Networking or Nightmare? Nine Easy Ways to Ace a Dinner Interview

NYUAD's Career Development Center teaches students dining etiquette during mealtime interviews.

You finger the collar of your brand new outfit nervously. Beads of sweat glisten intensely on your forehead. Is the temperature inside the restaurant really this hot? You try to catch a reflection of your hair in the stainless steel knife on the table. Was it a bad idea to get a haircut right before the meeting?

Tick. Tick. Tick. Are you early or is the interviewer late? Oh, wait - they’re coming. You get up as gracefully as possible to respectfully greet the CEO who could potentially offer you a dream job. This dinner could legitimately make or break you.

No need to be so nervous, says NYU Abu Dhabi’s Career Development Center, which prepares students for these types of mealtime interview scenarios, whether for an internship or full-time job after graduation. To successfully navigate a meal or even coffee with a potential employer, remember these nine important tips:

1. It’s not about the food. This dinner is about you convincing the person across from you that you’re professionally capable and a good fit for the company. That's not easy with a mouth full of food or stubborn shred of spinach stuck between your teeth.

2. Choose your food wisely. Order items that are familiar and easy to eat, like a salad. It may seem uncomely if you badger the server about what’s in each dish. If you don’t know what’s in it, don’t order it.

3. Always abide by the golden rule of ordering food only after your host. In doing so, you can gauge the price limit that you must adhere to. It could be embarrassing to order lobster while the interviewer goes with a simple salad.

4. Take pre-emptive measures and inform the restaurant about any allergies, if possible.

NYUAD's Career Development Center teaches students dining etiquette during mealtime interviews.

5. Arrive for dinner with a few (8-10) conversation topics in mind so that your brain is not left scrambling for ideas if there’s an awkward silence.

6. Ensure a smooth flow of engaging conversation. Never let silence prevail for more than 30 seconds.

7. This may sound obvious but talk about things you are passionate and knowledgeable about. This isn’t an interrogation but rather a conversation you want to progress. Avoid switching topics every 30 seconds.

8. Use the cutlery outside in for each course. Placing it vertically on either side of the top of the dish suggests you still want to continue with the course while a 4 o’clock/6 o’clock placement from the center signals you’re done.

9. If you need to excuse yourself, allow the conversation to dwindle before doing so. Alternatively, in a group setting, make sure that the host takes up the discussion with someone else before you leave.

By Hafsa Ahmed, Class of 2020