A reader writes:
I am a recruiter for medical offices. I have been in business for 18 years. Most of that time, I have had a home office. I typically will interview my prospects (99% women) at a café or coffee shop. However, my latest client is a single man who is hiring an administrative person (higher than a clerk but not a manager). I have interviewed three great candidates, and they are happy about the opportunity—until the client says that he wants to interview them at a steak restaurant. At that point, each one has declined the opportunity.
He said he wants to do it this way rather than at his office because he has a temporary employee currently working there—but did not mention that initially.
He said that I was not screening them thoroughly (not so). I told him that we should meet them together at a coffee shop instead of for a more formal lunch setting. I don’t think he believes me and is insulted that one of them admitted she and her fiancée thought it inappropriate to meet for a first-time interview anywhere other than the employer’s office. I do not doubt his character at all. What say you?
A lunch interview at a restaurant isn’t outside standard business norms — it happens all the time — so I wonder if there’s something else going on here.
I mean, for the record, an awful lot of people wouldn’t be thrilled to do an interview at a steakhouse, from vegetarians to people who just don’t want to have to worry about eating while they’re trying to have their first interview with someone … but it’s not something that’s normally considered inappropriate, especially not in the way that it sounds like your candidate meant. (Unless perhaps you’re in a very conservative region that thinks it’s odd for a single man to have a business lunch with a woman? Hopefully you’re not because that’s pretty oppressive, but if you are, it would be smart to take that into account.)
I do think that if your client is running a small business, savvy candidates will be particularly attentive to signs that he might be operating outside of standard business conventions and/or that he might not respect normal professional boundaries (which can be common with small business owners). A lunch interview at a restaurant isn’t outside of professional norms, but if candidates are already picking up on other signs of boundary issues, it’s possible this is the clincher for them.
More important than any of this, though, is that it doesn’t matter what I think if all or most of your good candidates feel differently. You have three good candidates who seemed enthusiastic about the job and then withdrew when asked to meet this guy for lunch. That’s a pretty strong indicator that he should drop the lunch idea. If he won’t, I’d try to get him to nail down why he’s so wed to it.