LunchIf count yourself a foodie, the idea of a lunch interview may seem like a dream come true. You know that the employer will be looking to make a good impression on you, so you can expect a lovely setting, haute cuisine, and fine wine. (I exaggerate only a little).

Of course, there is no reason not to enjoy the interviewer’s hospitality, but you should also remember this is, in fact, an interview — not a date.

If you have made it to a lunch interview, that means that you have truly impressed the employer to this point, so the signs are good. Still, the lunch interview is a crucial round of screening: it’s a chance for the interviewer to learn more about your cultural compatibility with the company. Its not just about what you do at a lunch interview: its about the way that you do it.

Interviewers will want to know things like:

  • Will you embarrass the company in front of clients?
  • What is hiding behind the front that you put on during interviews?
  • Will you embarrass yourself in front of other employees?
  • Can you fit into the company’s culture?
  • Do you have another “hat,” so to speak? Can you operate effectively and professionally in more relaxed and informal business settings — which are the environments in which a lot of business is done.
  • What are your hobbies and interests, and what do they say about you?

Cultural fit interviews are important. Research from Lauren A. Rivera of the Kellogg School of Management shows that many employers hire candidates whom they like, with whom they want to spend tim, and with whom they can be friends and colleagues. In many ways, these criteria are more important than skills and work experience.

A lunch interview is likely to be as much about cultural fit as it is about competency fit. So, what can you do to ace a more informal lunch interview meant to assess your cultural fit? There are three steps you should take:

1. Know the Company’s Culture

The simplest way to prepare for a cultural fit interview is to know the company’s culture, the team culture, and the individual personalities of the employees (insofar as you can). Before the interview, you should spend a few hours researching the company’s website, team pages, news pages, annual reports, social pages, and social media profiles. Do the same for the individual interviewers. You want to know as much as you can about their interests, personalities, and the way they do business. Try to find common ground between you and the interviewers, in terms of the way that you work, the way that you play, and the way that you socialize.

2. Highlight Commonalities

You’ll want to answer any technical questions asked during the interview well, but you also want to take the opportunity to — whether proactively or reactively —  highlight any commonalities you share with the team in terms of hobbies, personal and business interests, business philosophy and outlook, style of working etc. Avoid politics and religion, as you could quite easily end up disagreeing with one another and casting a pall over the proceedings. Ouch.

3. Mirror the Interviewers’ Behavior

As a general point, lay off the booze — unless you are mirroring what the interviewers order. If they have a little wine, have a little wine, too. If they have coffee, take coffee.

In general, you want to make low-risk, innocuous moves throughout the, lunch unless you are mirroring the interviewers’ behavior. (But don’t jump off a cliff just because they do!) Avoid ordering from the top of the menu, and eat things you are comfortable eating. The more you mirror the interviewers’ body language and behavior — without blatantly copying them — the greater a rapport you should build throughout the lunch interview.

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