The 'why' part of this question is more important than 'who'.
If you’re invited to talk about who you'd like to meet for dinner at your graduate interview, remember that employers ask this hypothetical question to get a sense of the ‘real you’. It’s also used to assess your self-awareness and ability to think on your feet, and to gain some insight into how you might build networks and interact with other people.
The dinner party guest question is a way of asking the following:
- Who interests you? Why?
- What are your values and views?
- Do you have a range of interests?
- Which topics of conversation interest you? What do they reveal about you?
This question can crop up on application forms or at interview. In either case, take the same approach.
Remember to give reasons for your choices
The ‘why’ part of this question is more important than ‘who’. For example, you might feel that you should choose a variety of guests from different walks of life rather than ‘all of Little Mix’. However, you could explain that you’d like to chat to your guests about group dynamics, where friendship and work begin and end, coping with the pressures of being on the road, commercial success vs creative success, and so on – all insights that could be relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Which professions use this interview question?
Any employer could use this question. However, some professions are more prone to using curveball interview questions, such as finance, law and consulting.
You can practise your answers to tricky interview questions using resources from our partners at Shortlist.Me.
Should your five chosen guests be famous?
Generally, it helps if the interviewer knows who your chosen guests are, or has an idea of what they do, so it’s worth trying to pick people who have achieved some form of public recognition. That said, you can justify including one or more less familiar names by giving good reasons for picking them.
Bear in mind that this kind of question can be a springboard for further discussion, and relatively unknown academics or obscure politicians might be limiting choices from that point of view. If you do pick one or more dining companions who are not household names, don’t assume that your interviewer will know nothing about them. You could end up discussing your obscure choices with an unexpected expert, so make sure you’re well informed about your prospective dinner party guests yourself.
You could invite figures from the field in which you have applied to work, for example, a leading financier, perhaps mixed with people who are leaders in other areas in which you’re interested in, such as sports or volunteering. You could choose well-known historic figures, but don’t feel obliged to.
Should they be a mix of people?
You might find it helps to tackle this question if you choose a broad theme, such as ‘those who have succeeded against the odds,’ but then pick a diverse range of guests who share this experience, and who would be able to offer a mix of likely opinions or perspectives. This should make it easier to explain the rationale behind your choices while also showing the breadth of your interests. If you pick a list of people who seemingly have nothing in common, acknowledge this when you are talking about why you think it would be interesting to bring them together.
What will your dinner party guests talk about?
Touch on this when you give your answer: as host, what would you encourage the people you’ve chosen to talk about, and why? The interviewer may well be curious to know how you stimulate discussion and work in groups. You should be enthusiastic about your guests and convey that you want to listen to them.
Sample answer for the dinner party interview question
You might say that you would like to invite five people who could give interesting insights into leadership and teams. You could then give the following examples.
- Robbie Williams: because, with Take That, he was part of a massively successful team and then he left. You might want to ask him about the difference between team achievement and individual achievement and the sort of team he has around him as a solo artist.
- Jeremy Corbyn or Theresa May: because they’ve both had problems with their teams. What could you ask them about leadership?
- An army captain: because team work in the military is so crucial and can involve life-and-death situations and decisions. How does the military create teams?
- Mahatma Gandhi: because he led a non-violent movement. You might be interested in how his approach is different to the army captain’s, and whether they have anything in common.
- The president of a professional society relevant to your chosen career. You could find out more about their career path and their experience of leadership and building teams in your field.
How NOT to reply to the dinner party interview question
‘Nostradamus: He’ll be able to predict the future of your profession.’
Flippant answers are probably best avoided, as attempts at jokes can fall flat in a formal interview situation.
You also need to get your facts right when you give your answer. If you choose to invite the head of the organisation you’re applying to, make sure you know who it is. If you choose a politician, make sure you know what their current role is. Whoever you pick, you need to know enough about them to be comfortable talking about them.
Similar interview questions
- ‘If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?’
- ‘If you could invite two or three famous people (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would you choose?’