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Cocktails with company reps...and other dining etiquette concerns

I’m sure that title got your attention, didn’t it? In this week’s blog, we will cover business dining etiquette, specifically during the interview process. Companies want to hire smart, hardworking, and dedicated new employees.  They also want to hire students with good social skills and etiquette.  A strong GPA or prior work experience may get you an interview, but if you don’t display proper social etiquette, you may not get the job.  To gauge this, companies will often host a lunch or dinner as part of the final interview or site visit. Is this part of the interview? YES! Consider any interaction, including a meal, with company representatives as part of the interview process. Below are my top 5 tips for acing a business meal.

  1. Attire: Many meal invitations will come with an expected attire, but if not, it is acceptable to ask the recruiter.  If there are questions about what to wear, err on the side of caution and dress business professional.  It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed!
  2. Cell Phones: Do not take phone calls/have your phone out on the table. Your focus and attention should be entirely on the company representative(s) and the conversation at the table. It is considered extremely rude to be engaged with your phone during any part of an interview.
  3. What to order: You may not have to worry about this one, as companies often host meals at their office so there is a prearranged menu. If not, let the host take the lead. Then, order something similar. If they do not order first, you could ask, “What do you recommend?” or “Is there something in particular you enjoy here?” Do not order the most expensive thing on the menu: choose something in a medium price range. Also, do not order anything messy, such as spaghetti.  You don’t want a huge red stain on your shirt during the meal! In general never order food that is unfamiliar or difficult to eat with a fork. 
  4. Alcohol: No, you should NOT order an alcoholic drink during the interview. This is obvious for students who are under 21 years of age, but even if you are of legal drinking age, it is not wise to drink during an interview, even if the interview host orders one and seems to give you permission. You never know; they may be testing your judgement here.
  5. Conversation: Remember, this is part of the interview, not a casual dinner out with friends.  This is a time to show them your strong interpersonal skills in a somewhat relaxed setting. The conversation should remain focused on the company and the job, and your genuine interest in both.   Come prepared with questions to ask the host about their time at the company, perhaps the city (if it’s new to you), the industry, the position, etc. Stay away from controversial topics like religion or politics as well as your personal life.

Remember: If you have been invited to a lunch or dinner with a company during the interview process, it’s because they are strongly interested in you.  They want you to do well, and they want to like you! Be yourself, be genuine, and remember these etiquette tips.  For additional general interviewing tips, please check out the blog posts here.

“Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.”
-Clarence Thomas

About the author

Katy Arenschield

Katy Arenschield is the Engineering Co-op and Internship Program Manager.