How to Make the Most of the Lunch Interview

Lunch is the hour in our workday when we hear and share stories, unwind, and recharge for the rest of the day. It’s also the perfect time for your candidate and team members to get to know each other outside the confines of an interview conference room.

In our blog series on interviewing so far, we’ve delved into interview stages like the phone screen, skills fit, and hiring manager interview. For this post, we want to talk about why the lunch interview, while a more informal stage of the interview process, is also incredibly important. We chatted with Intrepid’s Head of Talent Andrea Garvey, Lyft’s Technical Recruiter Kiana Davari, and Lever’s Technical Recruiter Paolo Casumbal about how lunch can give you and your candidate insight into their fit on your team.

Frame lunch as a window into your culture

shutterstock_84162844Kiana sees Lyft’s culture as the fixture that most sets her team apart. “When people visit our office, the first thing they say is that we all seem to get along and respect each other,” says Kiana. And what better setting is there to show that unique sense of camaraderie than the lunch interview? We spend so much time with the people we work with, says Kiana, and sitting down for lunch gives candidates a sense for how much they’d enjoy that time.

“Throughout much of the interview process, you are telling candidates what it’s like to work at your company,” says Paolo. “This is the time toshow them what an organic day in the life of your coworkers looks like.” Even the smallest moments like striking up a conversation while in line for lunch are meaningful to candidates. These interactions would actually happen on a daily basis, so your candidate will want to be a part of them.

Reassure them that you’re not the only employee at your company

By the time a candidate comes to Lyft for lunch, they’ve already talked to Kiana several times. Between the phone screen, initial on-site, and various other touch points, they’ve had ample opportunity to learn about her background and experience at Lyft. “As recruiters, we can only give them so many data points,” says Kiana. “We’ve held their hands throughout the process; they’ll be itching to get to know someone different.”

Paolo also takes a step back during lunch; he wants to expose candidates to team members they wouldn’t meet otherwise. Typically, he’ll ask one point person to guide them through lunch, and then he lets that person loop in other team members to meet the candidate. There’s no need, in his experience, to control the logistics. “Lunch is a setting in which they’ll naturally meet people from different corners of the company,” says Paolo. “And the team members they’d work closely with are trying to sit down with them without my prompting.”

Inviting candidates to lunch can be a great way to get to know them outside the interview conference… Click To Tweet

In Paolo’s experience, candidates are excited about lunch because they can ask several people about their favorite parts of Lever. It’s also an opportunity for them to interact with leaders at the company in a more casual way. Paolo recalls that just the other day, his CEO randomly sat down at his candidate’s table. “Our candidate asked our CEO about her vision for the company and how she approached leadership,” says Paolo. “She was able to see how accessible our leadership is”. His candidate also learned more about day-to-day life at Lever. The team had just gone on a camping trip and there was a happy hour later in the week, so everyone at the table was buzzing about both. Paolo loved that his candidate was able to hear about his CEO’s vision and team bonding activities in one conversation.

Give your candidate a well-deserved break

At Intrepid, Andrea organises a training session with each interview team before they kick off a new interview process. In their discussion about which qualities and skills to evaluate for, they always make sure to dive into expectations for the lunch as well. Andrea reminds her team that the purpose of lunch is to learn about the candidate’s interests and hobbies rather than their skills. “The focus of lunch should be relationship building, not technical discussions,” says Andrea. Rather than another pressure-filled component of the process, lunch should be a relaxed atmosphere in which the candidate can show more of their personality.

shutterstock_119578489Paolo reminds both his candidates and his team that lunch is actually supposed to be a break from the interview process. “Don’t ask them about the projects they’re working on,” Paolo tells his team. “We want candidates to get out of the mode of talking about their past projects and why they love Lever.” Also, when he outlines the interview process to his candidate before they come on-site, he’s sure to mention that lunch is meant to be casual and light. He frames it as an opportunity to get to know the team rather than an interview.

In fact, Lever once created a roundtable question tradition to avoid that stressful interrogation format. “Back when Lever was 15 to 20 people, we had one long table and everyone sat together for lunch,” remembers Paolo. “It was very obvious when we had a guest, and everyone’s eyes would be glued on the candidate.” With a roundtable question that everyone had to answer, the candidate was no longer the center of attention. “The question from my interview day was: ‘If you could only have one household item, what would it be?’”, Paolo laughs. “Someone said their mattress, another person talked about a meaningful photo, and I said rice cooker.” These days, Paolo doesn’t always need to push for a roundtable question because the company is bigger. But if conversation isn’t flowing naturally or someone thinks of an interesting question, he still sees the roundtable question as a great way to see everyone’s quirky side and humanise the team for the candidate.

Don’t use lunch as your primary evaluation tool

After lunch at Lyft, the teammates who sat with the candidate fill out a Lever feedback form and reflect upon their chat. If the candidate asked really interesting questions or talked excitedly about certain interests, many team members will share those conversations with the rest of the company. Lunch is by no means the most important part of the interview process, but it’s another compelling data point. Andrea’s team at Intrepid will also share their impressions of the candidate at lunch. In her experience, it’s useful to look at the candidate’s connection with the team along with their interview performance. “Often, the information our team gathers during lunch simply colors the other discussions we have with the candidate,” explains Andrea.

Informal interview stages like lunch can help you get to know your candidates better Click To Tweet

Throughout his time in recruiting, Paolo has strayed away from using lunch as an evaluation tool. “I want lunch to take them out of the interview mode rather than put them right back in it,” Paolo says. “We also don’t want to introduce unconscious bias, which can happen when people have an implicit affinity for candidates with a similar background or same alma mater, for example.” Paolo knows that sometimes, we can mistake that affinity for high quality, and so it’s better to assess candidate qualifications in a structured interview. Still, Paolo does ask his co-workers to raise a flag if something egregious happens during lunch. If a candidate is rude or disengaged, he sees that as valuable information.

Create more informal interview stages just like it

shutterstock_40893916If you see the value of lunch, perhaps it’s time to think of other ways to get to know candidates during your interview process. Every Friday night, Andrea’s team has an informal dinner after work. While they can’t host every single candidate, they will often invite those who are at the offer stage but are still unsure about joining the team. Or, if a candidate isn’t a fit at the moment but could be later, they’ll nurture the relationship through inviting them to dinner. Though it’s a casual team gathering, Andrea does everything she can to make her candidates feel welcome. “We give them a 10 minute tour of the office and tell them about the history and growth of our company,” says Andrea. “Also, I like to show them this arcade machine that the team built.” Similar to lunch, they know this dinner gives their candidates a sense for the interests and dynamic of the team. Finally, in one of the most unique parts of the tour, Andrea will invite the candidate to make their first contribution to the team- songs to the team’s collaborative playlist. While small, this gesture makes the candidate feel valued as a potential member of the team.

Conclusion

The lunch interview can be an easy step to overlook. Perhaps it seems too complicated to integrate into your process, or your team members appear too busy to help host your candidate. But if your candidate can fit it into their schedule, it’s worth the time and effort. As Paolo, Andrea, and Kiana showed us, lunch can show you a different, compelling side of your candidate.

Looking for more ways to level up your interview process? Our latest post on the hiring manager interview could be the best starting point. Up next, we’re delving into the presentation interview stage!

Images: Shutterstock

This article first appeared on Lever on August 12th, 2016.

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