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Tips for a Job Interview for Those With Food Allergies

Last year, I began to apply for jobs at university libraries throughout the whole country. I had known from my friends’ experiences with job interviews at universities, that it was going to be something like I had never experienced before. Librarian job interviews last all day long, include interviews with more than one small group, one-on-one interviews with multiple administrators in addition to the direct supervisor, a presentation with only two weeks of preparation, a tour of campus, as many as three meals, long plane flights, and hotel stays. It can be really stressful, especially when you may not have been prepared to walk 7000 steps on the day of a job interview in painful shoes, and are unfamiliar with a city, local cuisine, and restaurants. Although I was hesitant to travel a lot due to having food allergies, the stress and preparation was totally worth it once I got a job offer that was too good to refuse.

Having never had an interview that included meals with the interviewers before, I read articles online about what to expect, what to discuss, meal etiquette, etc. I was shocked to find an article by Karen Burns on the US News & World Report site that stated: “Order quickly and with no fuss or interrogation of the server. Do not make an issue of your food allergies, your weight, or your likes and dislikes.” While you should obviously not discuss your weight or dislikes during a job interview meal, telling someone with food allergies to not discuss them with a server, believing that a person with food allergies interrogates the server, is extremely disrespectful. Food allergies fall under the category of a disability that requires accommodation. It’s not like food allergies would render someone unable to do tasks on the job unless they were applying for a job that involved food or lots of travel.

When a person is offered a face to face interview that involves meals, that interviewee is most likely in the top three of all applicants. At that point, the interviewers are not just interviewing you to choose who to hire. The interviewers should want to make a good impression so that the right candidate for the position will accept the job. They can assume that if candidates are good enough to be accepted for this position, they will receive other job offers that could seem like a better fit. It is in everyone’s best interest to be able to accommodate a simple request for allowing the candidate to choose the restaurants that can accommodate food allergies. Two out of three universities that I interviewed at actually offered me the option of home cooked meals that the directors of the departments were willing to cook for me personally, instead of restaurants. However, I didn’t want to burden them with cooking for me personally since I am aware of the types of foods that I can eat in restaurants without a problem, and what my tolerances of allergens are. They really made me feel welcome and appreciated. An organization that is unwilling to accommodate a simple request for handling meals during a job interview really may not be the best option as an employer.

Here are some tips for handling job interviews with food allergies:

1. When you are offered a job interview that will include meals, explain to the person that is scheduling the interview that you have food allergies and that you would like to be the one to choose the location to eat at and explain the types of restaurants that are ok. For example, I usually say that grills, delis, Italian and Greek food are ok.

2. The person should email back a list of potential restaurants for you to choose from.

3. The interview candidate should research the restaurants on the internet and contact them to ask a restaurant manager questions over the phone about the food in a timely manner.

4. If the list of restaurants is unacceptable, do some research into other options that are acceptable. For example, I was unhappy with a list of gourmet restaurants. So I found a Ruby Tuesdays and Jason’s Deli in the area and told the organization that I was interviewing with that they were my choices.

5. Report back to the person who is scheduling the interview, the names of restaurants that will work for you.

6. Familiarize yourself with the restaurants at the airport via the airport’s website in case of a long layover or bring some food with. Sometimes I bring my own sandwich for one of my meals while traveling. You never know when a flight will be delayed and you will need to buy food at an airport. If you already know what restaurants are in which terminals, then you can quickly get the food you need.

7. Make sure to bring your own snacks for the plane, breaks, and night spent at a hotel. I like to bring a container of baby carrots that will last for multiple days, unsalted pretzels, and several pieces of cake that I baked from scratch.


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