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3 Questions to Ask in a Lunch Interview

LED_LBC_Logo_CMYKThe candidate was great on the phone screening. You had a great interview (or two) back at the office, but now you want to see how this potential hire interacts in a slightly more relaxed setting. It’s time for a lunch interview, but what should you ask that you haven’t covered already?

To find out which questions are ideal to ask a candidate in a more casual lunch interview, we reached out to John Nykolaiszyn, director of career management services at Florida International University’s College of Business.

Nykolaiszyn says he loves lunch interviews for the more holistic experience they provide. “Lunch interviews allow me to see multiple facets of a candidate,” he says. “Food and eating is very social. I have to evaluate table manners, conversation and overall behavior. I have to make sure we can trust this person to go to a client lunch or dinner and represent us well.”

Here are some questions Nykolaiszyn uses to make that determination.

‘What Achievement Are You Proudest Of?’

Nykolaiszyn says he loves being told a good story. Lunch interviews provide a more casual atmosphere for people to have a conversation and go a little deeper into a story than is possible in the question-and-answer format of a typical office interview.

“I ask about something they’re proud of. I’ll say, ‘Tell me your best story,’ and I listen and watch them and we have a conversation about it,” he says. He notes that he listens for how they construct the story to learn about their communication skills and reasoning, and also looks for excitement and a sense of worth and accomplishment.

“I want to see positivity and pride. If they were spelling bee champion in sixth grade, I want to know … why are you proud of that? Why is that the example you chose?” he says. He appreciates some polish and humor as well, and if someone gives a personal response, he wants to hear how it would relate to their professional experience.

For example, “I studied for weeks to practice for that spelling bee and that’s when I learned that preparation is key. I will use that same work ethic studying for my ______ certification in the next six months.” would be an answer he’d like to hear.

‘Tell Me About a Mistake You Made and What You Learned From It.’

True to his enjoyment of stories, Nykolaiszyn says he likes to ask for the story of a mistake. “I don’t like harping on the negative, so I’m much more interested in what they learned rather than how they failed,” he says. If need be, he’ll gently guide the conversation to focus on the lesson rather than the mistake, he says.

“This tells me that they will admit to a mistake, learned from their mistake and gives me insight into how they overcome obstacles,” he says. Even if their example is a personal problem and not strictly relevant to work, Nykolaiszyn says, such stories often show that they’re strong and resilient and can do well professionally without letting personal issues get in the way.

‘How Do You Stay Informed on Current Events in the World and in Your Industry?’

I want to know how someone gets their news and how they consume it, Nykolaiszyn says. This information tells him how much someone is engaging with the world and their industry, and says a lot about their intellectual curiosity, he says.

“If someone says, ‘I search Google and look at the top three results,’ that’s what I don’t want to hear,” he says. “That’s not deep enough. That’s not even believable news consumption behavior. That sounds fake.”

Instead, “I want to hear websites they visit, apps they use or newspapers they read,” he says. Apps and newsletters like Flipboard or the Daily Skimm are typical responses. There are so many aggregators many of us can’t help but see that he says he expects those types of answers too. It’s perfectly fine for a candidate to say they look at the front page of Yahoo, MSN or Google News. Even the sidebar on Facebook is a valid aggregator that can lead someone to legitimate industry and world news. “Not everyone reads The Wall Street Journal because it’s expensive,” he says. “But I do expect an honest effort to stay informed in other ways.”

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