Forbidden Foods

When was the last time you spilled something on your shirt? Picture the shirt. Picture the stain. What were you eating? Had it ever happened before? Same food? Different food?

Now, where were you? With your friends? With your family? In a dining hall? At a restaurant? Let’s hope it wasn’t during a job interview!

There are many opportunities to spill something during an interview—especially during a meal. So whether you’re simply accepting a cup of coffee in the office or having lunch together with the interviewer, be careful. Your behavior is part of the interview and is being observed. The interviewer wants to see how you conduct yourself in a business and social setting and, if hired, if you will be able to represent your company in a professional manner.

So, plan ahead to avoid making a poor impression. There are many resources on dining etiquette on our website and elsewhere, even including videos. Check out some of this information to test your knowledge of manners and etiquette. Do you know which silverware to use? Which glass is yours? What to do when you drop your fork? (Don’t pick it up. Ask your server for another fork.) How to eat your bread? (Don’t fold it over and make a butter sandwich.) How to cut your food? (Don’t cut it all at once after you’ve been served). What to order? (Follow the lead of the interviewer.) How much to eat? (Don’t feel like you have to finish everything on your plate, but don’t order too much.) How to order dessert? (Don’t.)

Now, back to that stain on the shirt in your closet. You probably already know which foods are difficult to eat. Don’t order anything that is easy to spill (soup!), difficult to eat, or likely to stain (beets). Avoid long noodles (unless you want to compete with the spaghetti baby in the photo). Don’t order fried chicken or food that you want to pick up. Don’t order seafood that needs to be pulled out of its shell (mussels). (If your shrimp arrives with tails intact, cut them off with your knife and fork.) Consider how long it can take to chew that bite of steak—you don’t want to miss answering a question while you continue to test the effectiveness of your molars. Even the simplest food might splatter while you’re cutting it. Ordering food that matches what you’re wearing might be extreme, but you can try to order something that doesn’t dramatically contrast with your shirt and jacket. If in doubt, don’t order it! Finally, check out your teeth in a bathroom mirror following the meal. It’s embarrassing to find that bit of lettuce or peppercorn several hours later, after you’ve met with more people.

Preparing for an interview includes more than bringing extra copies of your resume. Do your research to learn about the company and the people who work there. Study the job description. Know your strengths. Plan ahead regarding what you’ll wear, how you’ll travel to the interview site, how much time you’ll need to get there, . . . and what you might eat. When you return home, you can indulge in all the messy food you want—with your friends. Bon appétit!

Author: Beth Olson

Beth Olson is a career advisor who has worked with several Career Services teams at Penn including Wharton Undergrads, College of Arts & Sciences Undergrads, Pre-Health Advising, and Engineering Undergrads and Master's Students.