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I am asking this on behalf of a female friend in her mid 20s. I will use "I" instead of "she" for easier understanding. Germany, an IT Company, Software Developer.


I just had an interview in a really big well known company, which I believe I totally blew.

After a few technical questions and stuff about my previous jobs I was offered chocolate candy. The small fancy kind.

I responded something like: "Oh thank you, are they filled with alcohol?"

They answered: "Why does it matter, it was just meant as a treat!"

I: "I genrally don't drink or eat alcohol, but thank you again for your kindness."

Them: "Why wouldn't you drink alcohol? * stares at my belly *

I: "I just don't like the taste"

Interview continues normally

Now I believe they had that chocolate thing as a kind of test, and it didn't just happen to be a small act of kindness. But I can not figure out what kind of test.

Where they trying to figure out if I may be pregnant? Where they trying to see if I fit company culture about normal alcohol use?

I have the feeling I reacted very immature, how could I have responded better?

  • 2
    How should "Why does it matter, it was just meant as a treat!" be read?. I can read the exclamation mark as either surprise or anger. I think this might influence the answer somewhat. – Jeroen May 8 '18 at 7:49
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    To the question if they contained alcohol, the response "Why does it matter" was not appropriate. If they react in that way, I would have just politely declined the sweets, regardless of whether or not I was avoiding alcohol. Don't explain why you are declining, just politely decline. – Brandin May 8 '18 at 7:52
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    It sounds more like the interviewers completely blew it and could have responded better. That, or they are being sneaky and trying to figure out things they're not legally allowed to ask about. – Erik May 8 '18 at 8:10
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    What the actual f***? In what universe did your friend act immaturely? Also, if they offer treats in order to figure out if someone is pregnant, in order NOT to hire them I say this: F those Machiavellian assholes, you can find better. – Reinstate Monica May 8 '18 at 10:39
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    @nvoigt I don't want to clutter the question, but she was offered Pralines. The conversation in german: Ich: Oh danke, sind die mit Alkohol? Interviewer: Nicht wichtig, sollte nur ne' kleine Aufmerksamkeit sein! Ich: Sehr nett von Ihnen aber nein danke, aber ich trinke und esse keinen Alkohol. Interviewer: Warum trinken Sie keinen Alkohol? Ich: Mir schmeckt es einfach nicht. – Pudora May 8 '18 at 12:23
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Obviously we cannot read their minds. Maybe they wanted to use it as a test. Maybe not.

But they blew it. Completely. Asking if something you eat contains alcohol is completely normal, just as asking whether it contains nuts or any other allergen.

Asking why you don't want to eat or drink something in return is completely out of line. That's non of their business. "I don't like the taste" is perfectly fine as an answer. "I'm allergic to it." without going into details would be ok too (assuming they actually are). In the specific case of alcohol, "Ich muss noch fahren" (literally "I have to drive", meaning the person came by car and does not want to drink and drive) should always be accepted without questioning. After all, it's the law.

If they wanted to trick you, they would have lead on with lighter questioning after the alcohol question. Like saying "Oh, did you come by car?". Asking why directly is the stupidest thing they could have done.

That said, there are countless reason to assume they are not tricking anybody, but are simply not good at interviewing people. They are simply bad at their job. That happens.

Especially males in Germany are completely taken aback at the thought that somebody might not drink alcohol. If you tell them, it's like you tried to explain quantum physics. They need a medical explanation for their own mental well-being, because it cannot be that somebody does not like to get wasted on Friday/Saturday. That might be an explanation for the weird reaction. The interviewer simply did not expect that at all.

The behavior you witnessed can be explained by stupidity and is way to incompetent to actually achieve what might be seen as a goal to get information illegally. So my guess would be they simply blew it.

An interview goes both ways, you represent yourself, they represent the company. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, assuming it's incompetence and not malice... it's your choice whether you want to pursue this job offer further.

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    I'm not sure if the law applies with alcoholic chocolate, given the low content. (It sure applies to alcohol in general, but if you turn down a praline with "Sorry, I still have to drive" you might get some weird looks.) – Erik May 8 '18 at 13:21
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I have the feeling I reacted very immature, how could I have responded better?

I'm from Germany, too, and I think you reacted perfectly, by politely declining. It's the interviewer who was impolite. Asking back in that way is not appropriate. To me, if someone asks if the sweets contain alcohol, the only appropriate answers are "yes", "no", or "sorry, I don't know".

Now I believe they had that chocolate thing as a kind of test, and it didn't just happen to be a small act of kindness. But I can not figure out what kind of test.

Yes, it's possible this was intended as a (stupid) test, but you cannot know. Maybe the interviewer was just clumsy, or impolite.

At any rate, there is no point worrying about that. You handled your part professionally.


As an aside:

Them: "Why wouldn't you drink alcohol? * stares at my belly *

I: "I just don't like the taste"

An important life lesson (which I had to learn) is: You don't have to give a reason when you say no. Often stated succinctly as: "No" is a complete sentence.

Of course you can and should give a reason if you believe it is appropriate and/or you want to be nice, but you don't have to. In this case, since the interviewer was already rather pushy, I'd probably have left it at "Thanks, I just don't want any right now". As the whole thing is not relevant for your job interview, any further questions at that point would be extremely rude.

  • 2
    Interview is both way street. Just like they interview you, you interview them too. Ask yourself if you would still like to join them in case he is going to be your manager. – VarunAgw May 12 '18 at 13:40
  • @VarunAgw : exactly : by trying to trick you into drinking alcohol, they showed their lack of respect. One can flee alcohol for taste reasons(like me or the OP), for self control reasons, for religious reasons, or even more important, for medical reasons. – gazzz0x2z May 12 '18 at 17:28
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For a "pregnancy test" this is useless. The amount of alcohol in one chocolate one time is far from what is relevant to the development of a child, and i assume that pregnant women would know this.

There is another possibility: They wanted to test how you react to a question which is out of line. I got a few of such questions myself (things which clearly go where interviewers were going borderline - in that case with politics), and it became apparent later that they were trying to provoke me to see if I stay professional.

So if you are e.g. in a customer facing role, they may want to know if you are able to suppress inappropriate behavior without getting offensive.

  • Quite ironic that the employer you're talking about went out of their way to demonstrate that they are not capable of suppressing completely inappropriate behaviour... but certainly useful information for the applicant. As always: interviews go both ways. – AllTheKingsHorses May 14 '18 at 15:28
  • I did not judge if that is good or bad. I am now interviewing people and I would never do this, but rather provoke by ultra-hard (reformulated unsolved scientific problems) technical questions. – Sascha May 19 '18 at 8:05
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IMHO your friend's response sounds quite reasonable.

Some information about German employment law (emphasis added):

"Employment and employee benefits in Germany: overview"

The primary tool to obtain information about a candidate is to either ask questions in a job interview or to use an employee questionnaire. In both cases, questions can only be asked if they:

  • Are supported by a legitimate interest of the employer.

  • Do not amount to a disproportionate invasion of the candidate's right to privacy.

Questions relating to previous job positions are generally reasonable. However, questions about pregnancy, illness, religion and membership in a union are usually unreasonable and will therefore be unlawful. It is only permissible to ask about these matters in rare circumstances (for example, if a pregnant employee applies to work with highly toxic materials). If an unlawful question is asked or submitted, the candidate can lawfully lie (Recht zur Lüge) and the employer cannot raise any claim against the employee for lying.

Pregnancy, illness, and religion are all common reasons for people to avoid alcohol. For this reason it's very unwise to probe for information on why somebody doesn't want to drink.

Unfortunately, a lot of interviewers simply aren't trained on how to run an interview, especially if HR has just borrowed somebody from the technical side of the organisation. It might be a deliberate test, but it also might be somebody who simply isn't familiar with the concept of "doesn't like alcohol" and hasn't learnt how to handle that.

Either way, if it is a large organisation, it probably has HR staff who understand legal obligations and would be concerned if one of their interviewers is probing for this sort of information. Your friend might consider giving feedback to the organisation's recruitment section, especially if this interviewer was not from recruitment.

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I don't think it was a "pregnancy test". They have enough time in the 6 months probation period to pretty accurately determine if someone's pregnant. I would just blame it on the special relation people have with alcohol (and chocolate) here and a total lack of empathy, which speaks volumes about the recruiter. Please don't forget that in an interview, both sides can "blow it".

Also, I think he was looking to see if you have a belly, to see if you're maybe on a diet.

Which brings me to my suggestion, as per your question, for a more appropriate response. In these situations, my go-to response when someone is offering sweets is: ich mache Diät (I'm on a diet), which ends the conversation right then and there with no hard feelings

  • I don't feel that being on a diet is something I wan't to say in an interview. As a woman in IT it is hard enough to get respect, and I don't want to be the "skinny b*tch" that worries about her weight all the time. In addition, probation period is only 3 month in this case. – Pudora May 8 '18 at 8:36
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    "They have enough time in the 6 months probation period to pretty accurately determine if someone's pregnant." In Germany, that's not an official reason to terminate the probation period. – pmf May 8 '18 at 8:43
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    @Caroline Being on a diet could be for gaining weight, loosing weight or staying on the same weight you are on now (and other non-weight related reasons). So if someone is saying they follow a specific diet, this could work for everyone. I do agree though to only use this when you actually on a diet. – Jeroen May 8 '18 at 8:52
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    Actually, I would suggest not stating any reason at all for not eating sweets. A simple "no, thanks" should be enough - it's none of the interviewer's business why someone may not want to have sweets. – sleske May 8 '18 at 8:53
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    @sleske: Actually we have a law called Mutterschutz, that supersedes any Probation. Means mothers are protected from the moment the employer gains knowledge until 4 Month after birth. So you can take on a new job and, first order of business, inform your employer of your pregnancy and are immediately protected from termination. See here for example – Daniel May 14 '18 at 14:14
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This absolutely wasn't a test, they were just offering you chocolate. That is a lovely gesture, I wish I had been offered chocolate in my interviews.

I'm not sure why anyone thinks it would be a test - it doesn't make any sense. The pregnancy angle is only possible because OP started asking about alcohol. In this way, the OP has (potentially) invited the assumption on their own - they could have just as easily been offered a sandwich, or water.

I'm a little surprised by the assumptions drawn in the OP - in many cultures everyone drinks, and it is astonishing to not drink. Where I am now, very few people are vegetarian, and people are nonplussed* when they hear I am one. It is conceivable that the question "why wouldn't you drink" was simply asked out of surprise, and not to determine pregnancy. Recall that you can eat chocolate when you're pregnant, so offering it is not a great test of any current/upcoming pregnancy.

On to your - honestly, a little mind boggling - assumptions

Now I believe they had that chocolate thing as a kind of test, and it didn't just happen to be a small act of kindness. But I can not figure out what kind of test.

It was just chocolate. Chocolate is not a test.

Where they trying to figure out if I may be pregnant? Where they trying to see if I fit company culture about normal alcohol use?

No. No they were not. If they wanted to see if you were pregnant, one assumes they could offer you a wine, or perhaps ask you your plans for the next 3 years. This would be a much simpler test, and the former also more fun to execute - nobody should drink alone.

Chocolate is not a test. Though conclusions can be drawn from a chocolate test, they are not solid conclusions.

If you want an example of how a reaction to an impossibly small detail can be used to draw nebulous conclusions - Your reaction to being offered chocolate tells me a great deal about you. I now know that you are always over-thinking things, that you don't ever accept that you can be wrong, and that you don't understand how to interact with people. You are also probably an alien from mars. Also, stop wearing crop-tops to interviews, it will only invite stares at your belly.

I have the feeling I reacted very immature, how could I have responded better?

I'm not sure how this question actually fits with the assumptions you draw immediately above it, but: Next time you're offered something instead of asking if it has meat or chocolate or alcohol or whatever, just say "no". Or, alternatively, just say "yes" and eat it. Please don't be That Person who makes a big deal of every gift/offer they get.

  • This is the right use of nonplussed!
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    "Also, stop wearing crop-tops to interviews, it will only invite stares at your belly." Wow, that is just rude. – Pudora May 17 '18 at 9:49
  • @Pudora it's tongue-in-cheek, the entire paragraph is. In that paragraph I detail how assumptions can be made on small facts that are likely to be highly erroneous. As such, your assumption that "chocolate is a test" is flawed, because while you can make assumptions from it, they are likely to be highly erroneous. – bharal May 17 '18 at 16:34

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