should you accept an alcoholic drink during a job interview?

A reader writes:

I’m employed at a university in the deep South. I recently attended an orientation session for students nearing the end of their schooling. One of the speakers at the orientation was from the career center, and she was promoting their services, which includes interview prep. As an example of what they can teach students, she asked the students if they knew what to do if they were offered an alcoholic drink during an interview dinner when everyone else is having one. “The answer,” she said, “is NEVER, EVER take a drink! You NEVER drink during an interview!”

I immediately thought, “Whoops.” I know you’ve addressed what to do if you don’t want to drink at an interview, but is it acceptable to have a drink with dinner if everyone else is having one and they offer you one? It seems like a collegial thing to do, if you want to and you’re of age. What do you think?

The speaker probably overstated the case a bit, but yeah, basically I agree with her — don’t drink alcohol during a job interview. 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.

If you’re at a group dinner where everyone else is having a drink and you fear you’ll seem judgy if you don’t order one too, then I suppose you could order one glass of wine and nurse it all night … although I’d strongly recommend that you also get a glass of water as well, and mainly drink that.

If you’re not convinced, there’s also this: Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania did a study that found that job candidates who drank alcoholic beverages during an interview were perceived as less intelligent and less hireable than those who didn’t, even when the interviewer ordered an alcoholic drink first — and even if the interviewer ordered the drink for the candidate.

So I’d avoid the alcohol. Let an iced tea or soda be your friend.

Anyone disagree and want to argue for drinking during an interview?

{ 140 comments… read them below }

  1. KT

    Completely agree with Alison. It’s not a good idea. Who hasn’t had a glass of wine go to their head? And one drink easily leads to two, and then who knows what will come out of your mouth? This probably goes double for recent grads (I’m assuming this is who your career center is helping), who are already inexperienced at interviewing, and probably already really nervous.

  2. D

    I agree that you don’t want to drink more than one, but it is shocking to me that there’s a bias against someone who orders a wine at dinner when the boss orders one first. I never would have guessed this.

    Although I’d probably order tea after reading this, my strategy before would have been to order 1 glass of wine and nurse it all night, with lots of water between sips.

    1. Anonymous

      Ah, but it’s not your boss that you’re drinking with. It’s your hiring manager – huge difference. If you get the job, then he’s your boss, and you can go have drinks with him as much as you like for all anyone cares.

      It’s more like the why-do-I-dress-up-for-an-interview question. It’s an interview, and you’re supposed to be better-behaved and more presentable than normal. Drinking impairs your judgement, so it probably won’t help you land the job. It probably won’t matter nearly as much when you actually have the job.

  3. Sophie

    Also eat something, even if just some bread. Get some food in the stomach. Or fake-sip. Make it look like you’re drinking…

    I would generally advise against having a drink, even something light, at an interview, for the exact reasons Alison stated. I might bend the rule depending on the culture of the place and the drinks involved. One of my friends works in Boulder, CO and his coworkers often go to a microbrewery while on the clock – so if I was interview in Boulder and we met at a brewery, then sure, I’d get a beer and take tiny sips. But say I interviewed at a bar and was offered some hard liquor? I would fake-sip. I can handle beer WAY better than hard liquor or wine.

  4. Anonymous

    I suspect that most hiring managers who deliberately give job candidates an opportunity to drink alcohol don’t consciously care whether you drink. They may certainly form subconscious opinions about you from it, and drinking will certainly impact your judgement.

    At a career panel for students that I attended, one of the hiring managers who had come to speak with us brought this subject up. He said he deliberately tries to get job candidates to drink a bit during the interview so he can get more information out of them. To that end, he usually holds lunch interviews at a restaurant that serves alcohol. In such a situation, I’d say that it’s in the candidate’s best interest not to drink and potentially reveal something they wouldn’t otherwise mention.

    A different hiring manager once told me that he never hires anyone who won’t have a drink with him. That seemed very unusual – crazy, honestly – but those people are out there. He is much more concerned with having a good time than getting work done, generally.

    I don’t drink alcohol normally, so I certainly don’t do so in interviews. I always have a polite response ready if asked about it so that I don’t sound judge-y but I don’t get follow-up questions, but no one’s ever asked.

    1. starts & ends with A

      Wow, at lunch time? My favorite non-drinking response is “I have to go for a run later.” Which is what I would say if an employer offered me a drink during a lunch interview (I hope). Does he hope that they will order it or does he go first?

  5. Anonymous

    I probably would not, unless it was a fit for the company culture. Not that I ever drank on an interview/on the job because I was a younger recent grad, but the CEO and CFO of the company I used to work at used to drink wine at meetings. We had company happy hour provided by the company once a week. The Director of Sales typically recruited his new hires at a nearby bar during happy hour, so I’m certain their first interviews occurred over a beer.

    1. Anonymous

      Well, that could be a job-demonstration of sorts. :D The Sales people will probably find themselves trying to sell to their clients over drinks, and if they can’t conduct themselves well, then they probably aren’t a good fit.

      1. Revanche

        Definitely, actually! I know Sales recruiters who pitched their recruits at one location and invited them to meet at the bar for further questions. The bar was the real recruitment location, and the recruits who were able to manage intelligent conversations while drinking were the viable candidates because that’s the sought after on the job skill!

    2. Vicki

      I worked at a company where the CEO had installed a bottle opener under the conference table. They had a Company Beer Bash every Friday.

      They also bought their Employee Handbook from a company that writes generic handbooks and never edited out the section that said “Alcoholic beverages are prohibited on company property.”

  6. Andy Lester

    you fear you’ll seem judgy if you don’t order one too

    Those of us who don’t drink alcohol at all, whether by choice or by necessity, have to deal with this all the time. The only way that not drinking is “judgy” is if the person not drinking makes it so. There’s nothing at all “judgy” about ordering a Coke. If someone challenges you on it, A) it’s that person’s problem, not yours, and B) all you need to say is “Thanks, this Coke is just fine.”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that it’s reasonable for anyone to think you’re being judgy by not having a drink. It’s not reasonable — but if it’s a concern and you do feel comfortable ordering a drink, nursing a glass of wine is an option. (As is ordering a soda!)

    2. Your Mileage May Vary

      And, since I don’t drink, I’d rather know right then in the interview if they are the kind of employer who was going to harass me over that choice.

    3. Knight who said Nee

      I don’t drink, either. However, most Americans do. If someone finds out that you don’t drink, ever, they will make assumptions about you, and those assumptions will not be flattering. In a job interview situation, I would studiously avoid saying anything like, “I don’t drink alcohol.” Instead, I’d make it appear that I don’t want alcohol right now. Let them find out later that you don’t drink alcohol ever.

      In my experience, most people who find out I don’t drink assume it’s for religious reasons, and they assume that I think they’re going to hell for drinking. It doesn’t matter what I actually say or do, they just come up with this narrative and assume that I’m judging them.

      Another comment I’ve gotten on rare occasion is, “Are you pregnant/ trying to get pregnant?” That’s also not something I’d want going through a potential employer’s mind.

      Usually I get the best response from claiming to be an alcoholic. Also not something you want a job interviewer to think. It’s the best excuse I’ve come up with in social situations, though, because only the most horrible person will turn around and try to pressure an alcoholic to take a drink. Surprisingly, no one has ever avoided me after I’ve claimed to be an alcoholic.

      The other socially accepted answer is “medical reasons” but that tends to lead back to assumptions of pregnancy. You can claim it conflicts with a medication you’re taking, or that you can’t drink for health reasons. This often leads to follow-up questions, though.

      The real reason that I, personally, don’t drink is because both of my parents are alcoholics. That, however, is the least socially acceptable thing to say in any situation, and it often results in people pressuring me to drink to “prove” that alcohol is okay, it’s just my parents that were bad.

      1. fposte

        While I agree that you don’t want to describe reasons why you’re not having a drink, you’re describing a level of scrutiny on the matter that I’ve not experienced (and I’m not a drinker either). So while it might be that unpleasant in your industry or region, it’s fortunately not so invasive everywhere.

      2. The Bookworm

        My usual (and honest) reason for not drinking – sinus/allergy medication.

        Since I live in an area where many people have allergies – not drinking alcohol has never been an issue.

      3. Erin

        My friend’s mother says “I don’t drink my calories” and that was enough to guilt me into not drinking for awhile. So there’s another response for not drinking if you’re looking for one.

      4. Vicki

        “I don’t drink before 5pm”
        “I don’t drink alcohol at lunch”
        “I’m on duty”
        “Thanks, I prefer to keep a clear head”
        “I’ve never liked the taste of beer”
        “Wine gives me a stomach ache”
        “I think tequila tastes like lighter fluid”

        and the classic

        “No thank you, none for me”

  7. Danni

    This seems weird to me! I probably wouldn’t order a drink just because I know that when I am nervous/emotional in any way that it’s just for the best. However, don’t you always say that interviewing should be a 2 way thing? What would you say to someone who said that they judged their hiring manager for drinking during an interview? It it is normal/acceptable for them, I guess I don’t see why it’s so different for the employee. I generally agree, and wouldn’t personally do it, but that doesn’t mean everyone is a nervous/tipsy chatterbox!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If an interviewer were the one asking for advice, I’d tell them not to drink too — you don’t want your judgment in any way compromised when you’re assessing potential hires. And if I were being interviewed by someone who was drinking, I’d wonder why they didn’t take it seriously enough to want to be totally sober.

  8. ooloncoluphid

    I’d just like to say that the attitude toward alcohol in this country is absurd. We are way too uptight about way too many things.

    If your interviewer suggests that you have a drink, have one if you want one. I would leave it at one though.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Do you feel that way because you don’t feel your judgment is compromised at all when you drink, or because you don’t think it’s a big deal if it is?

      1. Anonymous

        Not the above poster, but I feel that if society deems it safe to operate a multi-ton hunk of metal (i.e. a car) after a beer, then interviewing over a beer is certainly not a big deal.

        1. Anonymous

          Also, my judgment is also compromised when I’m tired, stressed, or irritated. While an argument can be made that you shouldn’t impair yourself more, I can respect that some people wouldn’t mind having a drink.

          1. Anonymous

            Not any of the above posters, but I wanted to weigh in on this. I don’t think it is as simple as drink or don’t drink. You shouldn’t have a drink if having a beer or a glass of wine will loosen your tongue or get you buzzed, however I don’t see a problem with having a drink if your have eaten and aren’t a light weight. One beer doesn;t really do anything to me if I have some food in my stomach.

            I also think there are some situations where you should definetly have a drink. If you are interviewing for a job in a field that is an old boys club (i.e. finance and presumably some other fields) it will probably hurt you not to drink. I know some people who work in the field and it is ridiculous what they do and expect from you. Why we leave it to a bunch of frat boys to control our money I will never know.

        2. fposte

          To be clear, society doesn’t actually deem it safe; society just doesn’t give you statutory consequences until you drink more than that. You can actually get busted for DUI after a beer if your driving warrants it.

          1. Anonymous

            To be fair, you can also get busted if you’re driving hazardously, even if you’re completely sober.

            1. fposte

              Right, but that’s not DUI. You don’t have to be .08 to be found guilty of DUI–you just have to be judged to be impeded by the influence. .08 is just the statutory limit where you can’t argue the inebriation.

              So no, society hasn’t said it’s safe to drive after having a beer; they just have made it a case-by-case basis until you get to the statutory limit.

              1. Anonymous

                OK I see what you’re saying. My argument is that society said it’s unsafe to drive if you’re judgement is impaired, but unless you prove otherwise (e.g. drive erratically, cause an accident, etc), .08 is the commonly-accepted threshold for not being too impaired to drive (i.e. “safe to drive”, in general)

                I agree with the idea that it’s on a case-by-case basis. That’s why I agree with Anonymous at 2:01pm, in that interviewing is no different – it shouldn’t be a hard-and-fast rule.

      2. ooloncoluphid

        The only thing I’d lose after one beer would probably be my nervousness. My judgement would remain intact.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.

          I agree. I know for a fact that I’m a more pleasant person to be around after a glass of wine or two… not to say I’d have two at an interview, but I don’t view it differently than a networking event, where everyone is dressed up and meeting in a professional capacity, and drinking a drink or three is not uncommon or frowned upon at all.

          I think people should do what they are comfortable with. Me, I’m more comfortable with some in my tummy and some more in my hand. I’m much more “natural” and trip over my speech less, as well as letting go of some of my less useful introverted tendencies.

          And, I mean, if they’re paying… ;)

      3. Bowman

        The nature of the industry that I work in abroad – I would feel more nervous/uncomfortable not ordering a drink. For an interview, I wouldn’t want more than one – but I deeply suspect certain employers here would be turned off by not drinking.

        Not in a total ‘Mad Men’ way, but part of my current job requires going to events hosted by different embassy’s. In those environments it’s totally possible to nurse one drink all night long or drink soda water and not tell anyone it’s non-alcoholic – but to openly “not drink” is not considered good behavior.

        While they’re work/networking events – it is under the formal context of “having a good time”. So if during an interview process, it was a situation where the interviewer was drinking – I would interpret it almost as a ‘jobs skills test’. Instead of asking me “how do you behave at work parties/dinners?” – it would be similar to a writing test. When interviewing here and asking about ‘work culture’, I’ve been told “we work hard and we play hard”. So for my specific industry – being “professional” while intoxicated is a bit more par for the course than for others.

  9. Minous

    My standard line is “Oh, I’d love to, but I can’t because alcohol gives me terrible headaches. But please go ahead if you would like one”. I developed this line when a former director mentioned that she had always assumed that someone who didn’t have a social drink with dinner was an alcoholic. Someone who couldn’t stop drinking, once they started.

    I was at an interview once where it was common practice in this business to have dinner with the potential bosses and colleagues. This was so they could talk business in a less structured manner and watch how a potential employee responded. One time at an after interview dinner with the potential employers, one of bosses got so inebriated that it was just awful. A really terrible situation to be in. Not a person I ever wanted to see again, let alone work for.

    Often people who get drunk like that remember that you were sober and saw them at their worst. Not a good situation. Since then when I have to go to an after interview dinner, I make it short. I always “have” to go home or back to the hotel room for a good reason and I never have a drink.

    1. Anonymous

      OK, you are doing something I had to stop with my in-laws : Justifying someone else’s idea that you need a REASON not to drink!

      I used to have this every time I visited the in-laws for dinner or a meal out. They’d ask me if I was driving (or worse!) if I didn’t want wine or spirits with the food. I called a stop to it after an incident before a meal out one day: I had let him know I *could have* been pregnant but had to wait to be sure (I wasn’t) and he turned to me and said “oh, we will have to have a reason you aren’t drinking.. perhaps you should drive”.

      After that it became no excuses: Its my right to drink or not drink as long as I am not endangering others. I don’t have to justify that it “would give me a headache” or find a reason to leave. The words “I’d like a {drink of choice} please.” is enough for anyone!

      Your prior Director was wrong. If anything saying a reason not to drink gives a worse image than just not ordering one.

      If people remember that you were sober and saw them drunk it is their problem to deal with why they don’t like that – what exactly are they doing whilst drunk? If they need to think about who might remember the “evidence” then perhaps they need to have some discipline of their own.

      Umm…Sorry, I’ll put away the soapbox now!

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I totally agree with this … but I also understand how in a job interview situation, people may not want to get into all this and may just want an easy way to make it a non-issue. Now, that obviously raises issues about whether you want to work somewhere where it would even be a question, but in some situations, people just don’t want to deal with it, and I think it’s good to have a strategy for making it a non-issue if that’s the case.

        But that said, I completely agree with you, and especially when it comes to a context like in-laws!

    2. -X-

      “Oh, I’d love to, but I can’t because alcohol gives me terrible headaches. But please go ahead if you would like one”

      Don’t justify it. Just say “No, thank you.I’ll have a Coke/water/whatever.”

      That’s it. Ignore the bogus assumptions of your national director, and of drunks.

      “No, thank you” is the answer.

      1. Anna

        I was about to suggest the simple, unadorned “No, thank you” as well. If they press me about why not — and only if they ask — I might say that alcohol tends to make me drowsy. But otherwise, “No, thank you” it is.

      2. Esra

        Yea, a simple ‘No, thank you /smilesmile’ or ‘I’m good, thanks! /smilesmile’ should be fine. The smiling is key.

  10. Megan

    As a transplanted Midwesterner to a deep Southern university, I can relate to the weirdness about alcohol. It’s definitely a cultural thing – but it’s something job seekers in the area should probably be cognizant of. In my opinion, it would probably be best to err on the side of caution and order something non-alcoholic on a job interview there.

  11. Kristinyc

    This won’t work in NYC, but what about a simple, “No thank you. I drove here tonight.” ?

    Granted, this will make you look judgy/ “uncool” if everyone else has already ordered a drink, but I’d really question any employer who looks down on you for preferring not to drink and drive..

    1. Laurie

      [With a regretful expression] “Ahhh, I’ve got a long drive ahead of me. You guys go ahead!” If pressed, repeat and include more details of your ‘friend’ who lives 25+ miles away and needs a pickup/dropoff. I’ve seen this used and I’ve used it myself and it seems to work without coming across as ‘holier than thou’ or as unable to handle alcohol. ‘Course you can’t use it everytime.

      1. Andy Lester

        I can’t get behind this. It’s dishonest, because you’re implying to the interviewer that you normally do drink.

        Turning down a drink need not be a case of “holier than thou”. Just casually order a Coke or water or whatever and don’t make a big deal out of it. If you don’t make a big deal, they probably won’t either.

        1. -X-

          What about “No thanks, but my father was an alcoholic who drove a car off the road killing a bunch of cute puppies so I’d prefer not to. Plus I’m an ugly, loud drunk and just a sip or two will put me over the edge. And my liver is shot from all the cocaine I did when I was younger. But you go ahead and drink all you want. No, I’m not *judging* you. So let’s talk about job benefits.”

          How about that?

          1. jmkenrick

            This seems like an overreaction. I love wine, but I’m never offended if someone polietely declines it. And I don’t think they need to offer an explination.

            Andy clearly feels that he would rather just say no, rather than have to tell a white lie for the other person’s (perceived) benefit. I fail to see what’s so dramatic about that.

            @Andy – Laurie doesn’t actually say that she never drinks alcohol, she’s just sharing a useful way of getting out of it if you’d like. It’s entirely possible that someone might drink normally, but abstain for an evening, in which case I fail to see anything dishonest about that statement, so I’m not sure that accusation is fair.

        2. Knight who said Nee

          Do you want a job, or do you want to spread your beliefs about alcohol?

          Most of the US doesn’t agree with you. I do – I’ve never touched alcohol. I think not ordering alcohol should be a totally acceptable behavior and a non-issue.

          I’m also an atheist, and I think atheism should be considered a perfectly acceptable belief system. However, I am not going to test my luck with an employer by revealing that I am an atheist during a job interview. They might think I’m weird, evil, or judge-y.

          Similarly, I’m not going to mention that I never, ever drink alcohol to a job interviewer. I’ll dodge the actual drink under false pretenses, if necessary. I won’t go out of my way to explain myself for not drinking, but if asked I’ll tell a white lie. If asked to participate in grace at the same dinner, I’ll bow my head and be silent rather than discuss my religion. As long as I’m not taking up a job where drinking or praying is a normal job duty, I don’t feel that I’ve done anything wrong by misleading an interviewer on a minor social point that is none of their business.

          1. fposte

            Andy didn’t suggest spreading any beliefs, though; in fact, he suggested avoiding explanations entirely.

            I realize that there are different dynamics at play in different situations, but I think in general the shorter your response the better. If you think it’s important to suggest that you don’t eschew alcohol as a rule, you can just say “No, thanks, not right now” or “Not tonight.” I think there are more people who don’t really want to hear about your personal reasons than there are people who will judge you for not drinking at an interview.

          2. Andy Lester

            do you want to spread your beliefs about alcohol?

            I have no interest in “spreading my beliefs” about alcohol.

            My turning down an alcoholic drink is no more about spreading my beliefs than preferring the steak to the chicken is about spreading my beliefs about steak vs. chicken. When offered dessert, I can say “No, thanks” instead of “No, thanks, I have beliefs about tiramisu.”

            Much of the concern I see in these comments is the expectation that others will take my “No, thank you” poorly. So many comments are about lies you can tell to justify your actions, when if someone is really uptight about you not drinking that probably no excuse will suffice.

            The best justification there is is to not explain your reasons at all, because they don’t need to be explained. “No, thanks.” The end.

            1. Kristinyc

              “No thanks” should be enough, but it isn’t always. Some companies (tech startups, I’m looking at you…) have a culture where it’s expected that their employees enjoy alcohol (because the company likes to reward its employees with happy hours, or maybe because they like to present themselves as fun). I would think an interview that takes place over a meal would at least be partially about seeing if you’re a culture fit.

              The reason I suggested the “No thanks, I drove here” excuse because in a lot of people’s cases, it wouldn’t be a lie, and it would at least present you as a responsible person.

              Depending on the people you’re with, I would also think, “No thanks, I’m on a job interview!” with a big smile might be effective. That would at least show that you’re taking the interview seriously, but still leave it open that you might willingly partake in drinks at other company events if offered.

              1. Laurie

                @Kristinnyc, I like the “No thanks, I’m on a job interview!” with a big smile. Diffuses the tension so well.

              2. Andy Lester

                Some companies have a culture where it’s expected that their employees enjoy alcohol

                If that’s the case, then it’s all the more damaging to the process to pretend that you do if you don’t.

                If it’s a question of cultural fit, then the candidate does no one any favors by pretending to fit when he/she doesn’t.

                1. Kristinyc

                  I enjoy a good happy hour every now and then, but I wouldn’t want to have a drink during an interview. (And I usually don’t drink during meals anyway, but I live in a city where alcohol with meals usually means at least $10 a pop).

                  If you never ever drink (or have a personal policy not to drink around co-workers), and it was clear that this company values drinking, then of course – it may not be a culture fit, and that would be good information to know.

                  I would think seeing their reaction to, “No thanks” would be a pretty good indicator of how the company feels about alcohol.

              3. Kimberlee, Esq.

                “No thanks, I’m on a job interview!”

                I LOVE this response. Really, I think this should be the go-to for any non-interview-drinkers out there. It’s friendly and funny with just a hint of “I can’t believe you just offered me alcohol at a job interview!”

            2. Laurie

              Andy, I get where you’re coming from, but I stand by my initial response.

              I think it’s a friendly / diplomatic out (not an ‘excuse’) in situations where your co-workers might decide to imbibe while you are trying to get out of it without making them feel like they’re doing something wrong, or without being judged yourself.

              It differs by society and work culture, but the places where I have worked, going to happy hour and/or drinking with coworkers is normal. Being served light beer or white wine at a company-sponsored recruitment dinner is also not completely out of the norm.

              I’ve tried the blunt “No, thanks” and I always find that it is followed by an awkward moment where the person(s) I’m with don’t know how to respond precisely because ‘No, thanks’ is so completely devoid of details that they are wondering if they should make a joke, ignore what you said entirely, say something to make it okay for you to drink or feel bad for choosing to drink themselves.

              Instead, I prefer to give the conversation a direction to go in, without telling them my real reason (“I never drink and drive”), without going into a conversation about beliefs, without judging them and without caving in to the pressure to drink myself.

    2. Anonymous

      I personally believe a “no thank you” is all that’s required. Don’t offer excuses. Just say no and move on.

      1. Tater B.

        Agreed. I treat it the same way I do when I’m offered coffee or water before an interview. Coffee tends to irritate my stomach; even water does if I drink it on an empty stomach. I don’t get into all that, I just smile and say “no thank you.”

        Of course, it might be different if I were offered Moscato. It is the nectar of the gods. J/K

  12. KayDay

    How common is it for people to be served alcohol at an interview? I’ve never heard of anyone I know interviewing over dinner (lunch, yes, but it’s less common to drink over lunch during the workday). IMO, having a formal dinner with alcohol being served is setting up an bad/awkward situation.

    I was however surprised at the article about interviewers’ opinions. My general view towards business meals has been that if the boss orders a drink, it is okay to order a drink (and if the boss does not then I don’t). It would seem strange to me for a hiring manager to order a drink if they were conducting an interview at the time…I mean, they need to have sound judgement as well, don’t they?

    (p.s. the “drink” I am thinking of in this case is a glass of wine, not long island iced teas).

  13. ChristineH

    I’m surprised at how many posts I’ve seen here related to lunch/dinner interviews. Is it common in certain regions and/or industries? I’ve only had one lunch interview in my life, and that was at a soup kitchen 15+ years ago.

    Anyway…if I ever were in this situation, I would probably order a soda or just stick with water because knowing me, alcohol would most *definitely* compromise my interviewing! Some people can handle alcohol better than others, so if an interviewer was having one glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage, I’d probably be okay with that as long as he/she keeps it to a minimum and there are no obvious things that would make me question whether I’d want to work with him/her.

    1. LMW

      I thought so too until I was invited to an “informal lunch meeting” last week…after a phone screen and three in-person interview. I passed on the bloody Marys and had a coke instead. :)

    2. The IT Manager

      Is it common in certain regions and/or industries?

      I don’t know. I don’t think so. In fact, I thought that career center advisor was off base simply because college students would rarely encounter these types of interviews. CEOs and very high-level managers maybe not so uncommon, but I expect this to come up very, very rarely for entry level employees.

      Disclaimer: I have very limitted experience with interviewing.

      1. Lexy

        It’s fairly common in entry level accounting hiring. I understand it is usual in other financial services positions. I’ve heard of it in big law firms too.

      2. Laurie

        Yup, I’m in finance, and though I wouldn’t say every company does it, it’s normal to be asked to attend. Large firms (especially consulting firms with recruiting budgets) are known to want to wine-and-dine you before hiring you. This is usually after the first-level phone screen and on-campus interview, so at this point you are a decent but not sure contender for an offer.

        And yes, this is for entry-level positions, so there are several barely-21 year olds finding themselves in situations where one of the firm ‘partners’ is sitting on their table and having wine and everyone else at the table (candidates) is looking at each other to gauge the protocol.

    3. Knight who said Nee

      It is extremely common in academia. I would be shocked to go to an academic interview that was less than 12 hours long. They usually include at least one lunch and one dinner with your interviewers or some subset of potential co-workers. The dinner always happens at a “nice” restaurant, which means alcohol is served.

      1. Dr. Speakeasy

        Dinner is fairly common at academic interviews and I would say drinks are 50/50. I’ve heard back in the day interviews would often include a cocktail party.

        So – as noted last week, god forbid you deviate from the interview schedule but then go out and have drinks.

      2. Sparky629

        Lol. That’s because in academia we use any reason to break out the wine bottles. I can not count how many University events that I have been too that had wine/beer/spirits.

        The president’s address to the University, Holiday parties, recruitment events, congratulations you got the job lunches, and the list goes on.

        It’s still something I have to get used too.

      3. Rana

        Yep. It’s the reason that there’s usually a section on “safe foods to eat during an interview” in most guides to academic interviewing.

        I personally have never confronted the alcohol issue in an interview setting (I don’t like the taste of most alcohol and am a total lightweight who can nurse a single beer for an entire night, so I usually just order tea or something like it).

        Instead, what I find more frustrating is trying to get enough to eat! I’m a slow eater at the best of times, and even more so when I’m engaged in conversation, so when the dinner consists of people tag-teaming me with questions, it’s a miracle if I get to eat more than half my meal before everyone else is handing off their plates and asking for the coffee and check.

        1. another anonymous

          That’s why when I’m interviewing (in academia too) I bring a few snacks – small bags of nuts are good for the protein. That way I can snack a bit if I don’t get a chance to actually eat my meal.

  14. Joey

    Interesting. My SO’s staff regularly takes clients out for drinks. So hypothetically it could be relevant to test a candidate to see if they could keep it professional while still having a drink or two. So in that situation I could see where it would be advantageous to have a couple in an interview. And I’m sure clients may think its a little awkward to be taken out for drinks by someone who doesn’t drink.

    1. Really?

      That should be something that in my mind should be discussed properly with a candidate – not only because of the alcohol/socialising but the time of day its going to be happening.
      I’m not sure it indicates you should drink at an interview.

      (P.s – is it really that awkward to be sipping cokes if someone is drinking beers/spirits & mixers? Surely its more about the socialising and seeming to have fun/engaging with the client. I’d have more problems with an employee who engage during that time than exactly what they were drinking.)

      1. Joey

        Of course it should be discussed.

        But the whole turn down a drink thing usually makes others think of you as a party pooper. That’s a much bigger deal when it’s clients. Here’s the unspoken rules of taking clients out. You sip a few and be a good host while clients are allowed to get shit faced, act stupid, and embarrass themselves if they choose.

        1. fposte

          Yeah, I think sales/client entertaining is the big exception here. I doubt even there it’s universally true, but there are some old-school industries that are very cigars-and-Scotch about it all.

        2. Laurie

          “You sip a few and be a good host while clients are allowed to get shit faced, act stupid, and embarrass themselves if they choose” Yes! :)

        3. Rana

          This is when you slip aside to the bartender and ask them to make you a non-alcoholic version of a mixed drink!

    2. Bowman

      I’m in an industry where being in party/formal dinner settings is a big part of the job – and for some organizations openly not drinking would not be reflected well. However, for most the issue wouldn’t be drinking or not – but rather how you make the other person feel about not drinking.

      The job I have in my industry involves reading a bunch of different social situations – some that involve alcohol – but the important job skill is making the other people (interviewer/client/colleague) feel comfortable. Whether you’re a bad drunk or a stiff teetotaler, both would be determined bad qualities.

  15. Louis

    I guess it would depend on the job and industry. I can think of a few post where drinking a little during the interview would be OK (ex: sales rep for a beer company).

    But usually I would say it’s a no no.

  16. Elizabeth West

    I would never drink at a job interview, because I HAD TO DRIVE TO GET THERE. And I will have to drive to get home! What if I got pulled over for a taillight out and then got a DUI?

    1. Anonymous

      For one drink? Highly unlikely. Even if the cop could tell you had been drinking, you’re unlikely to register it on a breathalyzer, which mean he doesn’t have a leg to stand on in court. Also, most people aren’t significantly affected by one drink. (My limit if I’m driving is 1.5 slowly sipped drinks. Other people’s limits may vary, but generally 2 or less over more than an hour and you’ll be fine.)

      1. Kristinyc

        That happened to a friend of mine. She had had one drink, and she was driving a friend home from a large (admittedly alcohol centered) event. Cops were all over the place that night, and she ended up getting a DUI after ONE beer.

        I don’t drive at all anymore, but I’m a total lightweight when it comes to alcohol. One drink + light/no food = too much for people like me.

        1. fposte

          Right. Many people don’t realize that you don’t have to be .08 to be busted for DUI–that’s just the limit when they don’t have to prove anything about your driving.

  17. Anonymous

    The responses here have reminded me just how arbitrary the hiring process can be. If you don’t order a drink, you’re either professional, uptight/holier-than-thou, or a recovering alcoholic. If you do order it, you’re either “one of the gang,” a fall-down drunk, or at least unprofessional. All depending on how the hiring manager sees the world right that second. And the decision to drink or not apparently can trump experience, education, and personality.

    The fact that it could be a setup in either direction is just the cherry on top.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Well, hiring isn’t a science — there’s not a set of rules that works perfectly all the time. It’s humans dealing with other humans. It’s much better for your mental health to recognize that and even embrace it instead of being frustrated by it!

  18. Victoria

    I have actually consumed alcohol during a job interview, in one of the four interviews I had as a graduating college student (compsci major going into software development).

    In that case, there were 5 of us all flown in for 2 days of interviews with the company. It was interviews both mornings, and seeing the area / all the reasons we should move there and work for the company both afternoons. The second night, the group of us there interviewing, the head recruiter, and several company employees all went out – the head recruiter started things off by ordering several pitchers of margaritas to go with dinner, and then we went out to a bar drinking afterwards. I drank a reasonable amount, but not to the point where I would say anything stupid or be throwing up in the bathroom.

    I got a job offer from the company (I didn’t accept because I had an offer from another company for work I was more interested in). In that case, I think going out drinking showed that I would be a good fit for the company culture, where most of the employees socialized together outside of work. For the other (more traditional) job interviews, I didn’t consume any alcohol during the meals.

  19. KayDay

    I am still completely baffled that non-executives are being offered drinks at a dinterview (can I call it that?) but clearly I’m not interviewing at the cool places! However, just a humble thought for people who do: *puts snobby hat on* If you want to look professional at a nice restaurant, do not order a coke. Get water, or sparkling water, or iced tea, but not soda. Soda makes you burp and look unsophisticated. *takes snobby hat off*

    1. Knight who said Nee

      I think we should come up with a basis for judging people on these other drinks too.

      Sparkling water – Too snobby. Who do they think they are, the CEO? We need someone who knows their place and will work hard!

      Iced tea – Who drinks tea? Only effeminate euro-trash! (sorry, AAM!)

      Plain water – Miser! Cheapskate! Probably the kind of person who will steal office supplies so that they don’t have to spend their own money on pens.

      There, now we’ve got a way to disqualify any job candidate no matter what they drink. Someone else will have to come up with one for coffee, though.

      1. Laura L

        Ha!
        Although, if you’re describing iced tea drinkers as effeminate, that means women can get away with it. So, not really a negative. Also, don’t Southerners drink tea? I mean, they drink sweet tea, but it’s basically the same as iced tea, just with much more sugar.

        Also, I often order plain water because I’m cheap, but I always hope people will assume I’m on a diet.

        1. mh_76

          I’m reminded of a similar comment-string a few months back. The nutshell version is that someone said that Martinis were chick-drinks…the very same drinks that were, in movies, always dry and “shaken, not stirred”.

          1. Laura L

            That’s funny. I think people do tend to assume that cocktails are for women (unless they’re made with whiskey or something). Maybe they were confusing martinis with cosmos?

            1. mh_76

              it was an AAM post from a while ago & I don’t remember the details, just that martinis (including cosmos) were considered to be girly-drinks.

              1. Kimberlee, Esq.

                Weird! I think of a true martini as being super masculine. Most cocktails are female, sure, but a martini? It’s like a mixture of all the grossest alcohols with no sweetness. Totally un-girly.

                Iced tea on the other hand? I was with two guys at McDonalds once, and one of the dudes ordered an iced tea… he did not hear the end of it until well after we’d finished the meal and left the restaurant. I won’t repeat what was said.

                1. Jamie

                  A French martini is the ultimate girlie drink – my husband wouldn’t even take a sip of mine because we were in public and it was pink.

                  They soooo yummy – I rarely drink, but when I do…and I don’t even know what’s in them.

                2. mh_76

                  I confess that I’m not “up” on all of the various types of Martinis out there but a true Martini is what Kimberlee describes and 007 drinks. I wonder if a lot of the other drinks are thought of as martinis because they are served in the same type of glass?

        1. fposte

          “High maintenance and picky.”

          I prefer no ice, so maybe “Inflexible and unadventurous”? Gosh, this is like reading evil tea leaves.

      2. Job Seeker

        I love tea. I am a Southerner and yes, sweet tea is a favorite. I also sometimes ask for water too. I do not consider water being a cheapskate, I think it is just good for a change.

        1. Laura L

          Sweet tea is amazing! I didn’t try it until McDonald’s started offering it in their northern stores (I’m assuming they already had it in the south) and it is so great.

        2. Rana

          I adore sweet tea. (Or sweetea, as I usually hear it spoken.) I normally pour a ridiculous number of sugar packets into my regular tea as it is, so it’s great having it come pre-sweetened!

        1. A Bug!

          I think it probably would look pretty unsophisticated, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on why, exactly.

          1. Rana

            Childish, and/or likely to make people wonder if you have an ulcer.

            Unless it’s a warm milk steamer at a coffeeshop (yum!)

          2. Natalie

            I wonder if lactose intolerance plays a role. Lots of people begin to develop intolerance as adults, so it’s not a very common adult drink, whereas children usually drink quite a bit of it.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.

          Oooh, if I ever get a dinner interview somewhere, I’ll totally order a favorite – milk with ice – and see what happens. I’ve never NOT had someone make a comment about that being weird when I’ve ordered it.

          1. Jamie

            I just finished a glass of that. My family still comments on how weird it is and I’ve done it forever.

          2. Laura L

            I do think that’s weird, but mostly because I hate milk. :-)

            Although, it sounds an awful lot like an horchata and those are delicious. (Do horchatas have milk in them?)

  20. Charlotte

    I would add that in the recruiting industry, drinking is very common during work hours and after. It wouldn’t be unusual to drink in a job interview here (or any other work function for that matter.)

    Love the 2 posts today, Allison. Very thought-provoking.

  21. Chria

    For some reason the comments here make me feel a little strongly about this topic. I’m a student at a school with a… liberated attitude towards alcohol, but I don’t drink. There isn’t really a major reason so much as a few smaller reasons: my parents don’t drink, I don’t like the taste of alcohol, it’s expensive, etc. I’ve even been to bars and played drinking games where I had water when it was my turn. If anyone asks why I just say “I just don’t drink, I never really have” and no one really seems to care, or they interpret my response as a sign to stop asking, which is fine with me.

    Anyways, while I wouldn’t advise drinking at a job interview even if everyone else is, I find it a little concerning that people feel the need to justify themselves. Unless you employ some pretty deliberate body language or non-verbal cues, anyone who thinks your drink order is a message to them is entirely too self-absorbed. I’m tempted to say that anyone who is willing to either pass judgement (as in assuming you must be an alcoholic) or pry beyond socially acceptable limits (pregnancy is none of their concern) really doesn’t deserve to know anyways. Of course, in a job interview you don’t want to make an issue over something that potentially has no significance, but I would think that making an excuse when none is asked for is a bigger issue than just casually declining.

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing that differs from region to region, but pressure to drink, even in casual social situations, seems a lot like the behaviour of middle school girls than reasonable adults.

  22. AdAgencyChick

    I think if you have to ask, the answer is no, but in my industry (which I should mention is full of functioning alcoholics) I’ve definitely done interviews where having a drink is OK. In fact, I got my current job after interviewing over drinks at a bar (in order to protect my confidentiality, which had been breached when I interviewed at another company, I was paranoid and insisted on meeting my interviewers somewhere other than the office).

    But I would never have more than one, and that one drink SLOWLY, even in my alcohol-happy line of work!

  23. OP

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughts on my question.

    To those who asked, yes academia has very long interviews (mine had 5 meals). The dinner meal might be at the end of a long day of interviewing, demonstration presentations, etc. and may be formal (steaks) or informal (bar and grill). It’s easy to see how the hiring committee would want to have a beverage and interact with the candidate in a relaxed setting. After all, if you’re hired, you’ll be invited to work functions that include alcohol, even in the Bible Belt. I’m still not convinced that if all/most of the other diners are drinking, that you absolutely must say no. But I’m sure it’s a good idea to read the situation at hand and the local culture, as many have suggested.

    If anyone needs to interview in the South and wants to avoid drinking, just ask for “sweet tea” and make a fuss over how tasty it is. People are always proud to show off their regional specialty foods and beverages, and sweet tea totally counts as that anywhere from Texas to North Carolina. :)

    1. mh_76

      You more or less took the words right out…from under my fingertips!

      I’ve never had a meal-based interview but have scheduled day-long “meta-interviews” (to invent a word) in academia, complete with meals in the fac/staff dining room (no alcohol there) and sometimes dinner after the interview days. I also drink very very little, if at all.

      “I’m still not convinced that if all/most of the other diners are drinking, that you absolutely must say no. But I’m sure it’s a good idea to read the situation at hand and the local culture, as many have suggested.”

      Same here. Of course don’t be the only one having a glass of beer/wine/etc. but the same is generally true socially. If other diners are having a drink with a meal, it tells me that it’s probably OK for you to have one as well but definitely don’t have more than one drink and do know what your tolerance is if it’s less than a whole one. Some people won’t care (so long as you’re not intoxicated…buzzed couts as intox’d). Other people will read deeply into what, how, and how much you drink – which gives you the chance to showcase some traits that are also valuable in the workplace: judgment – just one drink and drink it slowly; concern for quality and budget /discerning but frugal – order something that is good quality but reasonably priced (leave the gross Bud Light to frat boys and save the tasty sauternes for a celebratory dessert); attention to detail – match your beer/wine with your choice of food; decisiveness – some of us know what types of beer/wine we like and what we feel like ordering at that time (sometimes regardless of what we’ll be eating…yes, I know, I made a few wine & beer sommeliers cry…sorry…).

      The summary: go with your gut. It’s OK to not drink for whatever reason you choose and is OK to be the only one -not- drinking (no need to apologize or explain in more words than “I’ll have the sweet tea”) but if you do choose to have a drink, have only one drink…something decent but not extravagant and beer/wine, not hard liquor.

      1. OP

        Yes! Great point! Use the choice of drink/food and your drinking/dining behavior to show how awesome you are. It’s an opportunity to seem gracious, classy, decisive, well-mannered, etc. This could be done with alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.

    2. Bowman

      I work in a heavy drinking culture – but I have to agree that there are definitely more fun non-alcoholic regional drinks that come with fuzzy sentiment. Here, it’s lemonade with mint (which also has the benefit of being primarily non-alcoholic but with the option of adding liquor to it). Ordering a lemonade with mint (here) seems like you’re enjoying a local treat where ordering a Coke appears as avoiding alcohol.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.

        I worked at a place in Idaho that served a favorite (presumably) regional drink called Scotch and Soda… which is not scotch and soda at all and is, in fact, Sprite or similar with vanilla and… I wanna say a lime slice? It was very odd, and I’d never heard of it, but we served it at a fast food place, and it was quite popular!

  24. Anon in the UK

    One of my colleagues started his accounting career in a private bank a good 30 years ago, maybe more.
    One of his pet anecdotes was the final recruitment stage, when the firm would give a drinks party. Since apparently there was a great deal of client entertaining involved in the role, it was a test of who could sip at a glass or two of wine all evening rather than thinking ‘hey, free booze!’, who would pick the canapes that could be eaten neatly and in one or two bites, who could converse politely and knowledgeably on topics of general but uncontroversial interest, and so on.

  25. bg217

    Right out of college I accepted a 3-day temp reception assignment in the NYC office of a British company. One of the head guys had flown in from England to hire a US assistant, heard I was looking for a job, and arranged for an interview with me. Right before the interview, the office was having “birthday drinks” and the big big boss INSISTED I have a beer at my desk. I was mortified but felt I had to accept (I was a tiny baby fresh out of college). Long story short, I had the beer, and I got the job. In the end it was totally appropriate because it went along with the culture of the company (read: British!) and the side effect was it alleviated my nerves. Definitely not recommended for everyone, but it worked for me. And prepared me for some boozy lunches that went with the territory in the future months.

  26. Tax Nerd

    Hrrrmmm. I would be okay with one drink (maximum!) as long as it’s outside of normal drinking hours, AND the host/interviewer ordered a drink first. In my field (public accounting), happy hours are often the reward given by management. Plus there’s an expectation of sales/ marketing as you climb the ranks, where drinking becomes more likely to occur, and they need to figure out if you’ll fit in. Part of what they’re screening for is that you (1) don’t make a fool of yourself in a professional situation, (2) don’t make others uncomfortable – either because you’re making a fool of yourself or because people perceive that you’re judging them if they drink.

    [Having ordered a drink in Utah at a New Year’s Eve dinner, let me tell you that is very possible to feel judged by someone who doesn’t say a word. But if their body stiffens and their eyes rake you up and down, they don’t need to say anything. (That waitress got a reduced tip for acting like asking for a Wallaby Darned at Outback Steakhouse was like asking for a puppy to be put in the blender so I could drink the blood.) ]

    Ordering one drink and nursing it was fine. Saying “No thanks” and staying relaxed about it was fine. Refusing, and seeming to imply “I’m not going to hell with you, you sinner!”… not so fine.

    Whether it’s “I want to keep my wits about me”, “Not during a job interview”, “Drinking makes me drowsy”, “I’m on antibiotics”, “I’m on the wagon (while training for a marathon)”, etc. are all fine if accompanied with a smile and a you-go-ahead demeanor. It let’s people know that you’re not drinking, but you’re NOT judging them, nor will you judge others in the future. “It’s not my thing” or “None for me”, if pressed. (Though if pressed, it’s probably a sign that there’s a potential fit issue.)

    I’m not a fan of saying “I’m driving tonight” as an excuse during an interview. If the interviewers drove, and ordered a drink, they may think that a glass of wine with a large dinner doesn’t preclude making it home without killing a bus full of nuns. I would definitely add “It’s a long way home” or “I’m a bit of a lightweight”.

    1. Laurie

      “That waitress got a reduced tip for acting like asking for a Wallaby Darned at Outback Steakhouse was like asking for a puppy to be put in the blender so I could drink the blood.”… Hahaha.

  27. mimimi

    I think the career center advisor’s response was a good one. Especially if the advisees are college students, manyof whom have poor judgment re: job hunting AND re: alcohol.

    An excuse I have used for not oredering a drink is that I just took a Benadryl for my allergies. It helps that it is true! And it is a “medical” reason without being too “OMG ARE YOU SICK??!?!?” But I probably wouldn’t even use that in a job interview, I would just order a soda.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yeah, that’s kind of my thinking about college students too. The ones who have nuanced judgment about alcohol probably don’t need the advice, and the ones who don’t probably are better off with a blanket rule.

  28. Tel

    Don’t drink! Unless you are in Japan. In this case, boy you’ll *have* to drink. In fact, expect to be dragged to drinking parties every week with your co-workers. Oi.

    Unrelated: I had a boss who would always drink too much at functions. She ended making a fool of herself every time (dancing in the lobby of a hotel, saying rude things, etc). One time she made fun of me because I wouldn’t drink at a function. I told her “I never drink alcohol at work functions” and left it at that. She didn’t bother me again. I didn’t think the extra explanation of “because I might behave like an idiot, as you do when you have too many glasses of wine” was best kept to myself.

  29. Tel

    Also, regarding booze s with other things, thing change with time. People told me the story of the director in the 60s who kept a bottle of whiskey at his desk. Of course, that was the same director who pinched the buttocks of the female director of a fellow organization and who had all administrative assistants wear matching pink suits to a function.

  30. Steph

    I recently had a day-long interview, which consisted of a tour of several departments and meeting the people in each, then a lunch with three people currently with the company, then the formal sit down interview with the committee, then more touring but less meeting of people and then the finale of the 5 PM happy hour with beers and wines and a donation box that usually happens on their patio each Friday for whoever wants to partake. I knew about the happy hour going into it. I had one beer that I nursed. I’m not a lightweight, but I was exhausted and figured I would be at that point. Still, it was a nice, relaxing way to interact with the staff. I was offered the job.

  31. Alex Beamish

    I once had a job interview over lunch with two guys, and they both ordered a beer, leaving me to order ginger ale or something. The interview process didn’t go any further, and after that I decided, if my interviewer orders a beer, I should feel free to do the same.

    Furthermore, I think in Europe it’s much more common to have a drink together as part of the ‘getting to know you’ process. Sitting in a room and drinking coffee can be a little stale.

  32. Nanani

    Just do what you’re comfortable with. If you’re worried about it, it’s probably best to stay on the safe side and decline.
    As many others have stated, any employer that will judge you on what you do or don’t drink over the substance of your interview is probably representing a toxic culture anyway.

    @Ted
    “Don’t drink! Unless you are in Japan. In this case, boy you’ll *have* to drink. In fact, expect to be dragged to drinking parties every week with your co-workers. Oi.”

    Uh, no. You can say no to drinks, or just order something non-alcoholic, just as easily in Japan as anywhere else. Kindly don’t stereotype an entire nation on your own experience.

    -non-drinker employed there for half a decade

  33. anon-2

    Once upon a time, I interviewed with a company — the manager took me to a roadhouse.

    He ordered a beer with lunch, so I did too – and nursed it.

    On the other hand, during the session, he had around FOUR beers — I had less than half of a beer. I had to drive him and his vehicle back to the facility…. they never offered me a position but I had another job offer, so , I guess it worked out.

  34. Kelley

    I had a interview once at a brewery, the interviewer was pretty insistent that I try a few small beer samples. In this scenario, I think it is pretty acceptable.

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