In the February 12, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks about going on a job interview in a bar.
The company I’ve been talking with informed me that our next interview will be at a nearby bar where we can all sit down and relax. The manager also mentioned that he and his group will have some specific questions this time. (In the first interview I listened more than I talked.) What’s the protocol for interviewing in a public place? I guess they want to see how I act and how I would fit in. Are there right and wrong things to order? Can you offer any Do’s and Don’ts for a “relaxed” bar interview?
There is some very clever conventional wisdom about interviewing over a meal or over a drink. All of it assumes such a meeting is a clever ruse where the employer is watching your manners, your eating habits, and trying to get you drunk so they can find out what you’re really like.
I caution you: Even if that’s what the employer is doing, don’t make any of these assumptions yourself. Even if they’re testing you, don’t play along. Treat it as a business meeting and act accordingly.
Don’t play games
Don’t try to figure out how you should behave. Be yourself. Behave as you would in any business setting.
A long time ago someone taught me to take others at face value and to always assume the best. It’s good advice. If it turns out someone is playing games with you, that should be enough to tell you what kind of people they are – and that you probably want nothing to do with them.
As long as you are honest and sincere in your words and actions, the burden is on the other person to act the same. I’ve found this personal policy works very well. If someone “games” me after I give them the benefit of the doubt, I never deal with them again. Life’s too short to deal with jerks.
Don’t get caught up in the meaning behind the interview location. Be yourself.
Do what you would normally do in a job interview, and deal with the bar as you normally would. If you’d have a beer in a bar, order a beer if you want. If you don’t feel comfortable in bars, say so and ask for a change of venue. If you find yourself with a group of interviewers in the kind of bar where you feel unsafe, use your judgment — and trust your instincts.
Order what you want to eat, but don’t spend too much of their money – not any more than you would if you were on a date. Use common sense and be polite.
Don’t follow suit. If the boss orders wine but you don’t drink wine, don’t order wine. If you want seltzer, order seltzer. Don’t be someone you’re not.
Trying to psych this out so you can “do what they expect” will sink you — even if you strongly suspect the location is a test. The entire purpose of a casual meeting is to be casual. If they have another (sneaky) agenda, then that’s their problem. Because if you buy into a sneaky agenda, you will have to live with a sneaky agenda and sneaky people after you take the job.
Clever interview advice usually comes from self-proclaimed experts who are trying to be clever. For example, “Don’t order anything exotic, or they’ll think you’re strange.” (What if the manager values independent thinking?) If you over-analyze, you will stumble all over yourself. Forget about clever. Be yourself.
Respect yourself and respect the employer. No games. Discuss whatever they want to discuss as long as you’re comfortable with it. Hopefully they want to discuss their business and how you can make it more successful. Contribute whatever information you think will help them see how you will do the job profitably for the company, and how you will fit into their social environment.
If you and they don’t fit together, this is the time to find out. If the meeting gets weird, order take-out.
What unusual interview venues have you been to? Do you think a bar is a legitimate place for a job interview? What kinds of surprises have you encountered in unusual interview locations?