Job interview over lunch: Which fork first?

December 11, 2013
Etiquette Lunch Nov 21, 2013

Which fork first? Which glass?

The bad news is: You missed a great free lunch.

The good news is: You can sign up for the next one in April.

First, let’s make you very jealous. The food was superb! It was prepared by UAA’s own culinary arts students and presented in the upscale fine dining room that is Lucy’s restaurant (behind the fancy glass doors in Cuddy Hall).

Here’s the mouth-watering menu:

Salad du Jour

Filet Mignon
Served medium rare with bleu cheese butter, roasted True Blue potatoes
and mixed vegetables

Roasted chicken
With Puttanesca sauce, roasted True Blue potatoes, and mixed vegetables

Creamy Pesto Spaghetti
With grilled peppers, mushrooms, yellow squash and zucchini

Fresh berries and cream in puff pastry

Got your attention, did we? This certainly tops more typical (if perfectly filling) student fare—pizza and Subway sandwiches. So, why was it free?

Because UAA’s Career Services Center cares. The staff there (Diane Kozak, director, plus Natalie Elder and Danica Bryant) know that surviving papers/finals/graduation is just one step in every success story. The next challenge is navigating the job market. So they devised this very special lunch to let students stretch their dining etiquette muscles in preparation for a common career experience—the job interview over lunch or dinner.

(Spoiler Alert: We’ve got some of their best tips at the bottom of this story.)

Students at the UAA Career Services Center "Etiquette Lunch"

Getting ready for the rigors of a job interview lunch or dinner—practice can help you relax and do your best. (Photos courtesy Natalie Elder, UAA Career Services)

Generous sponsorships made the entrees free for participating students, who signed up in advance and filled Lucy’s to capacity on November 21. Those good-hearted sponsors included UAA’s Accounting Department, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, the Anchorage Army Medical Recruiting Center, Stusser Electric Supply and Walgreens.

Of course, like any job interview, it certainly wasn’t just about the food. A representative from each sponsoring company or department sat at each table so students would have the opportunity to practice networking, generate appropriate conversation and not panic over fork selection. Those mentors were:

  • Magen James, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce
  • Brian Shaw and David Lockwood, Stusser Electric
  • Lisa Yaeger, Walgreens
  • Lynn Koshiyama and Stasia Straley, UAA CBPP Accounting Department
  • SFC Tim Mutton, Anchorage Army Medical Recruiting Center

The career center staff also treated their dining audience to funny movie clips depicting what NOT to do in a job interview. (We’re talking Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in “The Internship,” among others.) That got everyone relaxed and smiling.

But the message was quite serious: Impressions matter.

Students asked career panelists questions.

Every question was a good one!

After lunch, the industry and career representatives became panelists, fielding student questions. A few examples:

  • Are black jeans OK for an interview? (Never.)
  • What if the restaurant serves champagne? (Follow the leader, but always OK to decline alcohol. If you do imbibe, go very lightly. You are being judged on everything, including your own good judgment.)
  • What if you have food allergies? (OK to talk to wait staff in advance.)
  • When can you look at your cellphone? (Never. True emergencies only.)

Students shared their own nightmares. Wishing to look her best, one young woman decided to dress for an interview at a friend’s house, close to where the interview would be. Good plan, except she forgot her shoes. In a pinch, she wore her friend’s high heels, which were a few sizes too big for her. No, she didn’t get the job.

Career panel takes questions at "Etiquette Lunch."

After dining with students, the mentoring panel fielded questions on best practices for acing the job interview over lunch or dinner.

One of the funniest confessions, more a cautionary tale, came from a mentor, Brian Shaw, who works in Outside Sales for Stusser Electric Supply. He told the audience that handling the business lunch is critical for him: “It’s all about building relationships,” he said. As hard as it was, he learned to shut off his cellphone to avoid the temptation to look at it.

Still a young man himself, he seemed to identify with the college students sitting in front of him. He told the story of his first successful career interview, which came several months after his college graduation. He’d moved to Seattle and was couch-surfing in his sister’s living room, going on several months. Finally her husband, his brother-in-law, barked at him to “Go get a job!”

And so, he went hunting. But when he landed an interview, he realized he had nothing suitable to wear, and no budget to buy what he needed.

“This is embarrassing!” he told them, laughing. “Don’t do what I did…”

He went to Nordstrom, picked out a nicely tailored suit for $1,200. He wore it to the interview, landed the job, and promptly returned the suit.

“I’m not proud of that,” he said with a grin as the audience laughed in disbelief. “Now that I’m in sales, I know (when I returned that suit) I took money back out of the pocket of the salesman!”

A lesson shared is a lesson learned.

Here are selected tips pulled together by the UAA Career Services Center staff.

Talking Points
Use these questions and talking points to get conversations flowing at your table with company representatives and guests.

  • What does a typical day look like in your industry?
  • How would you describe the work environment and corporate culture at your company?
  • What are some of your company’s initiatives regarding learning and development?
  • See if any of the guests at your table have common interests, such as best-selling books, news events, fitness activities, technological advances, travel or sports

Business Etiquette Tips
Remember these tips when engaging in conversation:

  • Listening is the most important conversational skill
  • Stop to think about what to say before speaking
  • Pay attention to the expression of the person you are speaking with
  • Keep your eyes on whomever you are speaking with
  • Rely on sincerity, clarity and an intelligent choice of conversational subject
  • Avoid very personal or confrontational subjects, such as financial situations, terminal illnesses, harmful gossip, inappropriate jokes, etc.
    Courtesy of

Top Ten Table Manners

  1. Chew with your mouth closed
  2. Avoid slurping, smacking, or other noises
  3. Do not use your utensils as a shovel
  4. Do not pick your teeth at the table
  5. Remember to use your napkin at all times
  6. Wait until you are done chewing to sip a drink
  7. Cut only one piece of food at a time
  8. Avoid slouching and do not place your elbows on the table
  9. Ask for items to be passed across the table, do not reach
  10. Always say ‘excuse me’ when leaving the table
    Courtesy of
University of Alaska Anchorage - University Advancement
3211 Providence Dr. Suite 236 - Anchorage, AK 99508
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