Reader Response: My Lunch Interview Went Up in Flames ... Literally


Dear Jeff,

I wish I had read your article "Are You Going to Eat That ... During an Interview?" before my lunch interview -- 37 years ago. I'm sure your advice would have helped even then.

I had just received my doctorate from Temple University and was interviewing at Kent State University for a departmental position in Instructional Design. The morning breakfast interview went very well (I actually followed many of your guidelines). After a tour of the campus and facilities, it was suggested that we (VP of Academic Studies, dean of the College of Education, department head and two professors in the department) meet for a "casual," and late, lunch interview. The dean suggested an Italian restaurant (bad choice) but I was in no position to argue.

I was hungry (Rule No. 2 broken). I was the first to order and decided on a veal parmigiana (another part of Rule No. 2 broken). The VP thought that sounded great, so he ordered it as well. Everyone else followed his lead.

The table was set with a plastic red and white table cloth, the lit candle in the wine bottle and a nice big straw basket with hot rolls wrapped in a very large paper napkin. As we were waiting to be served, the interview portion seemed to be going very well. The small talk turned to my firefighting experiences -- I was a volunteer firefighter at the time (and have been a paid firefighter in the Cherry Hill, N.J. Fire Department since 1978). They all seemed quite impressed with my community service.

Then I broke Rule No. 1 and things began to go really badly.

The veal dishes arrived -- gorgeous plates with heaps of gooey tomato sauce and cheese. I put my head down immediately and started to eat. I was determined to get at least a little food into me before I even looked up, let alone answered any more questions. With my head still down, I reached into the bread basket, flipped open the paper napkin and took out a piece. Moments later I sensed a bit of commotion around me, but I kept my head down and continued eating.

Several more minutes went by before I finally looked up to see the campus VIPs swatting at the fire that I apparently had set when I covered the candle with the paper napkin reaching for my bread. Bits of burning straw and ash were floating around the table, getting onto everyone's plate, mixing in with the gooey sauce.

At that point I figured it was too late to help, so I covered my own plate with my arm and continued eating all the while applauding the group's firefighting prowess.

I didn't get the job!

Originally published