Interviews can be nerve-wracking, brain-draining, headache-inducing experiences. These days, recruiters have found a way to make the interview even more difficult by combining the experience with a meal.

This means that in addition to listening to the interviewer, formulating intelligent responses and trying your hardest to be confident, you now have to pay attention to how you look while eating.

Interviews over lunch or dinner are an increasingly popular recruiting tool. This article gives you the need-to-knows of the meal interview:

Mind your manners

It may seem unnecessary to mention, but those basic table manners you were taught as a child still matter. Here are just a few of the habits you should be mindful of during a meal interview:

* Be polite. In addition to evaluating your answers to questions, an interviewer is also assessing your personality. Be courteous and respectful to everyone, especially the wait staff. Words such as “please” and “thank you” speak worlds about your character.

* Be aware. Keeping your elbows on the table, chewing with your mouth open and talking with your mouth full all convey a negative impression. Pay attention to even your smallest actions.

* Be prepared. If you feel uncertain about your table manners, consult the experts. Emily Post’s books on etiquette are considered to be among the definitive works on the subject.

The dish dilemma

Even though you are being treated to a nice meal, you are not free to order any dish you like. You are in an interview and, therefore, you have the duty of maintaining a certain level of professionalism and formality throughout the meal.

Following these rules will help you steer clear of trouble:

* Avoid messes. Steer clear of food that has to be eaten with your hands or has a tendency to splatter. It is hard to recover from the embarrassment of splashing your interviewer with spaghetti sauce. Stick to food that can be cut into small pieces with a knife and fork.

* No stenches. Avoid food that has a strong or unpleasant odour. You are better off having an interviewer not remember you at all rather than as the candidate with bad breath. So no matter how much you love onions and garlic, lay off them for one meal.

* Keep it quiet. You need to be able to conduct a civil conversation. Avoid food that is crunchy and noisy to eat. In a public setting, there is a lot of noise that could drown out the voice of a person sitting across from you, so try not to order food that would add to the problem.

* Follow the leader. You may be wondering if a menu item is priced too high or if to order an appetiser first. The answer is to follow your interviewer’s lead. Try to order food in the same price range as the interviewer and order the same number of courses. You do not want to be sitting idle while the recruiter is still eating.

Consume and converse

You are at an interview and also dining out. This means you need to not only be talking, but also eating. It can sometimes be difficult to do both.

Try and keep these issues in mind when posed with the challenge of eating and talking at the same time:

* You are in control. Don’t feel so pressured to talk that you don’t eat at all. This can be interpreted as nervousness.

* Ask questions. When going to an interview, it is always a good idea to prepare questions. This will allow you get more information on the company and show that you have done your homework. During the meal interview, it will also give you the opportunity to actually eat as your interviewer responds to your questions.

Finish with a bang

Unlike that of a standard interview, the end of a meal interview does not just end with a handshake and a “thank you”. Keep in mind the following:

* Don’t offer to pay. It is never expected of a job candidate, and you don’t need to do it.

* Never ask for a doggy bag. No matter how delicious the meal was, requesting to take a portion of it home is not appropriate for the setting.

* Reaffirm your interest. Let the interviewer know how much you would like to work for his company.

* A “thank you” and handshake can’t hurt. As in any interview, don’t forget to thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you. In addition, be sure to be gracious and say that you enjoyed the meal. End the interview with a firm handshake. Make sure to follow up with a thank-you letter in the morning.

The meal interview is tricky, but not impossible. With a little guidance and a lot of confidence, you can sail through it with flying colours. Good luck and bon appétit!