Ditch job interviews. Use dinner dates instead.

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It was the worst dinner date I’d ever been on.

He arrived late, wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops to a nice restaurant. And he’d already downed a few drinks beforehand, which didn’t stop him from consuming another three during the meal. I’d like to blame the drinks for the fact that he requested sexual favors for dessert – to be performed right there, under the table – but that would be an insult to perfectly good adult beverages everywhere. After I paid the check, he offered to walk me to my car, which actually meant “walk me to my car and attempt to maul me like a drunken bear.” Fortunately, I escaped unscathed.

The point is I learned everything I needed to know about him quickly and unquestionably.

Which is why I think dinner dates should replace job interviews.

Just go with me on this.

By assessing a potential supervisor or coworker in a dinner date context, I can:

  • Tell how she’ll treat every other kind of meeting or appointment. Is she on time and prepared, or disheveled and complaining? Is she totally present, or constantly checking her phone? Does she consider my time valuable, or is she just keeping up appearances?

  • Tell how he treats colleagues by how he treats the server and other patrons. Does he hear and remember the server’s name? Does he look the server in the eye and smile? Does he tip well? Does he glance over at a nearby table and say, “Now that guy really needs to order the salad, am I right?”

  • Tell if our communication styles are compatible. Is he an active listener? Does he listen at all, or just dive in with interruptions and opinions? Does he analyze information or just jump to conclusions? Does he follow up the evening with a friendly text or email?

  • Tell how generous she is with her staff development budget. Is the restaurant casually elegant or does it have a drive-thru? Is she enthusiastic about the menu options or simply state, “Two coffees and two pieces of toast?” Does she splurge on dessert?

And while we’re at it, let’s do the math:

I invested $175 in a professional resume consultant to perfect my materials. I spent $120 on an interview suit, and took four hours of paid leave from my current job to attend the interview. If we account for additional items like custom business cards or gas in the car, an interview can cost around $500.

Is it worth $500 to sit an office, smiling politely and saying words like “motivated self-starter” or “successful team player” in answer to the same questions HR specialists have been asking for years?

When you could’ve learned so much more about each other for around $60, and enjoyed some really good sushi while you were at it?

It may sound quirky, but one of the best bosses I ever had offered to share her Brussel sprouts with me during a lunch interview, and I thought, “I could totally do great work for her team!”

And all quirkiness aside, the traditional job interview does almost nothing to gauge someone’s fit to your corporate culture. (Unless your culture is outdated and stagnant.)

One executive told me this nightmare story from a recent employee search:

"There were several applicants, one of whom shone above the rest. Everyone was very excited by this one, and pressured HR to expedite the hiring process. He seemed perfect, with a particularly fine complement of both skills and experience. But the interview process failed to detect that, in the everyday workplace reality, he was a relatively unimaginative worker-bee, without much in the way of critical thinking skills or even initiative. And the added bonus was that he was a pathological liar with no social appropriateness filters."

But here’s the good news: you can actually CHANGE the way you interview candidates. No kidding! You can assess them any way you want to, in whatever context best fits your organization’s needs – lunch, dinner, miniature golf, aerobics class, whatever.

I promise it will be more fun.

Act of Fearlessness: Take your next prospective employee bowling.