Let’s Eat! The Ins and Outs of the Interview Lunch
July 25, 2017
By Rebecca Calman, Legal Recruiting & Personnel Manager for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US
You’re happy and excited. You’ve bagged the interview at the law firm of your dreams, and you’ve thoroughly prepared for it – you’ve internalized the firm’s range of legal offerings to its clients, reviewed its positions in its sectors, caught up on its history and goals, noted its culture and brand identity, received coaching by your law school’s career counselor, and rehearsed all this knowledge in the form of possible questions and answers.
Except for the interview lunch. You’re informed that after the formal interview there will be a lunch interview with one or more of the firm’s associates. Now you’re freaked. After a stressful morning of formal interviews, you’re to be expected to maintain your professional composure through an hour-long – two-hour long? – informal lunch, fielding questions and holding up your end of a conversation while fiddling with menus and remembering which fork goes with which course, when what you really want to do is go home and decompress. Besides, what is this informal lunch thing anyhow: why is it necessary, what will it be like, and what is expected of you? Help!
In my role as Legal Recruiting & Personnel Manager for Freshfields’ US practice, and in my previous legal recruiting roles at other international law firms, it’s been my experience that even the most self-possessed and highly qualified candidates stress a little or a lot when they find out that a lunch interview with a firm associate or associates will follow their formal interview. But they shouldn’t. In this blog post I hope to shed some comforting light on what to expect, and on what is expected of you, in the lunch interview.
First, the lunch is an extension of the interview. The less formal, conversational exchange during the lunch gives the firm a chance to assess your ability to multitask, handle yourself under pressure, and display your social skills – but it’s still a job interview. Do dress in business attire, do appear eager to help, and do make it apparent the position is important to you; don’t trash a previous employer, don’t mention offers from other firms, and don’t criticize the interview process or the firm in any way.
The conversation may be less structured in an out-of-the-office setting, but take advantage of this important chance to sell yourself. When an opportunity arises to mention your skills and experience or your knowledge of the firm, make sure you seize it. Do you have an interest in an area related to that big matter the associate worked on all weekend? This is a great chance to start a conversation. Don’t miss it.
There’s a fine line between self-promotion and bragging, however, so make sure you transition the conversation to your background only when it makes sense. “Sparkling, bottled, or tap?” is not a question that should be answered with “I graduated third in my college class.”
No matter how formal or informal the lunch interview, at some point before the check comes the conversation is very likely to move beyond the world of law. You still want to sell yourself as a smart, engaged potential colleague, even when the conversation veers from capital markets to comic book movies. Pay extra attention to the news, whether it’s Twitter or The Wall Street Journal, in the week leading up to the lunch so you’ll be able to talk about the world beyond your resume. Most firms look to hire engaging people with outside interests, who will eventually be able to engage clients. But never lose sight of the common sense fact that no matter how casual the conversation becomes, you are still interviewing. If the conversation drifts to news, pop culture or sports, that’s fine; but steer clear of divisive comments about public figures, criticisms of their behavior or views, and heated political opinions. Always maintain a professional tone and demeanor.
When there’s a conversational lull, take the opportunity to ask your interviewer a question. Asking questions shows you’re interested in the position and, equally important, you’re fully engaged in the conversation. An often neglected aspect of the interview lunch is that it’s not only an opportunity for the firm to learn more about you; it’s also an opportunity for you to learn more about the firm. And the more you learn about the firm, the more informed you will be about whether or not it’s the right fit for you.
You’ll likely have a myriad of questions swirling around in your head about etiquette – What to order? Should I drink? Should I offer to pay? What if I have to take my leave to keep another appointment? Generally, you should follow the associate’s lead. No one is counting pennies, but your menu selections should be close in cost to the associate’s. You should also be mindful of the number of courses that the associate orders (if she orders just an entrée, for example, then you should do the same). And you’ll want to order dishes that are easy to eat. You want to keep the focus on the conversation and not be distracted by wrangling with noodles, grappling with shellfish or nibbling off a bone (and certainly not by having to deal with an embarrassing stain on your necktie or blouse). Soups, salads, fish and (boneless) meats are the way to go.
Consider how your order – and manner of ordering – might impress the associate. Ordering a hamburger at a sushi restaurant might raise an eyebrow. Giving minutely detailed instructions for food preparation to the waiter – meat temperatures or substitutions on a salad – might make you seem high-maintenance. If you have dietary preferences or restrictions, state your wants or needs to the waiter as directly as possible – “dressing on the side, please” – and refrain from relating your reasons to the associate (“they always drown the salad with the dressing”). The working principle here is that you want the focus to be on you as a job candidate, not on your diet. In other words, keep your order as simple as possible.
To drink or not to drink? It’s a job interview. Would you ask for a glass of wine if you were sitting in a recruiter’s office? If the associate orders a glass of wine or beer, it’s fine for you to do the same, but stick to one drink. It’s also perfectly acceptable to order something nonalcoholic.
Should you offer to pay? Leave your wallet in your pocket. The firm invited you to lunch, so you are the firm’s guest, and you do not need to offer to pay. Your job is to make certain you thank your host for an enjoyable lunch and reiterate your interest in the firm.
When does the lunch end? Easy – when the associate signals so. And what happens if the lunch lasts much longer than expected, and you have another appointment you cannot be late for? Avoid this awkwardness by letting the associate know at the beginning of the meal what your hard stop is. Better yet, alert the recruiting team in advance of any time constraints, and they will communicate your schedule to your lunch hosts. They can also suggest conveniently located restaurants.
The goal of the interview lunch is for you to learn more about the firm, its culture, and its people, and for the associates to learn a bit more about you.
From all of us at Freshfields, best of luck with your callbacks, and bon appetit!
This is a sponsored blog post from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer US. You can view Freshfields' Vault profile here.
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