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# lunch interview etiquette - opinions?

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lunch interview etiquette - opinions? [#permalink]  16 Dec 2006, 17:11
So, I have the INSEAD interview next week with a partner of a consulting/law firm. I'll be darned - but it's a lunch interview. I've never been in a lunch interview in my life. In fact the last time I've attended an interview (apart from the one last week) was nearly 7 years ago.

That brings me to etiquette questions (yes I know I'm being silly now),

Do these law firm/partner types really pay lot of attention to how people eat?! (pelihu?), are there any specific rules? I hate talking during lunch/dinners. I'm usually very quiet during my lunch or dinner and just focus on the eating. Besides, I'm not very adventurous as far as food is concerned. All these things make me a little uncomfy with lunch interviews. Don't want to gross him out or get distracted because I'm too worried about etiquette. I'm an engineer, etiquette doesn't top my list, y'know!

Anybody else been through this? Pelihu/Rhyme any tips? (Rhyme - you can come out of your toilet once a while ;) )
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Yes, it does matter how you eat. Certainly, it varies depending on the individual you are interviewing with, but I used to have a friend that I always pay special attention to a person's tie (dimple in the knot), proper socks (for the engineers out there DO NOT wear white socks with a suit) and how they presented themselves when eater. I also knew a lot of people that didn't care at all.

Here are some basic tips - but keep in mind that you are in Europe so some of these things might be different. I actually learned most these things in college with my fraternity - so we could be presentable when dining at a sorority house, but they are helpful to know in the business (especially banking) and legal world. Lunch-time interviews are very typical for both professions.

1. Think BMW to remember which plates and glasses to use. Bread on your left, meal in the middle, water on your right.

2. If you are not confident in this setting, order something that doesn't have a of sauce, and does not require a lot of handiwork. I had a friend that used to always order penne pasta - it's perfect because you just use a fork. Don't order ribs or spaghetti unless you are confident and the setting is appropriate.

3. Do not "plank" your utensils - meaning do not lean it against your plate leading to the table. Your knife should be placed across the side of the plate after you have used it.

4. Do not "point and shoot" - although this may be acceptable in Europe. If you're eating a steak, fork in left hand and knife in right - then, after cutting 1 piece, lay the knife down, switch the fork to your right hand and deliver it to your mouth. Do not stick the fork to your mouth with your left hand - again this might be appropriate in Europe. You can avoid this whole situation by just ordering something that doesn't require cutting.

5. Don't order the most expensive thing on the menu; don't order anything that is market price. If in doubt, take your host's lead. Also, don't order extra courses - you don't want to be sitting there trying to eat an appetizer while your host watches you. If in doubt, just ask - "what's good" or "what do you recommend"?

6. Do not cut up your entire meal before eating it. Cut only the piece that you are about to eat. Again, this can be avoided altogether.

7. Do not butter your entire roll/bread all at once. First, take the butter, use your butter knife and bring a chunk to your own bread plate. Then, tear off a bite-sized piece, butter that piece (with the butter from your own plate) and deliver it to your mouth. Same thing applies with any sauce or sour cream or anything like that. Transfer some to your own plate before messing with it and eating it.

So, I will say that I definitely observed people during lunch; but that was also more of a professional environment. We were hiring people to work, while in this instance they are interviewing people to admit them to school. I will also say that some law firm partners (and bankers) are so ingrained in their ways that they will observe you subconsciously.

I'll think of some more stuff and add it later.
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LOL. I love that picture.

I wouldn't order pasta... that stuff could splatter on your clothes. I would get some kind of fish that's easy to cut with your fork.

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pelihu wrote:
Yes, it does matter how you eat. Certainly, it varies depending on the individual you are interviewing with, but I used to have a friend that I always pay special attention to a person's tie (dimple in the knot), proper socks (for the engineers out there DO NOT wear white socks with a suit) and how they presented themselves when eater. I also knew a lot of people that didn't care at all.

Here are some basic tips - but keep in mind that you are in Europe so some of these things might be different. I actually learned most these things in college with my fraternity - so we could be presentable when dining at a sorority house, but they are helpful to know in the business (especially banking) and legal world. Lunch-time interviews are very typical for both professions.

1. Think BMW to remember which plates and glasses to use. Bread on your left, meal in the middle, water on your right.

2. If you are not confident in this setting, order something that doesn't have a of sauce, and does not require a lot of handiwork. I had a friend that used to always order penne pasta - it's perfect because you just use a fork. Don't order ribs or spaghetti unless you are confident and the setting is appropriate.

3. Do not "plank" your utensils - meaning do not lean it against your plate leading to the table. Your knife should be placed across the side of the plate after you have used it.

4. Do not "point and shoot" - although this may be acceptable in Europe. If you're eating a steak, fork in left hand and knife in right - then, after cutting 1 piece, lay the knife down, switch the fork to your right hand and deliver it to your mouth. Do not stick the fork to your mouth with your left hand - again this might be appropriate in Europe. You can avoid this whole situation by just ordering something that doesn't require cutting.

5. Don't order the most expensive thing on the menu; don't order anything that is market price. If in doubt, take your host's lead. Also, don't order extra courses - you don't want to be sitting there trying to eat an appetizer while your host watches you. If in doubt, just ask - "what's good" or "what do you recommend"?

6. Do not cut up your entire meal before eating it. Cut only the piece that you are about to eat. Again, this can be avoided altogether.

7. Do not butter your entire roll/bread all at once. First, take the butter, use your butter knife and bring a chunk to your own bread plate. Then, tear off a bite-sized piece, butter that piece (with the butter from your own plate) and deliver it to your mouth. Same thing applies with any sauce or sour cream or anything like that. Transfer some to your own plate before messing with it and eating it.

So, I will say that I definitely observed people during lunch; but that was also more of a professional environment. We were hiring people to work, while in this instance they are interviewing people to admit them to school. I will also say that some law firm partners (and bankers) are so ingrained in their ways that they will observe you subconsciously.

I'll think of some more stuff and add it later.

how hard!!! but I found your recommendation is interesting.
Just wonder, what problem with the white sock?
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darren1010 wrote:
pelihu wrote:
Yes, it does matter how you eat. Certainly, it varies depending on the individual you are interviewing with, but I used to have a friend that I always pay special attention to a person's tie (dimple in the knot), proper socks (for the engineers out there DO NOT wear white socks with a suit) and how they presented themselves when eater. I also knew a lot of people that didn't care at all.

Here are some basic tips - but keep in mind that you are in Europe so some of these things might be different. I actually learned most these things in college with my fraternity - so we could be presentable when dining at a sorority house, but they are helpful to know in the business (especially banking) and legal world. Lunch-time interviews are very typical for both professions.

1. Think BMW to remember which plates and glasses to use. Bread on your left, meal in the middle, water on your right.

2. If you are not confident in this setting, order something that doesn't have a of sauce, and does not require a lot of handiwork. I had a friend that used to always order penne pasta - it's perfect because you just use a fork. Don't order ribs or spaghetti unless you are confident and the setting is appropriate.

3. Do not "plank" your utensils - meaning do not lean it against your plate leading to the table. Your knife should be placed across the side of the plate after you have used it.

4. Do not "point and shoot" - although this may be acceptable in Europe. If you're eating a steak, fork in left hand and knife in right - then, after cutting 1 piece, lay the knife down, switch the fork to your right hand and deliver it to your mouth. Do not stick the fork to your mouth with your left hand - again this might be appropriate in Europe. You can avoid this whole situation by just ordering something that doesn't require cutting.

5. Don't order the most expensive thing on the menu; don't order anything that is market price. If in doubt, take your host's lead. Also, don't order extra courses - you don't want to be sitting there trying to eat an appetizer while your host watches you. If in doubt, just ask - "what's good" or "what do you recommend"?

6. Do not cut up your entire meal before eating it. Cut only the piece that you are about to eat. Again, this can be avoided altogether.

7. Do not butter your entire roll/bread all at once. First, take the butter, use your butter knife and bring a chunk to your own bread plate. Then, tear off a bite-sized piece, butter that piece (with the butter from your own plate) and deliver it to your mouth. Same thing applies with any sauce or sour cream or anything like that. Transfer some to your own plate before messing with it and eating it.

So, I will say that I definitely observed people during lunch; but that was also more of a professional environment. We were hiring people to work, while in this instance they are interviewing people to admit them to school. I will also say that some law firm partners (and bankers) are so ingrained in their ways that they will observe you subconsciously.

I'll think of some more stuff and add it later.

how hard!!! but I found your recommendation is interesting.
Just wonder, what problem with the white sock?

I have a problem with the dimple in the tie. Some people don't like the dimple.
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darren1010 wrote:
how hard!!! but I found your recommendation is interesting.
Just wonder, what problem with the white sock?

It's just not done in the US. I don't know the origins of it, but its probably the single biggest, and most common, faux pas people make. Asthetically, white socks + suit tend to look really stupid. Try black or dark navy, but not blue, socks. Actually if anyone knows where that no-white socks thing came from I'd be curious.

Another one to keep in mind - black belt, black shoes. Brown belt + black shoes = no. Not half as much of an issue, but worth mentioning.

I'd also suggest avoiding suits that are striped heavily - if I can make out the stripes from 5 ft away, they are too noticeable. A light light stripe is OK - the kind that you can barely see unless you are sitting next to each other. Loro Piana makes a wonderful dark navy suit with the slightest hint of blue stripes, absolutely fabulous suit.

I'd also suggest that the suit be dark dark navy blue or charcoal, but not brown, or green. I'm also not a fan of black suits, but this is just me. I think they look a bit too "funeral" like, but I'm sure they are fine for interviews.

The biggest issue here is fit. A $2,000 untailored suit will look worse than a$200 tailored suit. Get the suit tailored.

Tie length is another pet peeve of mine. I can't stand people who tie their ties to ridiculously short or long lengths. Roughly speaking, the bottom of your tie should just touch the top of your belt. If your tie stops above your stomach, its too short. If your tie is long enough to tuck into pants through their zipper, it's too long.

While were at it, keep in mind different styles of suits. A closed back, in my opinion, is the more conservative choice (that is closed vents). Keep in mind this comes with some drawbacks - you'll get less air and are more likely to sweat, and the suit will wrinkle a bit easier.

Note also the style of the neck, some suits have a pronounced deep v-neck shape which will tend to look somewhat more sporty, but is actually also the more classic look - whereas other suits will close much higher up. It's usually the difference between a 2 button and 3 button suit. Two button suits are traditionally the more conservative choice, but either is fine in my own opinion.

Never button the bottom button.

Lets talk single vs double brested. Personally, I honestly think single is the only way to go. A double brested must always be buttoned to look right. A single can be buttoned or unbuttoned.

As far as dimples go, honestly, I've never even noticed.
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pelihu wrote:

1. Think BMW to remember which plates and glasses to use. Bread on your left, meal in the middle, water on your right.

Hah I'd never heard that acronym. Cute.

Quote:
2. If you are not confident in this setting, order something that doesn't have a of sauce, and does not require a lot of handiwork. I had a friend that used to always order penne pasta - it's perfect because you just use a fork. Don't order ribs or spaghetti unless you are confident and the setting is appropriate.

In general, if you eat pasta with a spoon, don't order it. I see a lot of Americans do this and I want to reach across the table and stab them. A word of warning about penne - they always have a sauce, and sauce can spray, but penne, as far as pastas go, is a good solid choice.

Personally, I'm a big big fan of soups in this situations. You do risk spills, but there is one particular advantage. If you take a sip of soup and all of a sudden its time for you to answer a question, it takes two seconds to swallow it and start answering. If, on the other hand, you just put a piece of ribeye in your mouth, you'll be stuck chewing it until you can answer.

Quote:
3. Do not "plank" your utensils - meaning do not lean it against your plate leading to the table. Your knife should be placed across the side of the plate after you have used it.

A good point. I'd add that, to indicate you are finished with your meal, place your knife and fork together on the plate facing about 4 or 5 oclock. Don't worry about getting it just right - anywhere in the 3 to 5 oclock range is fine.

Don't use bread to "clean" your plate. That is, don't grab a roll, break a piece off and start swiping the plate with it.

It's rare to find it these days, but at especially posh and old-school restaurants, you may recieve a little metal (usually silver) rod that sits on the table. It's intended to be a placeholder for your knife so that you can rest it without placing it directly on the table. I can only remember one place I've seen this in the last ten years, so I doubt you'll encounter it.

While were at it, there is a proper way to hold a fork, and its pretty common to get this wrong. You want to have your index finger at the base of the fork where it starts to curve. Your finger should not extend beyond this point onto the prongs. If so, you're holding the fork too far forward. Another way to tell is if the fork ends in the palm of your hand. If it ends at your wrist, you're overreaching.

Something I also see a LOT of Americans do is death grip the fork like it's a hammer. You don't want to do this. The closest image I could find of this was here: http://www.koalie.net/Walks/200403_TP_M ... 202038.jpg

Look at how he's holding the knife. A lot of people hold forks that way. Especially when eating meat... and they'll turn their arms up so their eblow is high and then stab the steak while holding the fork like this.

Note also that you shouldn't hold the knife this way either. The same rule applies here - held gently with the index finger along the top stopping before the start of the blade.

Here's actually a pretty decent photo of what I mean:

Here's another:

http://www.bigstockphoto.com/thumbs/9/1 ... 219468.jpg

Also...

No elbows on the table. Ever.

When you go to take a drink of water, don't rest your eblow on the table and tread your arm like a fulcrum, simply reach for it, and raise your arm back over your plate and take a drink.

And another one...

A knife is meant to cut, not tear. That means that you should be moving the knife across the meat, not down into the meat with force. This is really hard to describe, but what I mean is, if you feel like the meat might fly off the table of you take your hand off the fork, it's because your digging into the meat and tearing it rather than cutting it. Try this at home - grab a good sharp knife and cut into a piece of meat without putting any downward pressure on the knife. It's an exaggeration of course, you need a bit of pressure to keep the blade on the steak, but you'll see how the meat does in fact cut off.

Another way to think about it - its the difference between cutting butter (a downward thrust with a little bit of slice along it) vs cutting through a steel pipe with a saw. You cut meat like your cutting through a steel pipe (just not with that much force!) - movements forwards and backwards across the food, not downwards.

Quote:
6. Do not cut up your entire meal before eating it. Cut only the piece that you are about to eat. Again, this can be avoided altogether.

Oh god this is a good one. I see this all the time... People who order a porterhouse, cut the entire thing into little pieces and then eat it. Don't do this.

I'll probably come up with more later.
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pelihu wrote:
4. Do not "point and shoot" - although this may be acceptable in Europe. If you're eating a steak, fork in left hand and knife in right - then, after cutting 1 piece, lay the knife down, switch the fork to your right hand and deliver it to your mouth. Do not stick the fork to your mouth with your left hand - again this might be appropriate in Europe. You can avoid this whole situation by just ordering something that doesn't require cutting.

That's typically American, I would say. In Europe you hold a fork in your left hand and a knife in your right hand throughout the whole process.
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Rhyme/Pelihu - thanks guys.

Reading all these rules and nuances, I''m reminded of an old joke

Q.What time is it when an elephant sits on a chair?"
A.Time to get a new chair.

Similarly...

Q.What time is it when necromonger receives a lunch interview request?
A.Time to schedule a new interview... ;)

Some of the points don't apply much to me. I don't eat ribmeat or any kind of meat except chicken, I don't eat pasta. The bread/meal part sounds fine - there won't be wine because I'll be driving and it's a work day afternoon lunch. I won't be dressed in a full suit.

That's a lot of good info from you guys, and I know first impressions do make a difference. It's important that when you meet the interviewer he doesn't think you're an ass- and more importantly, is not distracted by your eating habits. If I were in an interview and the candidate kept talking with mouthful of food - I *would* notice it and be distracted. Same applies to everyone. Interviews are not always about listening to the candidate talk, but also to observe their mannerisms, body language, confidence etc. Don't want to take too many liberties there - considering my pretty much 1 shot at this school!

keep 'em coming :) this thread may be useful to many others as well.
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It's not only about the color of the sock, but the length.

I used to work with a guy that used to wear low-cut black socks all the time with his professional work clothes. It was so nasty to see his hairy legs when he sat down and his pants rose a little.

The general rule is to match the color of your socks to the color of your shoes. Just as important is that the sock rise high enough that when you sit down, all you can see is sock.

I would say to go with the 3 button single breasted suit. The 2 button is out of style and outdated. On the 3 button, only keep the middle button fastened. Keep it buttoned when you are standing and open it when you sit down with 1 hand. (don't fumble with it. make it look like you wear a suit all the time and are comfortable with it.) I would say to even practice closing the button with 1 hand.

I don't think the dimple matters as long as the whole neck area is clean and tight. But I have noticed that most of the men in my companies have the dimple in the tie.
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I thought of another important one. Do not shovel food into your mouth. It's hard to describe, but the proper way to hold a fork or spoon when delivering food to your mouth is kind of like a pencil. Do not hold your fork as you would see some kids and "shovel". I found a good link that describes how to use utensil. It also talks about the American way of switching fork, knife and spoon for use with the right hand. I used to have a Greek friend in my fraternity (funny huh?) that would always tell me that this was different in Europe. I can tell you for sure that there are people that will ding you if you shovel food into your mouth.
http://www.chefalbrich.com/etiquette/pr ... e_fork.htm

Good solid advice regarding suit choice from Rhyme and Homefry. For the purposes of an interview, I would just go with solid navy blue or charcoal gray (dark in both cases). Stripes are OK, but save them for when you actually start work there. An olive colored suit is not OK. Also, single breasted is the only choice for an interview - 2 or 3 button. For 2 buttons, button only the top button, for 3 buttons button only the middle button. Choice should actually depend on how tall you are. Unless you are over 6'6", do not consider 4 or 5 buttons for an interview. If you are about average height, 3 buttons is the way to go these days - but if you are shorter 2 buttons is fine as well. I agree - avoid double breasted, unless you plan on sailing a yacht during your interview. For the interview, just dress as neutral as possible and let your words do the selling.

As far as socks go, I don't know where the socks rule came from, but just don't wear white tube socks with a dark suit (or any suit for that matter) unless you are Michael Jackson. I can guarantee you there are people that will ding you for this. Again, for the purposes of the interview, just go with black socks, black shoes and black belt. I totally agree regarding sock length. They should actually be the "stocking" type that goes up to your calves as least.

I agree that proper tie length is to the top of the belt. Ties that are too long or too short look funny. I actually don't think can get you dinged, but why chance it.

Definitely, do not talk with your mouth full. You should just eat in small bites and be ready to swallow anything you put in your mouth within 2 seconds so you can answer. Also, be conscious when you as a question. It's rude to ask someone something right after they put something in their mouth. Do not gesticulate with utensils in your hands. As a general rule, don't gesticulate too aggressively during an interview at all, but definitely don't do it with a knife in your hand. Don't worry about eating all of your food - you might find during an interview that you're not be able to eat a lot, but try to eat some of it because it looks bad if they clear a full plate from you.

Regarding the suggestion to order fish and cut with a fork - I actually think it is improper to cut with a fork at all. Any cutting should be done with a knife. This is a minor point though.

So, these rules apply if you are interviewing with a lawyer, banker or consultant and probably most big corporation types; and of course some people will not care while others will notice the smallest details. If you are interviewing with Apple, it might be OK to dress like Steve Jobs and eat like a slob, but I think that even in Silicon Valley this is getting to be less acceptable. The simple thing to remember is for an interview, just don't let the way you dress or eat get in the way.

Oh, here's another one that might be especially appropriate because there are so many engineers around here. DO NOT ever wear a short sleeve dress shirt. Not under any circumstances (it might be OK if you're going bowling). Throw them all away now. And DO NOT go to a business meeting with a short sleeve dress shirt and a tie. This will get you dinged. Also, I'd stick with white or ecru for an interview. Other colors like blue or pink are fine, but save them along with the Frenched cuffs, stripes and suspenders for after you start working.
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