Growing up in South Louisiana, I am very familiar with how food and the sharing of meals can leave an impact. It’s why my Louisiana roommate and I hosted a crawfish boil to celebrate our graduation in Tallahassee. It’s why my dad sends a king cake to my office each year. And, it’s why, if someone has ever worked with me, they have been introduced to the greatness that is Slap Ya Mama seasoning, which derives from my hometown. Food and the sharing of meals is an important component to communicating who you are and what you value.
The same is true for meals that you plan as a component of an interview. It is an opportunity for you – the employer – to share who you – the university – are, the unique aspects of where you are located, and what you value.
Here are some elements to consider when preparing to host a meal during a student affairs interview:
Feature Local Food.
Do not treat the meal component of the interview as an afterthought. I agree that the meetings and campus tours are important, but so is showcasing the city and its offerings, including restaurant options. The candidate is trying to envision not only working at your institution but also living in your institution’s location. Employees are happier when they like where they live. So, show off your city!
Now, I am not asking you to break the bank. I am only suggesting that you keep it local, avoid chain restaurants, and try to get off campus for at least one meal. For bonus points, you can also show off a type of food that is unique to your area.
Ideally, you would offer the candidate 2-3 local restaurant options from which to choose. This is what I used to do as a search committee chair. Along with the interview schedule, I would send candidates three restaurant names and website links for both lunch and dinner, then allow them to decide which establishment they wanted to experience for each meal. This kept it local while also allowing candidates to choose a food option that met their dietary needs and preferences.
Create Relaxed Conversation.
While we often hear in the student affairs profession that candidates should always be “on” at an interview – including meal times – it is the responsibility of employers to create a more relaxed environment for conversation at meals. Give candidates a bit of a breather and show them that you value getting to know them as a person, rather than just a potential employee. In my opinion, this is where fit is showcased most saliently. If you cannot share a fun meal with someone, do you really want to work with him or her day-in and day-out?
No. Probably not.
So, try to guide the conversation in a way that allows the candidate to share stories and ask questions about the fit of not only working at the institution but also living in the area. Consider sharing about your own hobbies, favorite restaurants, or weekend jaunts to get the conversation started.
I distinctly remember the meals from one particular search when we had one candidate who only wanted to “talk shop” during lunch, while the other candidate had a lively conversation with us about favorite TV shows and hobbies. The latter candidate received much better feedback from the lunch attendees, including students, because they saw the candidate as more real and relatable.
Let the proverbial hair down a little and open up the interview meal conversations to topics that allow candidates to relax and highlight their personality and values.
Limit the Guest List.
Interviews in student affairs can be marathon experiences where candidates meet, seemingly, a million people. Give the candidate, and your colleagues, a break during meal times and limit the meal guest list.
Now, I get it. Interviews are an opportunity to give your colleagues a nice, free meal. But, it is not about them. My suggestion is inviting only 2-3 people to the meal, at most. Otherwise, the candidate may feel overwhelmed with paying attention to all parties and will not feel as welcome to engage in that relaxed conversation you should be trying to create.
As an added bonus, limiting the guest list saves you some money in the budget.
Overall, meals during student affairs interviews should create space for you to get to know the candidate as a human being, provide time to determine true fit, and offer some insight into what it might be like to live in the location.
You want the candidate leaving the meal thinking, “ca c’est bon!” and “let’s do it again, cher!” Meaning, the entire interview meal experience – the food, the conversation, the people – was good and the candidate would be interested in a repeat experience, hopefully as your colleague!
This post is part of our #SArecruits series, which will share experiences from a variety of #SApros who have hired new employees. We hope that these stories will give great insight for both professionals looking to improve their hiring tactics, and also those on the job search looking for an inside perspective. For more information, please see Bill Mattera’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Danny Malave on New Professional Retrospective on the Job Search