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A lengthy interview included lunch at a restaurant with one of the managers who had been interviewing me. The company with whom I was interviewing provides management consulting and other services for its clients. Something I didn't realize at the time was that the company is known for entertaining - including boozing up - their clients.

When ordering lunch, the interviewer stated that he was going to have a glass of wine with his meal and stated that I could have that or a beer if I wanted. While I'm not a teetotaler and could have handled one drink, I feared that imbibing during the interview could be taken wrong, so I declined and ordered a soft drink.

Is drinking on an interview like this a bad idea? Or could it be the whole lunch and offer of a drink was to show me what would be expected of me if I was hired and to see if I would fit in?

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I would have thought the consumption of alcohol is a personal preference. You should not be forced one way or the other. Personally I would have had a small white wine - cannot stand drinks fully of sugar – Ed Heal Feb 8 at 22:03
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If you're going to worry about failing the inter=view due to the interviewer's unreasonable biases, forget interviewing; any decision will bother some idiot. – keshlam Feb 9 at 6:16
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If this were some kind of test, would you want to work for someone who tests you like that? – The Merry Misanthrope Feb 9 at 7:29
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There are many reasons to abstain from alcohol that have nothing to do with being a teetotaler. For example, if you (even the possibility) that you have to drive or bicycle home afterwards, it may be prudent to decline. When you decline, just don't make a big deal about it. If they try to push you, I would see that as problematic. – Brandin Feb 9 at 11:11
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Which country are we talking about? In Italy, for example, a glass of wine with a meal is completely normal. – Alessandro Teruzzi Feb 9 at 15:28
up vote 85 down vote accepted

Is drinking on an interview like this a bad idea?

No. If your interviewer ordered an alcoholic drink that's a fairly clear signal that it's acceptable at this company to enjoy an alcoholic beverage during lunch. In this case he even told you as much.

While (light!) alcohol consumption is perfectly acceptable in all the cultures and companies I've experienced, this isn't universally true. Because of that, during an interview you probably never want to take the initiative to order an alcoholic drink because you normally don't know enough about the company's culture. Alcohol is also typically more expensive but as long as you're not ordering champagne that shouldn't be an issue.

But if your business contact ordered an alcoholic drink himself, and especially if they come right out and say that it's fine to order beer or wine, then you should take them at their word. This goes for all meetings with clients or interviewers and it's typically the person paying (interviewer) or with the highest status (client) that would decide on this.

Or could it be the whole lunch and offer of a drink was to show me what would be expected of me if I was hired and to see if I would fit in?

It could be, but it's bloody unlikely. I have heard of stranger hiring rituals and other inane tests so you can never rule this out, but I can say that no well-run company will do or permit such a practice.

If there is indeed a culture of drinking that is likely to play a role in your job, good interviewers or hiring managers will tell you that that's the case and ask for your thoughts on that. They won't craft secret tests and silently judge you on your reaction.


It's always fine to decline an offer of alcohol, in any context. Most interviewers are used to candidates passing on alcohol, typically because they don't want to dull their concentration. Only the most boorish and uncultured folk will look down on you for choosing not to drink alcohol.

There are some obvious exceptions to this rule but you'll know if you're in such a situation. There is still a strong after-work drinking culture in Japan for instance. I've known a brewing conglomerates that had a "beer lady" instead of a "coffee lady" doing rounds in the office every afternoon. The company kept that practice in place until well into the 21st century but I wouldn't call them a good role model.


Alison Green, whom I frequently quote in my answers here actually disagrees with me on this to a certain extent in her article about accepting a drink during an interview. The main reason she gives is that "this is not the time to lower your inhibitions or mellow out with a drink. You want to be at your absolute best, and you don’t want to impact your judgment at all." I do agree with her on that and certainly if you know that you're likely to be affected negatively in any way by even minor alcohol consumption then you should avoid drinking alcohol in situations where you need to be at your best.

But you're asking about how it will affect you as a candidate. Alison also weighs in on that and quotes a 2012 study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology called "The imbibing idiot bias: Consuming alcohol can be hazardous to your (perceived) intelligence". Given that the article felt the need to create the colourful term "imbibing idiot bias" which has less than a 1000 search engine hits, that the Journal seems largely unknown, that the study is, as far as I can tell, not properly peer-reviewed, and the language they use in their abstract, I'm quite doubtful about the value of their conclusions.

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I've been looked down upon for declining alcohol at a company event, so when I first read your first bold sentence in that paragraph I was like "well, not always". Then I read the last bold sentence and I remembered why that's a place I used to work instead of do work. – corsiKa Feb 9 at 15:48
    
The bolded statements in the middle section are the most important, to me. If a potential employer thought poorly of an applicant for declining alcohol during lunch, I'd definitely qualify them as boorish at the very least. – recognizer Feb 9 at 17:24
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"It's always fine to decline an offer of alcohol, in any context." Have you seen The Wolf of Wall Street? – Brian Gordon Feb 9 at 21:08
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Your comments about the Journal of Consumer Psychology seem to be misguided. It has an IF of over 2, is ranked 12th out of 137 journals in the field, and is peer reviewed. scimagojr.com/journalrank.php?category=1406 – user1938107 Feb 9 at 22:21
    
@user1938107 My point was that these findings should be taken with a generous pinch of salt. I'm not an academic and I was remarking on this particular study, not the journal it appeared in. Perhaps I used the wrong terminology but I meant that the study, while presumably reviewed prior to publication, doesn't appear to be cited anywhere except in management blogs. And quite frankly, I'll stand by my claim that a journal that's ranked 12th in the "field" of marketing is not well-known. – Lilienthal Feb 10 at 0:05

There are two possibilities.

  1. It was OK for you to say yes, and OK for you to say no. You said no, which is OK.

  2. It was not OK for you to say yes, or it was not OK for you to say no. In this case, you were, frankly, being set up to fail and that's a big reason not to want to work there. If that turned out to be the deciding factor in you not getting the job, you just dodged a bullet.

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+1 because it can definitely go both ways. I saw a case, in person, where a big business deal failed because one person did NOT get an alcoholic drink. Abstaining thinking you're doing the right thing (when you want a drink) may not be the right choice. Just do what you want and then live with the result knowing that you were true to yourself. – Brian Knoblauch Feb 9 at 12:27
    
A business deal would slightly differ from an interview, in my opinion. In the business deal scenario, hospitality and similar factors can ease the friction, and take the deal to a conclusion. I am assuming that in your description, lack of hospitality (in not serving a drink to a participant) was an issue. Many business deals take place in an informal setting.. A relatively lower percentage of interviews will involve serving alcohol - and hospitality (or lack thereof, especially in alcohol) is not such a big factor. – blispr Feb 10 at 0:56
    
Very succinct answer, this is exactly what it boils down to. – Mast Feb 10 at 8:42

I declined and ordered a soft drink.

Is drinking on an interview like this a bad idea? Or could it be the whole lunch and offer of a drink was to show me what would be expected of me if I was hired and to see if I would fit in?

While having one glass of wine or one beer probably would have been okay, you chose to take the cautious approach, and that will almost certainly be just fine. It's likely the path I would have chosen as well. In interviews, I prefer not to eat unless circumstances make it necessary, and I strongly prefer not to drink. That's just me.

In an interview, you want to have your wits as sharp as possible. You don't want to get sleepy. And above all you don't want to get buzzed - not even a little bit.

Everyone has a different tolerance for alcohol, and virtually all interviewers will understand that and not hold it against you if you choose soda. Even if they did hold it against you, would you really want to work for someone that considers it a negative if you choose not to have an alcoholic beverage? What if the interviewer had a three martini lunch habit and usually went back to work buzzed? Is that the kind of place you'd want to fit in?

I've worked for companies who expected their sales people to "booze up" their clients in certain circumstances. Even in those cases, I know of effective sales folks who didn't drink themselves. They were able to graciously handle purchasing drinks for their clients, while sticking with sodas or water.

I think you'll be just fine. I wouldn't be worried about it.

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I was thinking to write something but fortunately you already wrote it. Much easier to upvote than type something out :) A tangential addition, you can also eat a salad or something light in an interview context - I generally try to find something much lighter than a burger/fries or whatever I think would be awesome when "free meal!" whenever I eat as part of interviews. – enderland Feb 8 at 23:58
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I've always aporoved of my employer's policy: It's OK to drink Iin moderaion at a business lunch with a customer or vendor, but if either of you does so no business commitments will be made that afternoon. Protects all parties from any hint of impaired judgement calling a contract into question. – keshlam Feb 9 at 6:13
    
@JoeStrazzere: Remember, my employer dates back to the days when one o the perqs of being an executive was the "three-martini lunch", and when even service techs were expected to show up dressed in business semiformal. – keshlam Feb 9 at 14:49
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"Never order spaghetti at a business meal." Or anything else that's likely to drip on you. – keshlam Feb 9 at 23:36

Or could it be the whole lunch and offer of a drink was to show me what would be expected of me if I was hired and to see if I would fit in?

That sounds like the right answer to me. Whether you ordered or consumed alcohol probably wasn't nearly as important as your reaction to the offer.

I see only two possible mistakes someone could make -

  1. Play the part of a shocked and offended teetotaler.
  2. Drink too much.

I suspect you did fine.

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+1 Don't forget the mistake of assuming that you know something about the company culture because one person there has a drink during an interview lunch. Oh, and the mistake of ordering a drink that might give the wrong impression of you (super expensive, college party drink, etc.) – ColleenV Feb 8 at 22:38
    
This is the answer I was about to write! – Ian Feb 10 at 9:44

I'm seeing a lot of people treat this as a test or argue you don't want to work for someone that tests you etc. The reality is "fit" is important, and the interviewer probably wasn't even thinking s/he was testing you.

These kinds of signals are very subtle. From what you describe, I wouldn't be surprised if some people end up thinking "This guy isn't very much fun" or "He seems kind of stiff. I'm not sure he'd loosen up around clients." Any hesitation at all could have swung the pendulum one way or another.

In my case, if an interviewer was drinking and asked me if I wanted wine or beer, I'd probably just accept a beer without a second thought. After all, I don't have to chug it down and I'm fine with just drinking a bit with my food. As advice, I'd suggest you can always accept and not drink the whole thing. For most people, it's just a social thing and they just want you to join in on whatever activity they are doing (drinking alcohol in this case).

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I hope by not fitting in you're referring to someone who is a disruption to those around him and not someone who is "not one of us." – JeffO Feb 9 at 16:32

It is hard to say exactly what the interviewer was looking for. I suspect that he may have wanted to make sure you could drink responsibly, and handle a moderate amount of alcohol while still being able to act professionally. Part of the job will be doing your job while consuming alcohol, but you still need to be able to act professionally, and communicate with your clients. He may have even wanted to see how you would react to being pressed to drink more than you should have. So yes it is probably the right move to accept the first drink. From there you have to feel what the right move is, but never so much as to let your actions become compromised by alcohol.

This is nonsense. A job should not depend on having a drink. How about a religious person that is against their religion. How about a person on medication? How about an alcoholic. They cannot work for this company?

Not all people are suited for all jobs. And while this role is not suited to someone who is not going to be able to drink alcohol I am sure there are other roles that would not require partying with clients. This is a specific role that has this requirement.

Every bad drunk that I know believes that they are great at handling their alcohol. So just asking the question is liable to mean you end up hiring quite a few people that are not able to handle their alcohol and may embarrass your company. For this reason I would thing it is important to make sure that any candidates for such a position were not the type to get stupid drunk off one or two drinks, able to remain professional, and able to stop drinking before they become inebriated.

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As long as (a) it was offered by your host, (b) you want to drink said beverage, (c) you don't drink more than your host, and (d) you drink only moderately (I'd considet the standard "one drink an hour" rule so you're detoxifying about as fast as you're drinking -- remember that you need to be alert for the interview), I don't think you'll do yourself any harm by accepting one beer or one cup of wine.

I also don't think you'll do yourself any harm if you say "Thanks, but I never developed a taste for the stuff; I'd rather just drink soda or water" or "I'm not in the mood for [more] beer but don't let me stop you". Anyone who will take offense at your not drinking more heavily on duty -- and an interview is definitely "on duty" -- is probably not someone you want to work for.

Even if they are the Philosophy department of the University of Wallamaloo. (Monty Python "Bruces")

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The asker implies that they do drink but just didn't want to during an interview. In that case, lying by saying that you don't drink is a bad idea, especially if you get the job and end up drinking with the same person again. Maybe they'll accept that it was an inconsequential lie in a somewhat pressured situation; maybe they'll wonder what else you lied about... – David Richerby Feb 9 at 5:41
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The first paragraph I agree with. The second one doesn't seem necessary or appropriate. In my case, it would be a lie anyway, which might have come out if I had landed the job. – GreenMatt Feb 9 at 14:57
    
@GreenMatt: See edit. No lie required, just non-judgemental honesty. – keshlam Feb 9 at 15:08
    
Thanks for the edit. +1 – GreenMatt Feb 9 at 15:16

This was an informal interview for an entry level position were talking about here. Im assuming the company isn't one of the big 4, and your a recent college grad so I can understand the anxious uncertainty that goes along with your first round of "real job" interviews.

But trust me, they could care less if the hundredth other new hire making 42k/year boozes it up. Your only real responsibilities will be endless data mining thats been delegated down the line to the eager recent undergrad grad who hasn't figured out the structure of the office politics yet. I worked for HPMG after graduating so I can tell you first hand that making the right friends and how you get along with the people in office is much more important. They are looking for an out going person, with a at least some sense of humor - being uptight and socially appearing to have Asperger will get you cut.

As long as your not the office drunk just relax and be yourself when it comes to these type of job interviews. Now, if you were interviewing with a private equity/cap. investment/hedge fund company I would dial it up, and mentally prepare for 60hr workweeks where you have to be a machine. All you need to know for now is your excel formulas, and pivot tables and your set lol.

It will only get easier from here.

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semi-condescending, but from the questioner's description, I get the feeling this answer is more in line with the mindset of the place he interviewed with, so +1 – coburne Feb 10 at 14:36

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