Consumer Corner: Drinking and informal job interviews don't mix

By MARCELLA S. KREITER  |  Aug. 29, 2010 at 4:30 AM
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CHICAGO, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- "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 criticism.

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 same.

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 likable.

"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.

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