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I had a job interview that was originally scheduled before lunch. However, their interview with the previous candidate overran considerably and since we are Muslim and have prayers on Friday, they delayed my interview until after our Friday prayers ended1.

This meant that my interview, which had been originally scheduled at 12:40 p.m., ended up not finishing until nearly 2:30 p.m. When it had finished, the interviewer (who happened to be from the top management of that company, probably the COO) apologised for keeping me waiting so long and invited me to lunch.

I did not feel like it was a continuation of the interview because he said, "Okay, we're done. Thank you very much, and we'll let you know shortly. By the way, you can have your lunch with us; you must be hungry."

Normally, in our country, Friday and Saturday are the weekends when most offices (including mine) remain closed, except outsourcing companies (like the company of the interviewer). So on Friday we spend our time together with our family and dine together.

My home was very near their office and I was more interested in having with my family since it was Friday, so I thanked him and politely declined the offer of lunch and told him I'd rather have lunch in my home with my family.

Would my response be considered rude? Is it going to have any negative impact on my interview?


1 Please note that most people in my country are Muslims and the interviewer company was no different; it's a common practice here that everyone goes to the mosque on Fridays, which is the equivalent of the Christian practice of going to the church on Sundays.

  • 2
    In the mid-east, it is pretty customary to invite to lunch . But it's also common for the invitee to politely decline the first time they ask (kinda like "oh no you don't have to go that far "), and wait for a 2nd or 3rd invite before acquiescing. It's hard to know how serious the COO was about inviting to lunch – Adel May 16 '15 at 16:13
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    @Adel, Well, I'm not from middle-east but surprisingly I'd have done the same thing! I'd have dined in with them if he insisted for the 3rd time. He just did twice. And he was quite cordial in his request. – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 16 '15 at 16:57
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    From the way you described it it sounds 100% fine. I think the others are probably assuming a western culture rather than a middle-eastern one. – Mehrdad May 16 '15 at 17:48
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    The last paragraph in particular makes it sound like it was a "Sorry we kept you so long and probably made you miss lunch - let us buy you lunch to make up for it." – starsplusplus May 16 '15 at 18:58
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    The interview isn't over until they have extended you an offer and you have accepted. In fact, the interview isn't over even then. In many places, a new employee is a probationary employee. How long this probationary period lasts depends on the job and locale. It's best to think of that probationary period as an extended interview. – David Hammen May 16 '15 at 20:08
57

You probably just cut yourself from a lunch interview. When you are invited to lunch by an interviewer, two things happen:

  1. The interviewer gets to stuff his face and expense the cost of the lunch to the company, and justify the expense as a cost of interviewing you. If you say no, you probably screwed his plan to expense the lunch.

  2. Hint: when an interviewer invites you to lunch, you may have your mind on lunch but the interviewer has his mind on you and is continuing to observe/evaluate you. It's a bad mistake to have your guard down during lunch because it's lunch time. Similarly, nobody will invite you to a business lunch just to have lunch.

By turning him down, you may have cut short the interview process. And cutting short an interview may cost you anywhere from nothing to your candidacy for the job. Turning him down was not rude, just ill-advised.

Family is important but remember that you can always have another lunch with family and that taking care of business is important because you take care of family by taking care of business.

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    Well, I thought the interview was over because he said like this, "Ok, we're done. thank you very much, and we'll let you know shortly. By the way, you can have your lunch with us, you must be hungry." – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 16 '15 at 13:17
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    @Capt.Jack I don't think he was lying to you or anything, and maybe was just trying to be polite, but it was still a time where he would continue to observe/evaluate you, which would (hopefully) have been a positive influence on your chances of being hired. I agree with Vietnhi: not rude, just ill-advised. – Tim S. May 16 '15 at 14:26
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    @Capt.JackSparrow The info you just supplied puts a different face on things and your turning him down is most likely not damaging at all. I am glad that you know intuitively that an interview is not over UNTIL the interviewer explicitly says that the interview is over. Nevertheless, you should put as many odds on your side as possible and agree to the lunch function, as it gives the interviewer another chance to confirm that he likes you. Unless you are a Master of Disaster when it comes to table manners - as I am :) – Vietnhi Phuvan May 16 '15 at 15:01
  • Vietnhi, excellent answer. +1 – Aaron Hall May 16 '15 at 15:41
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    @Capt.JackSparrow Besides cutting the interview short, you also demonstrated you don't pick up on this type of subtlety. This may not be a good thing, depending on the nature of the job you interviewed for. Also, some might use this as a gauge for how much you want the job, i.e. would you rather take the chance to further impress the interviewer or would you rather have lunch with your family? Or to put it another way, yes the interview might formally have been over, but the invite itself (and your response) is still part of it. – Chan-Ho Suh May 16 '15 at 16:42
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I think a little more information is needed to be sure. You say "after the interview was over", but of course any interview might be broken into multiple stages and appointments on the day. If the conversation went:

"OK, the interview is now over, we have everything we need. We'll let you know early next week. Oh, gosh, is that the time? We ran later than I thought, it's past lunch time, you're very welcome to eat here in the canteen with me if you'd like"

"No thanks, I have lunch planned with my family"

"OK, great, speak to you next week".

Then I'd conclude that what you did likely had no effect. If it went:

"Thanks, that's the end of the technical interview. Would you now have lunch with me, and I'll introduce you to the other top management?"

"No thanks, I have lunch planned with my family"

"Err... what? Are you sure you can't stay? They'd all really like to speak to you at this point."

"No, it is Friday after all."

"Oh. Well, OK then, we'll let you know early next week"

Then I'd conclude that you'd skipped half the interview and likely you're in trouble. Two extremes, of course, it might not be that easy to tell.

Think back, and try to work out whether he invited you in the manner of a person offering you a free lunch since you happen to be there, or in the manner of a person who had planned lunch to be what the two of you did next as part of the day's activity. Either way, what you say and do during lunch affects his opinion of you, but in the latter case he's relying on it as part of his assessment, and in the former case he can assess you fine without it.

Under normal circumstances, I'd expect that if he invited you to lunch, or for that matter invited you to a three hour powerpoint presentation, then that's because it's a planned part of his interview process, no matter that it's happening on a Friday. You might not work Fridays now, but he does, and presumably if you get the job you will too. But if he did anything to indicate that it was an afterthought, or didn't press you to stay beyond what's required to make the offer politely, then it probably wasn't planned. Interviewers have enough to worry about without being deliberately vague what the requirements of the interview are.

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    Yep, the conversation went like the first one. – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 16 '15 at 13:27
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    @Capt.JackSparrow: job done then, enjoy the weekend :-). If they don't offer you the job you can always ask them whether you made a mistake by refusing lunch, but they won't necessarily be willing to give you feedback on any part of the interview process. In theory you missed an extra opportunity to impress, in practice not many interviewers will hire someone who didn't impress them during the interview but made up for it during lunch. – Steve Jessop May 16 '15 at 13:29
  • Normally no one gives any kind of feedback related to any interview session. I guess as long as they don't call me for confirmation, I'm out of their list. – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 16 '15 at 13:33
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From what you've said in the question and in comments to the answers, it sounds like declining didn't give a negative impression. However, I still think it was a mistake because it deprived you of the opportunity to give additional positive impression. If you imagine it in terms of points, it probably didn't subtract from the points you earned during the interview, but it did stop you adding to your score over lunch.

  • 2
    Next question, is the questioner going to be judged on the total of all points they score, or the average of how good an impression they made over the course of the contact time? If the latter, then someone who had a storming interview should quit while they're ahead! But actually the different context is probably good: the interviewer might get to like you over lunch in a way they wouldn't in a more formal interview. Even if they try not to let that affect their decision it could be to your benefit. It's possible to fret over these hypotheticals forever. – Steve Jessop May 16 '15 at 18:37
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    @SteveJessop The "points" thing was intended as an analogy but you make good, er, ... points. :-) – David Richerby May 16 '15 at 18:38
  • @SteveJessop: Or, as a third option, is the questioner going to be judged on the highest of all points they score? So missing lunch means nothing if you already passed the bar. – MSalters May 18 '15 at 15:54
  • @MSalters The points do not exist. Nobody uses a scheme to judge based on them. – David Richerby May 18 '15 at 16:06
  • @DavidRicherby: I wouldn't rule out the EU bureaucracy; they're quite formal. That said, I hadn't interpreted those points literally, and my response in turn shouldn't be taken literally either. – MSalters May 18 '15 at 19:20
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Usually lunch is a more or less informal part of an interview, the interviewer gets to know you a little better in a more relaxed environment and maybe on a more personal level.

If you didn't impressed them tremendously in the formal interview, I guess you're out now.

2

I think you made a big mistake in not going to the lunch. I've had to hire people before and the single most important thing I was always looking for was "Do I want to spend 40 hours a week working with this person?" Something less formal like a lunch more closely simulates what it would be like sitting next to someone all day. I want someone that makes my day more enjoyable, and the standard interview is often more focused on business and you don't act anything like you would on a daily basis during a formal interview.

Basically if you were tied with another candidate in qualifications, but the other one made me laugh over a beer at lunch, you're out of the running.

Maybe your country is different, but when in Rome.

  • From the different answers I've gone through so far, it seems to me that culture is a very important factor here. My response to the interviewer is viewed differently in different cultures. – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 19 '15 at 3:41
  • @Capt.JackSparrow if you already know how your response was viewed by the interviewer, why did you ask the question? – jmorc May 19 '15 at 15:02
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Whilst I agree with the top answers here there's something else that needs adding.

If, and it's a big if, your wanting to spend your lunch with your family got the interviewer's back up to the point where they were no longer going to offer you the job, then consider whether or not that person is someone you actually want to work for.

How would they handle a family emergency?

There are of course many other factors at play here, I just wanted to make the above point.

Often it's forgotten that an interview is a two way thing. It should be as much about you interviewing them as it is the other way around.

In practice, depending on the local job market for the position and the candidate's circumstances, they tend to be one way all too often.

0

It's totally fine man. He should have informed you previously if the interview was consisting of a lunch as well. Since he hadn't done that, it's fine. If he refuses to hire you (indirectly) because you didn't join him for lunch, screw him. It's not a right job and supervisor anyway.

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    I disagree. Often some subtle nuances make the difference between two candidates. So maybe the guy who was good at the interview AND was interesting etc at the informal lunch gets the job. – Simon May 16 '15 at 18:28
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    @Simon: or maybe the guy who was good in the interview AND shows a work-life balance and respect for family gets the job. You really can speculate anything you like at this point, once the interviewer has gone off-script. One thing's fairly sure, the person who was interviewed immediately before the questioner won't even have been offered lunch (since the interviewer wasn't available to have it), so if a good lunch had been the deciding factor then it would have been a completely random benefit to the questioner. – Steve Jessop May 16 '15 at 18:32
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I perform interviews for my company and have invited candidates to lunch in the same way as your interviewer. When I do this it's more likely that I'm trying to court the interviewee further because I've already decided I want to employ the person, not that I want to interview the candidate further.

In my opinion it's unprofessional and impolite to try to extend an interview over lunch if you've already stated that the interview has finished.

Obviously I can't speak for your interviewer, but I'm guessing your refusal of lunch will make no difference, and you have a job offer coming.

  • 1
    Well, I don't think it's a job offer coming because my interview wasn't good enough, not according to me at least. I'll be extremely lucky if I get an offer from them. – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 17 '15 at 14:27
  • Does the down voter care to explain their downvote? – Ian Newson May 18 '15 at 9:24
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    @Capt.JackSparrow The odd thing about interviewing is that it's very difficult for the interviewee to know how good their interview is in context. Even a poor interview by the interviewee's standards might be significantly better than ever other candidates interview. Good luck! – Ian Newson May 18 '15 at 9:25
  • So kind of you. :) – Choudhury Saadmaan Mahmid May 18 '15 at 16:16
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Nothing wrong with saying "Thanks, but my family have food waiting for me". If your interview was scheduled to end before prayers, checking your table manners wasn't a pre-planned part of the interview! I'd be more worried about the previous candidate over-running. You don't give a WEAK candidate extra time.

But then, employers do have this ridiculous idea that employees should be prepared to drop EVERYTHING when the company wants them to do something!

We're all guessing. It's done now. There will be other jobs if you miss this one.

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