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Ask the Headhunter: The do’s and don’ts for a job interview at a bar

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: The company I’ve been talking with informed me that our next interview will be at a nearby bar where we can all sit down and relax. The manager also mentioned that he and his group will have some specific questions this time. (In the first interview, I listened more than I talked.) What’s the protocol for interviewing in a public place? I guess they want to see how I act and how I would fit in. Can you offer any do’s and don’ts for a “relaxed” bar interview?

Nick Corcodilos: The weather’s getting warmer. People want to get out of the office. So they schedule interviews in restaurants and at the local watering hole. There’s nothing wrong with this, but be careful.

There is some conventional wisdom about interviewing over a meal or over a drink. All of it assumes such a meeting is a clever ruse where the employer is watching your manners and your eating habits and possibly trying to get you “loosened up” so they can find out what you’re really like.

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I caution you: Don’t make any of these assumptions. It’s a business meeting. Be businesslike.

A long time ago, someone taught me to take others at face value and to always assume the best. It’s good advice. If it turns out someone is playing games with you, that should be enough to tell you what kind of person they are — and that you probably want nothing to do with them. (See “Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions.”)

As long as you are honest and sincere in your words and actions, the burden is on the other guy to act the same. I’ve found this personal policy works very well. If someone screws with me after I give him the benefit of the doubt, I never deal with him again. Word gets around.

Be yourself. Don’t get caught up in the meaning behind the interview location. Do what you would normally do in an interview. (If you don’t feel comfortable in bars, say so and ask for a change of venue.) If you are a woman and the interviewers are all guys and the bar is questionable, use your judgment, and trust your instincts.

Order what you want to eat, but don’t spend too much of their money. Use common sense, and be polite.

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Don’t follow suit. If the boss orders beer, but you don’t drink beer, don’t order beer. If you want seltzer, order seltzer. Don’t be someone you’re not.

Trying to psych this out, so you can “do what they expect” will sink you. The entire purpose of a casual meeting is to be casual. If they have another (sneaky) agenda, then that’s their problem. Because if you buy into a sneaky agenda, you will have to live with sneaky people after you take the job.

Clever interview advice usually comes from phony experts who are trying to be clever. For example, “Don’t order anything exotic, or they’ll think you’re strange.” What if the manager values independent thinking? If you try to get clever, you will stumble all over yourself. Forget about clever. Be straightforward.

Respect yourself and respect the employer. No games. Discuss whatever they want to discuss as long as you’re comfortable with it. Hopefully, they want to talk about the work. If you’re the one introducing topics, talk about the work. Contribute whatever information you think will help them see how you will do the job profitably for the company and how you will fit into their social environment. (See: “The Basics.”)

If you and they don’t fit together, this is the time to find out. If the meeting gets weird, ask for a doggy bag and excuse yourself.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Women don’t cause the pay gap. Employers do​

Dear Readers: Have you ever done an interview in a restaurant or bar? How did it go? Ever have a weird experience?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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