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I run a very small company and it's very important to get to know people and make sure we get along before I hire them. Especially since I'm in the UK and it's very difficult to fire people here.

So would it be appropriate to invite the interviewee to lunch or dinner? How should I best approach this with people of the opposite gender? I don't want to be in a situation where, for example, I interview a young woman who feels I'm trying to manipulate her into a "date" or otherwise view it as sexual harassment.

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    This is entirely reasonable in the UK. If you are setting up an "all day" interview, the interviewee will need a lunch break anyway. If you don't provide anything, make a good impression and advise them in the interview invitation, of some local eating places. Another option is to organize a buffet lunch, e.g. in a meeting room. Whatever you decide, ask before the interview day if they have any special needs or preferences - you don't wan't to discover they are lactose-intolerant, nuts-allergic vegans after the food is already on the table! – alephzero Sep 24 '15 at 0:20
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    I had an interview with a guy who asked me to meet at a cafe. I had just graduated so I found it awkward. My friends told me not to go and that it might be fake. Now after working professionally, i find it ok to have an interview over coffee or lunch. But I am not too sure about dinner unless someone known has referred me to that interviewer.But do mention it in interview email with your company's name and your signature or something. So that person knows that its professional interview. – User56756 Sep 24 '15 at 4:40
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    Btw, if I was offered an interview dinner, then my first impression would be that this is not a company where you can expect to leave work before 9pm. That might be an incorrect impression, but quite aside from any worries about perceived sleaziness you should also consider worries about perceived schedules. Similarly, someone suggested a lunch interview in the middle of an all-day interview. From the candidate's POV this is a lot like not getting a break all day. Of course you're always being somewhat assessed while on the premises, but lunch with the CEO ups the ante. – Steve Jessop Sep 24 '15 at 9:39
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    A very interesting first question @user42345, I'm surprised this hasn't been asked before. – Lilienthal Sep 24 '15 at 9:54
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    I would say don't do this, it makes an awkward and stressful process more awkward and stressful for the candidate because now they don't just have to worry about interviewing well but about spilling food, etc. There's nothing informal about it for them. Especially if it is a day interview they need a break where they are not being judged. – JamesRyan Sep 24 '15 at 19:10
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So would it be appropriate to invite the interviewee to lunch or dinner?

This is pretty common. Most interviews I've gone to over a lunch hour include a (company paid for!) lunch.

Dinner might be more weird if not a multi-day interview.

How should I best approach this with people of the opposite gender?

Have more than 1 person from your company attend so it's not just a 1/1 environment.

Preferably in your case include someone who is also a woman, too.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 25 '15 at 0:32
  • Totally appropriate. However, I admit 20 years ago during the IT boom, I would get calls from recruiters who would take me out to lunch to talk about a job. I had no intention of switching jobs, I just wanted a free lunch at a fancy downtown restaurant in Washington DC. Sadly, after the bubble burst, that practice died. Just be wary of freeloaders. :P – Keltari Oct 10 '15 at 1:22
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There are good answers but there's something they don't address.

While you certainly can do this, so long as each candidate is treated equally (and, if possible, you have someone else with you), there's a risk it'll achieve the opposite of what you want it to achieve.

  • Moving part of a job interview to an informal setting doesn't stop it being a job interview. It looks like you're trying to create an informal social situation where you and the other person can get to know each other naturally. For the candidates, all the pressures will still be exactly the same, and they will still be trying to impress you, choosing their words carefully, preparing what to say, etc. There is a power imbalance, they are there to be hired, this can't be glossed over. They'll be in "job interview mode" while trying to also apply a veneer of informality. Which leads me to...
  • You risk improving the chances of schmoozers and natural boasters, while reducing the chances of quietly competant candidates - which I believe is the opposite of what you're trying to achieve. You're creating a very unnatural social situation where someone has to present a polished version of themselves (because if they don't, they'll compare unfavourably with those who do) at the same time as faking informality. That's quite a challenge for most people, except for the kind of person who has spent their entire life turning informal social situations into opportunities to show off a polished, exaggerated version of themselves. That's probably not the kind of person you want to hire - but they'll be the ones who feel right at home here.
  • You risk making people feel less comfortable and less able to be themselves simply because the situation is so unfamiliar - which, again, I believe is the opposite of what you're trying to achieve. No-one likes job interviews, but most people have experience with them, and know the score in terms of what is an isn't expected. People will understand that this is somewhere between formal interview and informal socialising, but they won't know where. What sort of jokes are appropriate, if any? What topics of chit chat are appropriate? How much work-related conversation is expected? What to wear? If it's the same day as the formal interview, will they be judged as sloppy if they remove their tie? Will they be judged as stuffy if they don't? Expect non-schmoozers to rely on you to set the tone even more than in an interview.
  • It introduces lots of variables unrelated to ability - and regular interviews are already bad enough for this. Many people find the noisy hubbub of a busy cafe distracting (but would have no such problems in the office of a small company). Many people get a little self-concious about how they look while eating and might spend the whole interview worrying that they look like that over-used photo of Ed Miliband. Anyone with dietary issues will worry about appearing fussy or unreasonable. Many candidates will wonder if you're judging them on their menu choices. Candidates with jobs may worry about a current colleague seeing them in this public place; candidates without jobs may worry about the price. Etc etc etc.

If a candidate is uncomfortable, awkward and distracted, and seems difficult to talk to, how will you know which of these is the reason:

  • They're not a good fit, you should hire someone else
  • Their crazy ex from 3 years ago was one of the barristas, and they can't remember if he/she knows they're still in town
  • They kept overhearing distracting snippets of the person on the next table graphically describing his recent health problems (something you, luckily, never noticed)
  • They didn't realise that sandwich would contain anchovies. They hate anchovies. Who the hell puts anchovies in tuna mayo? But they don't want to appear ungrateful, or fussy. Gotta force it down. Mmm, anchovy mayo. Sorry, what were you saying?
  • That person at the bar looks like Jane from accounts. S##t is that Jane from accounts? Why is she in this part of town? There's that company her team works with... are they based here? She's friends with Erica from HR, was it Erica who heard me say I was using this day's leave to re-paint my kitchen? S##t she's looking this way...

Etc etc etc.


Trying to create a more informal tone in an interview where the candidates' true personalities can shine through is an excellent aim, but unfortunately, creating a potentially awkward, unfamiliar type of not-exactly-an-interview scenario risks making the problem worse.

Instead, focus on setting an informal, friendly tone in the interview itself. A good interview by a good interviewer with a suitable candidate can naturally turn into a comfortable conversation where you can learn about what your working relationship will be like.

You're also lucky that in UK working culture, any work-related conversation can have any amount of off-topic friendly chit-chat added to the start or finish.

A little friendly chat at the start to set an informal tone (but don't expect them to be very open yet), searching questions in the interview that allow the candidate to talk about the ins and outs of how they work, which you steer into being as close to a natural conversation as possible, then, more friendly chat as you walk them out the building, which should now be much more open and familiar.

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    I quite agree with this answer. The risk of missed talent and false positives is high is this unnatural setting.But it depends on the skills needed for the job. If the OP is looking for a salesman/buyer, that might actually be a good test, as this kind of jobs often require a mix of formal and informal behavior. – Puzzled Sep 25 '15 at 7:03
  • @Puzzled Good point, this might be a good option if you are looking for a natural schmoozer. But I got the impression from the question that the asker wanted a way to find someone genuine, trustworthy and sincere. – user568458 Sep 25 '15 at 7:35
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I would say disclose the process prior to actually doing it. If you suddenly mention that you're going to take this woman to lunch, then that might be viewed as someone with ulterior motives.

What I would do is discuss the interview process, possibly on a website or otherwise. Explain that you do it by an initial interview, then a follow up lunch interview.

I had a few interviews where I first did a over the phone interview, then was asked to meet with them for a lunch/interview. It's not strange. A dinner though, I would say sounds less common unless it is some sort of standard meeting within the company like a social gathering after work or something to that effect. At my last company, the managers tend to have dinner meetings and they generally invite the whole family to this function. So it can be done just not as common to do a dinner.

  • "A dinner though, I would say sounds less common..." Depends entirely on the profession and seniority. Pretty much everyone my mother interviews gets a dinner. With their spouse/SO if they're around. But 2-3 from the company + whoever's spouses are available; never one-on-one. – Kevin Sep 24 '15 at 5:12
2

It might be a little forward if you asked them to lunch right off the bat.What you could do is to meet up at a coffee shop and engage the conversation there. If you think the interviewee impressed you enough for another interview then extend a lunch invitation and invite a fellow co-worker who you think will be working with the interviewee. For the opposite gender, it is best if you go in with the mindset that it is more on the business than meeting up. As Enderland said, bringing a co-worker is also a great idea.

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It depends where you are. Here, it would definitely not be appropriate. Unsure on these other answers, perhaps it's a cultural thing. But interviews are always done in a professional setting. The only reason I could think of for having one in a social setting is that you're going to offer them the job, in which case it's not really an interview.

But even then it would be more normal to do it in a professional setting and cater some food.

Becoming socially involved with underlings this early on undercuts the boss/employee dynamic. And I would advise against it.

  • 2
    So much this. When I am applying for work, I am applying for work, not friends. When a prospective employer expresses an emphasis on "getting along" it not only tells me that it will not be a productive and professional environment, but it also tells me that the person doing the interview is probably intensely difficult to get along with, seeing as their experience tells them they need to go to such lengths to test this out beforehand. – user2989297 Sep 23 '15 at 22:35
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    It might help to mention where "here" is for other readers. – Seiyria Sep 24 '15 at 12:39
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It is common to get some of the junior staff to take the interviewee to a coffee shop for a break over lunch. This lets the interviewee ask them questions to get a better feel for the company, while letting the interview team discuss what they wish to ask the candidate next.

It is also common that the interviewee will say something they would not have done so in the formal interview.

Also it does no harm to show how nice the area round the office is...

2

As a UK candidate, I would look unfavourably on a company which invited me to an interview extending over lunchtime and didn't offer me some lunch. That shows me a company which doesn't really care about its employees, even when it should be trying to impress them.

That said, I would get a staff member close to the candidate's intended grade to do the lunching, it's less stressful that way and you'll find out more about what the candidate is really like. Also, the candidate is more likely to feel able to ask candid questions of a perceived equal, so both sides get a better idea of how this relationship will play out. Nothing stopping you from debriefing the person who took them to lunch later!

From experience in a company which used this tactic, it's astounding how many candidates, particularly recent grads, don't realise that lunch is part of the interview.

1

Dinner might be the worst idea in my opinion, as it might send ambiguous meanings, it is open ended and usually outside the business hours.

Lunch is preferable because it avoids the last two points. It sets a certain frame and is generally more professional, especially if it is in a business environment like a coffee or restaurant that has lunch specials for business people.

That being said, think about what you actually want. Do you want to get friends with the person your hiring or do you want to test their ability to work with you and your team?

Because so far you have not mentioned your team anywhere and those are probably the people that the new employee has to get along with the most. Please let me tell you about my personal experience when I was interviewed, when I applied for a small local branch of a UK based company, because I think it might fit your situation:

  • Length: 3 Hours
  • Setting: Informal on some company couches in a small conference/multipurpose room
  • Roadmap:
    • 1 hour CV/personal focused interview with the boss,
    • 1 hour written test,
    • 1 hour practical test together with a senior coworker where I had to share my thoughts on what I'm doing

In retrospective I think this was the most impressive interview I experienced so far, not because of its length or difficulty but by how much effort my further employer would take to get to know who he is inviting to the team. And it left me with a very positive impression for the company in general and the boss in particular, because he cleverly covered everything he needs to know without making me feel uncomfortable.

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I do believe that as long as you clearly express the reason behind your way to approach, nothing can go wrong.

It's not the same if you explain to him/her that for your company it's important to know him/her better.

  • 1
    This reads as a comment rather than an answer. When you have enough reputation by asking good questions or providing helpful answers, you will be able to add comments to other people's posts. – Jane S Sep 24 '15 at 22:12

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