Drinking and informal job interviews don’t mix

“Mad Men” aside, drinking on
the job is most always a no-no — and so is drinking on the job interview —
whether the prospective boss has an alcoholic beverage or not, a study by two
U.S. researchers finds.

Scott I. Rick of the University of
Michigan and Maurice E. Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania found job
candidates who ordered a drink during informal interview dinners suffered from
the perception they were not very bright — call it the
“imbibing-idiot” bias.

“You shouldn’t drink in these informal
settings. Even if it doesn’t impair cognition, it makes you look stupid,”
Rick said.

The researchers used a group of
graduate business students and three scenarios: one in which the would-be boss
ordered a glass of wine, the second in which a soft drink was ordered and a
third in which the beverage choice was kept secret.

Three-quarters of interviewees ordered
wine if the “boss” did so first while only 25 percent ordered it on
their own if the choice was kept secret.

“Most people have this thing that
they go along with the boss. That kind of ingratiation can work but when it
comes to alcohol, it backfires,” Rick said.

Transcripts of the mock job interviews
and photos were shown to 610 real middle managers. Rick and Schweitzer found
the managers were significantly less likely to hire a candidate who ordered
wine before dinner than soda even if the interviewer ordered a drink first and
though it said little about the candidate’s ability to do the job. Candidates
who ordered wine even though the interviewer ordered soda received the harshest

In an experiment in which graduate
students thought they were helping undergrads get interview experience, the
graduate students, who were all drinking beer, considered candidates to be
significantly less worthy of hiring if they appeared to be drinking beer than
if they were drinking soda even though the answers of both groups were the

In another experiment, the researchers
asked 176 adults to rate six print ads — either all alcohol-related or all non-alcohol-related.
They were then asked to look at a picture of a young man and asked for a gut
reaction in terms of intelligence and likability. The result: Those who had
viewed the alcohol-related ads rated the subject less intelligent but not less

“Most people aren’t getting
trashed at an informal job interview,” Rich said. “But there are
stereotypes between alcohol and diminished cognitive ability — two notions
that have been associated for a long time. It’s the perception: We see what we
expect to see. When we see alcohol, it primes the associated concepts. … Even
if the candidate is quite eloquent, we expect stupidity.”

Rich and Schweitzer submitted their
study, “The Imbibing-Idiot Bias: Merely Holding an Alcoholic Beverage Can
Be Hazardous to Your (Perceived) Intelligence,” to the Academy of
Management annual meeting in Montreal earlier this month.