luncheon, cocktail night or even happy hour session. Don’t forget to come prepared with an arsenal of topics that you can converse with the interviewer(s) about and don’t forget to interact with the other candidates or potential colleagues who are seated around you.

Once in a while, I meet candidates who are invited to networking events, where they will need to mingle with guests and stand out from the other interviewees – think The Apprentice. Before jumping into the event and making yourself the centre of attention, observe the environment, identify who you’d like to talk to and adopt the most suitable approach. You can even do your homework before the event to see who might be in attendance.

Remember to give your full attention to everyone you speak with and leave a good impression. Your interviewer may try to talk to as many candidates as possible and might only spend around 10-15 mins for each candidate, so you’ll need to be engaging and keep the conversation going.

My final advice? Step out of your comfort zone. You might meet an old friend at the event or enjoy talking to certain people more than others. However, you never know who you might meet and who might be evaluating your performance so try to be more open-minded and connect with as many people as possible.  

For more tips on how to ace that interview, visit our job search section.