Job Front: Opinions overflow in debate on dinner-interview drinking

Published: Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 - 6:56 am

Good news. You've made it to the dinner interview with the company's boss.

Want to make sure that good news doesn't become a Dear John letter? Think twice about the wine list.

Making the rounds is a new academic study by researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania that links a job candidate's beverage choice to perceived intelligence and hireability.

Scott Rick of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and Maurice Schweitzer at Penn's Wharton School of Business call the perception "imbibing idiot bias."

The study, "The Imbibing Idiot Bias: Consuming Alcohol Can Be Hazardous to Your (Perceived) Intelligence," will soon appear in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

The conclusion: Job candidates who ordered wine during dinner interviews were seen by prospective employers as less bright and not as hireable as those who chose a soft drink with their meal.

But Rick's research showed job candidates often thought the opposite.

From the study: "Prospective candidates believe that ordering wine rather than soda will help them appear more intelligent."

To drink or not to drink is the question, and employment experts weighed in on both sides of the issue. Those in the dry camp say perceptions – right or wrong – matter too much, that the risks are too great to chance a drink.

"We always recommend candidates take the nonalcoholic choice. It's such a black-and-white issue for us," said Jess Bushey, market director at Roth Staffing Companies in Sacramento. "Too much can go wrong and too little can go right."

But others say the issue is not so clear-cut.

Nia Mujadadi, a human resource manager at Google and a member of a Society for Human Resource Management task force, said a candidate should feel comfortable following the interviewer's lead.

"If an employer orders, so can a candidate," Mujadadi said.

"At the end of the day, it depends on the culture" of the company," she continued. "I actually don't think this should be a topic where a candidate should be evaluated."

Terri Carpenter of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency said job candidates should steer clear of the strong stuff.

"Perception is the most important thing to remember – it has nothing to do with intelligence," Carpenter said. "You're there to be professional. You don't want alcohol to affect your game. I would stay away from it. That's just good common sense."

Carpenter may be right, but Marcie Kirk-Holland, a project manager at the Internship and Career Center at the University of California, Davis, said candidates can read the room and decide for themselves what's appropriate.

"If you don't drink, don't drink," she said.

If the interviewer orders a glass and you feel comfortable joining in, "Order one drink and a glass of water, and don't drink very much," she said. "It's like eating at an interview. You're not there to drink, you're there to interview."

Let us hear from you

Is your company hiring? Is your organization hosting a career fair? Is your campus rolling out a job skills program?

Contact Job Front at dvsmith@sacbee.com.

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