Executive Interviews – Beware the ‘Informal Dinner’

Anyone who thinks they’ve nailed their next top job because they’ve sailed through the formal interview process (most likely around 5 – 7 interviews with all key stakeholders including the Chairman of the Board) as well as the psychometric assessments, and have now been invited to an ‘informal’ dinner with their potential management team, is being a little naive.

Well, actually a LOT naive.

Again and again, we see the job being won or lost at this final hurdle. It’s the perfect opportunity to see the ‘informal’ or social side of an individual – which is vitally important and revealing, as it will possibly provide key insights to the organization around your intrinsic values and beliefs.

How you speak to the waitron and service staff at the restaurant, whether you arrive on time, whether you drink alcohol and how you conduct yourself after a drink or two (by the way, we recommend that you abstain entirely on this particular occasion, for obvious reasons), what types of jokes and throwaway comments you make…. All of these, and more, are under scrutiny and will be evaluated by the carefully placed team of observers.

We all know that the ‘in office’ interviews, no matter how probing and well-structured, have their drawbacks – as all parties are on the alert, and are trying to display themselves at their best. It’s therefore quite a challenge to get true insights about an individual, their value system and personal philosophies about life and work, and (more importantly) how this plays out in the real world with people.

What the dinner, lunch, drinks or other socially- set interview offers, is some ‘action learning’ opportunities for the hiring organization before they formulate an offer.

And executives who are loose-lipped about their peers and their current employer, who speak negatively and disparagingly about competitors or public stakeholders, who drop sexist comments or innuendo into the conversation, or any other similarly inappropriate behaviour…well, every move is being watched, so these faux pas will no doubt come back to bite.

The next time the offer that was ‘in the bag’ somehow fails to materialise, reflect for a minute on your conduct during the informal aspects of the process – they could be telling.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat


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