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Smart job seekers skip Mad Men martinis

U. MICHIGAN/U. PENNSYLVANIA (US)—Drinking alcohol during a lunch or dinner job interview—even when the boss does—could lower the likelihood of getting hired, according to a new study.

“Alcohol consumption plays a prominent role in many professional interactions, including job interviews, negotiations, and informal meetings,” says Scott Rick, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan.

“By introducing alcohol, managers can create a relaxed atmosphere that facilitates information exchange and relationship development.

“But merely holding an alcoholic beverage may reduce the perceived intelligence of the person holding it, in the absence of any actual reduction in cognitive performance—a mistake we term the imbibing idiot bias.”

Rick and colleague Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a series of six experiments with more than 1,700 people to measure how consuming or merely holding an alcoholic beverage influences the perceived intelligence of the person drinking the glass of wine or beer.

Job candidates who ordered alcohol in simulated interviews were perceived as less intelligent and less hireable—though no less likeable, honest, or genuine—than those who did not, regardless of whether the boss ordered an alcoholic beverage first.

Moreover, even if the boss ordered the drink for the job candidate (i.e., the candidate did not choose to drink), the result was the same, indicating that the bias does not reflect a belief that less intelligent people are more likely to consume alcohol, but rather an implicit association between alcohol and cognitive impairment.

“A job candidate may choose to order an alcoholic beverage because the prospective boss ordered one first,” Rick says. “Although conformity is an ingratiation tactic that is commonly effective, the imbibing idiot bias suggests that following the boss’ lead may backfire when alcohol is involved.”

But Rick and Schweitzer say that people often fail to anticipate the bias. In one of their experiments, they found that 26 percent of participants ordered an alcoholic beverage even when the boss’ drink choice was unknown, while 72 percent ordered a glass of wine or beer if the boss ordered one first.

“Prescriptively, our results suggest that people attempting to manage impressions of intelligence should exercise caution when deciding whether or not to consume alcohol,” Rick says.

“Though we focused on job candidates, our results suggest that many individuals seeking to manage impressions (e.g., sales representatives, potential business partners, aspiring politicians) may make mistakes when choosing whether or not to consume alcohol.”

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