We asked area hiring attorneys about their more memorable experiences at lunch interviews or other professional meals. These are their responses.
Dress for Success: When I was working at a large firm, we interviewed a highly qualified candidate from a top tier law school. He had already interviewed with several people in our office before I picked him up for lunch. As we walked over to the restaurant, he asked me to remind him to give his tie back to the hiring attorney in our office before he left for the day. Seeing my puzzled expression, the candidate explained that he hadn’t worn a tie to the interview, so the hiring partner offered his own tie to him. This was not a fashion statement; the guy was wearing a dark, conservative suit with a white shirt that begged for a tie. It was simply bad judgment, and the fact that he didn’t think he needed to wear a tie while interviewing with the largest firm in the state was a huge red flag to me.
Hope your waiter knows the Heimlich: I was at a dinner with clients and bit into a strawberry. I had just gotten a new retainer which was really slippery. When I went to bite the strawberry, instead of biting it in half, it slipped out of my hand and launched into my throat and got lodged there. I couldn’t breathe at all. While I contemplated getting up and going to the bathroom to die, I finally relented and allowed the waiter to perform the Heimlich maneuver on me. Fortunately I had my napkin in my hand and was able to catch the strawberry as it was launched out towards my clients. Moral of this story is: cut everything—even finger foods—into tiny bite-sized pieces. If the chef will puree into baby food, even better!
Dining with carnivores? I would suggest trying to avoid making your particular dietary habits a topic of conversation and focus on things of more substantive interest to the interviewer. As a vegetarian, it is my experience that folks I don’t know often have to feel like they have to explain why they eat meat, as if I were sitting in judgment on them. It just creates an awkward dynamic. Or it can go the other way. At one lunch while I was the candidate interviewing for a 2L summer associate position, the topic of my vegetarianism came up. Because I was dining with committed carnivores who seemed to associate meat-eating with legal virility, I tried to make the following “joke” to the whole table to lighten the mood: “You know, just because I’m a vegetarian doesn’t mean I’m not bloodthirsty.” The anticipated belly laughs did not ensue. Instead, someone politely decided to change the topic of conversation.