You're interviewing for a position and part of the agenda consists of a lunch meeting with your potential boss and a couple of peers.
The most likely reason they're taking you to lunch is to see how you are in a social setting. This will give them insight into how you may act with a client over lunch and how you'll fit it in with the team.
There are many stories of how a lunch interview has been the downfall for a candidate, preventing them from getting the job. Candidates who fail "the lunch test" make the critical mistake of forgetting they're on a job interview. While the venue has changed, you're still being scrutinized.
The interviewers expect you to change when you're outside the office and what they'll be focused on is to what extent you loosen up. Are you able to show a more relaxed side while still being professional? There's a happy medium between keeping that demeanor you had in the office and going too far in the other direction where you assume a familiarity that you shouldn't.
Here are some keys to success with the lunch interview:
Be friendly but stay in interview mode - It's okay to smile more and drop some of the reserve you showed back in the office, but remember you're still selling. Be prepared to answer personal questions, but know that business ones will follow. The conversation won't be all personal or all business and will likely shift from one to the other. Remember this is their meeting and you need to be nimble and follow their lead. If they're talking about baseball, don't interject with, "Tell me about your shipments in July." That would be a swing and a miss.
Be engaging - There's an art to conversation, especially when you're trying to make a good impression. Any story you tell shouldn't make someone else look bad. Don't tell the story of the jerk at the office or your annoying neighbor. Remember, every time you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you. Also, don't tell the story that makes you look like a hero. That might indicate you're a glory hound. Safe stories to tell on the business side are ones that highlight a good team effort. On the personal side, you could discuss a great vacation you took.
Be inclusive - Many candidates make the mistake of directing all their attention to the hiring manager and ignore the other people at the table. In an environment that values team players, focusing on the boss to the exclusion of others will work to your detriment. Ever been in a meeting where one of your peers treats it as a one-on-one with your boss, completely monopolizing the conversation? This is the message you'll be sending to everyone at the table if you only address your comments to the boss.
Be decisive - Chances are they're taking you to a place they've eaten at before and already have an entrée in mind. Quickly decide what you're going to have, so the conversation can move forward.
The lunch interview is a terrific opportunity to cement your candidacy. Don't be as formal as you were in the office but don't go to the other end of the spectrum and forget you're on an interview. They'll be watching and listening to everything you say and do. It's the time to continue to impress them, not the time to chew the fat.
Fred & Gladys
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success