There’s a famous story about Charles Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger’s unique restaurant interview approach to assessing potential hires. With the promise of a great tip, he tasks his waiter with sabotaging his guest’s order. It’s a character test he swears by because it shows how that person deals with adversity. Bettinger explains that “it's just another way to look inside their heart rather than their head.”
It would be shallow and misled to disqualify a candidate for being a picky eater or asking for details about a menu item, but even if you’re not going to purposefully mess up someone’s order (we don’t advise it), eating with them is a great way to learn things you’d never learn in a conference room.
Here’s what to look for:
We’re not talking about the kind of manners you learn at finishing school – we’re talking common courtesy. Keep in mind that what constitutes manners in one locale might be very different in another part of the country or the world. So whether the restaurant you choose serves Morton’s or fleur de sel, take it with a grain of salt. Adjust for any cultural differences and pay attention to whether your interviewee is polite in a general sense.
If the position is for someone who will represent your company, sharing a meal is a great way to assess whether he or she has the level of decorum that aligns with your company’s brand. And whether or not this potential hire will be externally facing, it’s nice to know if he or she is capable of being relaxed in a casual environment. It’s a good sign of self-awareness, personal evolution, confidence and authenticity. A certain amount of nervousness can be a good sign, too, as it shows they care, but whether you’re hiring for an entry level position or a leader, having a certain level of presence is key.
In an interview, the environment is controlled, but when there are unexpected twists and turns – a wait or a menu mistake, for example – a person’s true character comes through. Is the person you’re interviewing respectful of everyone from the host to the person bussing the table? Demonstrating kindness toward people both above and below them in any type of hierarchy – social, business or otherwise – is very telling. It bodes well for the person’s potential to create alliances at all levels of your organization. And if your interviewee is rude to the wait staff? They’ll most definitely be rude to people in the office too. It should be a deal breaker every time.
Resumes and interviews do a great job of assessing skills and intelligence, but emotional intelligence can really only be tested in the wild, so to speak. How well do you strike up conversation? Are connections made? Laughs shared? That kind of chemistry between you and your potential hire can lead to a great working relationship that’s both collaborative and productive. We’re not saying every hire has to be a master of social grace, but the ability to have a good dialog about topics outside of work can be a positive indicator for potential to interact functionally on the job.
Nobody’s perfect, so it’s likely that any lunch interview will turn up an idiosyncrasy or two – and there are even times when it’s okay to overlook certain shortcomings. But one thing remains for certain: getting the right people in the door is crucial to your company’s success. And conducting effective interviews – whether they happen in the office or over lunch – is the best way to make sure you have control over who those people are. For sample behavioral interview questions, and to learn more about why behavioral-based interviewing is important, how to strategically choose your interview questions, and how to organize your interview process, download the eBook on Behavioral interviewing.