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Tips for Lads Who Lunch

Vivia Chen

July 19, 2010

Fotolia_11988596_XS Over the last few weeks, I've covered some of the do's and don'ts of the initial interview. Now it's time for the next course: the interview lunch.

I found a terrific little tip sheet on the topic--but before I get into it, let me tell you one of my big pet peeves on the subject: people whose mastery of eating utensils seems to have come to an abrupt stop at the age of 3. Too often, I've sat across the table from a lawyer--not infrequently a partner--who seems perfectly oblivious to the primitive state of his table manners. And I say "his," because it's almost always men.

What am I talking about? People who clench their fork or spoon like a kid greedily clutching a giant Milky Way bar. And like toddlers, they dive for the food on their plate, scoop it up, and shovel it into their mouths.

It's just embarrassing. And jarring. They might be otherwise well-groomed, polite, articulate, and even charming, but their eating style sabotages the package.

If you're absolutely brilliant or have buckets of business--and male--you might get away with all sorts of uncouth behavior. But if you're a law student or lateral on the job hunt, I'd corner the most fastidious friend you have and make her give you an honest appraisal of your eating style.

Be sure you know basic table etiquette too. CBS Money Watch's "10 Rules for Business Meals: What Not to Do" is a pretty good primer. Some of the rules might seem obvious, like "Don't get drunk," "Don't order the T-bone when your boss is having the Cobb salad," and "Don't order foods that stain, are hard to eat, or get stuck in teeth."

But there are tips that are worth noting, like studying the menu online beforehand "so you don't get thrown by the choices or appear indecisive." (This piece of advice assumes you'll know where you'll be taken.) Personally, I can be notoriously indecisive about food orders, which I now realize projects wishy-washiness--a tell-tale sign of corporate unworthiness.

I also liked the reminders of basic table manners in the article:

• Don't put your napkin on the table when excusing yourself during the meal. Place it on your chair. It goes on the table when you are leaving the restaurant.

• Memorize the BMW rule: Bread plate to the left, meat in the middle, and water to the right.

Then there's the reminder not to slice meat into "bite-size pieces before you start eating"--lest you inspire a prospective employer "to offer you a juice box instead of a job." As for buttering your roll: “Slicing a big roll, slapping on a slab of butter, and cramming it shut like a hoagie is the biggest sign that you just walked off the turnip truck.” The correct way is to break up the bread with your hand and butter the part you intend to eat.

But my favorite advice is not about table etiquette, but about how you should treat the server:

Don’t ever explode or take out frustration on the waitstaff, even if someone dumps a glass of wine on your new suit. How job candidates treat people and handle stress in eating situations indicates how they might perform under pressure at work. Your best bet is to keep your cool and laugh off any mishaps. And never send back your wine or food when you’re the guest. Not only does it create a potentially uncomfortable situation, but if your boss or interviewer chose the restaurant, they could feel insulted.

Like everything else in the interview process, lunch is an audition. So stay hungry. 

What type of faux pas have you witnessed at the interview lunch? Let's share those stories.

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo: Michael William - Fotolia.com

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Useful tips from corporette:

10 Things You Should Know about a Business Lunch
http://corporette.com/2008/05/12/10-things-you-should-know-about-a-business-lunch/

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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