“Lunch interviews are becoming more and more common across all sectors because it’s not just about professional fit anymore,” says Cheryl Hyatt, partner at Hyatt Fennell Executive Search.
“Now, it’s about how they fit the culture of the organisation and the best way to get to know someone that way is on a social basis.”
Hyatt says lunch interviews can be held either one-on-one or in group settings and come with benefits for both the employer and employee.
“From the employer’s perspective, they get an opportunity to see how a candidate interacts with others around the table,” says Hyatt.
“They get a chance to see how the person communicates and how they treat individuals – not only the prospective colleagues or supervisors who are sat around the table but also the wait staff.”
It’s an approach already adopted by some top leaders and Walt Bettinger, the CEOof investment firm Charles Scwab, is one such advocate.
Last year, Bettinger told the New York Times that he often takes potential recruits out to breakfast, where he puts them through a covert test by deliberately sabotaging their meal.
“I’ll get there early, pull the manager of the restaurant aside, and say; 'I want you to mess up the order of the person who’s going to be joining me. It’ll be ok, and I’ll give a good tip, but mess up their order'.
“I do that because I want to see how the person responds,” he told the newspaper. “That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset, are they frustrated or are they understanding? Life is like that, and business is like that. It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.”
Hyatt says Bettinger’s approach may be a little extreme but agrees that a social meeting can bring out the real side to an employee, rather than just their professional facade.
“You let your guard down when you’re breaking bread with someone, when you’re sitting talking to them, you’ll talk about your family, your hobbies, your plans,” says Hyatt.
“So employers can get to know them outside of the office setting and you’re able to really hone in on some of those questions that you may not do if you were asking set questions in the office.”
While employees will inevitably open up in a more casual setting, Hyatt says lunch interviews can actually be more challenging as the potential recruit may be thrown off by the atypical approach.
“They’re coming in trying to focus very closely on the organisation, the skill sets required and all of those things which are much less social and much more professionally focussed so I think it makes it a little more difficult for them.”
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Cultural fit is increasingly taking precedent over skills and experience yet many employers still trust the traditional interview process – could switching up the location help HR find out who their potential recruit really is?