“Accept first that you are being assessed every moment you are with the potential employer and their staff,” says executive coach Jenny Rogers in her book Job Interview Success. “Even if more junior or peripheral staff do not have a formal vote in the process, their opinions will be canvassed.” So how do you deal with the so-called “trial by canape”?
1 Remember that you are being watched. If you treat a waiter rudely, people will assume that is how you will treat junior staff. If you order the most expensive thing on the menu, you look like a prima donna. They are assessing both the way you behave socially, which is important in many jobs, but also how you get on with your potential colleagues. This is a “potentially stressful situation disguised as a social event.” Be an active guest, introduce yourself to people, make small talk and don’t become a liability who the host has to mollycoddle.
2 Choose your small-talk carefully. By all means moan about London Transport, but avoid stories about arriving in the nick of time – it hardly inspires confidence about your punctuality. Don’t moan about the venue, the food or the guests – you will look like a habitual whinger. Don’t spend too much time chatting to other candidates and avoid the temptation to huddle with them – it might be reassuring, but meeting these people is not the reason that you are there.
3 Circulate. “Don’t overstay your welcome with one person or group – the point of the event is to mingle with as many people as possible,” says Rogers. When it’s time to move on, politely shake hands with the person you are chatting to, say it’s been nice to meet them and then move at least a quarter of the room away to speak to somebody else. Be comfortable, enthusiastic and self-confident.
4 Don’t over-sell yourself. “Remember, these events are not interviews in disguise,” writes Rogers. “Their purpose is entirely to assess your social skills and to give you a little low-key exposure to some of the people who might be future colleagues.” Do not brag about your skills, give speeches about your qualifications, or be falsely modest. Keep talk about work straightforward and brief, and try to turn things back to a more normal social conversation.
5 Watch your manners. This is especially important at restaurant events. If you are invited to a one-on-one meal, with your potential boss and their boss, for example, then you are close to landing the job, so don’t sabotage yourself at the last moment. Only order wine if your host does, and restrict yourself to one glass, whatever the host does. Avoid messy food. Be careful how you hold your cutlery – Rogers says she knows one employer who rejected a candidate because “he held his knife like a working class oik”. Afterwards, write a handwritten note saying you enjoyed the meal and reiterating your interest in the job.