Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I just want to work with you, I don't want to eat with you

Spotted on ERE.net 

This interview is supposed to describe a "non-traditional" method of interviewing--going for a walk and coming back for dinner--but it sounds like most academic interview marathons. I like her idea of taking the time to know someone, but here is my problem:

Do I have to accept your food if I am a strict vegetarian? Listen to how she describes it: the meal is all about presentation and fit, still part of the interview. Sounds like I can't abstain.

Now, since I don't eat many shared meals with my co-workers--we have lunch together all the time, but not the same food--this is not really an issue. The last time I looked for work was before I joined the Green Side, so this hadn't been a problem. Now it is: how will I decline the pig on a stick?

Most people will think this is easy. It is not, as most vegetarians will tell you. The reasons that people become vegetarian are usually quite diverse and may be very murky, filled with dark secrets about arteries, could have to do with their religion, or beliefs about peace and nitrates, and, well, I really don't want to explain. Do you really want to hear about my arteries? No more than I want to hear about your Metamucil intake. I just want to say, No thanks, you go ahead. And drink my green tea (though, that's a lie, it would be hi-test black coffee). And not have to answer any more questions about it. I just want to say no.

Vegetarians are not the only people with this problem. Many religions have dietary rules that cross Appleby's off the list of places to go for a chat. You may also be taking out a candidate for lunch during her religion's fast day or period.

You might be able to see where I'm going with this but I'll be clear:
  1. The interviewer just doesn't know about other cultures, religions and their rules.
  2. The interviewer does know and knows she can't ask at the interview, so she is going to see if the candidate passes on the food and the reason for the pass.
Now the nice lady in the video is just trying to find "fit" and is possibly just the jolly Seinfeld cake pusher she appears to be, so I don't think she is Type 2. Type 2 is more insidious, especially if you have to work with a diverse client culture. I should be able to decline politely and move on. What I eat, when, and how, has nothing to do with my job performance.

Do I say skip the meal? Not at all. But I am sure it has come up for others in the past: how do you decline food without insult?

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