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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Never Bring Coffee On An Interview

I know that many of you will think I am nuts after reading this post. But bringing coffee on an interview is a no-no.

It is one of those pet peeves. We all have them - your nice neighbor who leaves their kid’s tricycle in the middle of the hallway for you to trip over or the cab driver who is talking on his cell phone, and you think he is talking to you or, as one executive told me, the person who sends you an email thank you note and uses email abbreviations like u instead of you. These things shouldn’t bother you, but they do. Well, that is the way I feel about bringing coffee on an interview.

People bring coffee or soda  into my office almost every day. In New York, Chicago and most other major cities, Starbucks and other coffee vendors, are so ubiquitous that buying coffee in the morning is a given. It is so automatic that we don’t even remember that it is in our hand as we go up on the elevator as we go to work. And when we go on interviews we think nothing of bringing coffee with us.

But it is wrong. And I am not the only one to think so.

A few years ago, the recruiter at one of the major agencies agreed to see a candidate of mine at 8:15am. My candidate was an excellent prospect for the agency and the account she was interviewing for. When the interview was over, my client called me and told me she wasn’t passing my candidate on because she brought coffee on the interview. The HR manager thought she was rude for bringing it.  If the candidate had brought an extra cup for the interviewer or had called to offer to bring coffee, it would have been ok, but she didn’t. The corporate recruiter told me that about half the people who came to see her first thing in the morning brought their own coffee and she was tired of it.

I feel the same way.

I wouldn’t bring coffee or soda to your house. Please don’t bring it to mine. None of us would go to someone’s home to visit carrying a cup of coffee or a soda. We might if we called first, but going to an office is somehow different. A coffee cup or soda can has become so much a part of work “attire” that we don’t think twice about it. If you are on an interview, drink your coffee or soda before you go, simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it is a recruiter like me or a corporate human resources person or a senior executive. Or even a client.

I once took my staff to make a sales call on a client agency. When we arrived the client offered us fresh brewed bean coffee and commented (without my prompting) that he hated it when people came to see him and brought soda or coffee with them.

Am I being petty? Maybe. But if bringing coffee has a five or ten percent chance of turning someone off, why take that risk? You are supposed to be on your best behavior for an interview or a sales call – nothing should be taken for granted. If only a small percentage of the people interviewing you would be offended, why risk blowing a good job over those odds?

Besides, I always offer all my guests great fresh brewed espresso or coffee.

If you are going on an interview and they don’t offer you something to drink, suck it up for half an hour and have some when you leave.

What do you think?

27 comments:

  1. I get it and there was recently an article published that said never to drink during an interview (or business meeting) because those that did are well over 20% less likely to get the business...

    I take it this way - no one has perfect manors why risk doing something wrong infront of the new job - so I'll just say no thank you to any offer of food usually!

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  2. I completely agree. And believe it or not, one of my neighbors DOES bring a giant cup of Starbucks with her when she stops by for a playdate. And it BUGS me.

    Like you, I prefer to offer a beverage...that's why I purchased a Nespresso machine in the first place.

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  3. What??? Here's a better idea. Try to evaluate candidates on how well they might do the job and don't eliminate them for petty made-up reasons like this. There's few enough talented people out there as it is.

    Besides, I just don't get this. You wouldn't find it rude if they showed up with coffee on a workday. Bringing coffee into office buildings is a completely commonplace and socially acceptable behavior. Many offices have a Starbucks IN THE BUILDING.

    Actually, go ahead and eliminate talented people from consideration based on this, so I can hire them.

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  4. I agree. I wouldn't walk in unless I had some for the person interviewing me. Still, I'd refrain because it is simply cleaner and easier not to.

    I don't want to worry about whether they don't drink coffee or what they want in it. I don't want to worry about whether they think it was nice or disingenuous on my part.

    Why add any potential confusion to the situation.

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  5. Dear Anonymous: As a recruiter, if I eliminated all the candidates who brought coffee I would truly limit the number of placements I made. That said, you don't get the point. The point is that this behaviour could be indicative of 1) lack of consideration for others; 2) lack of manners 3) lack of ability to determine how others might react to this behavior. All of these things is, indeed, indicative of how someone might perform in their job. After all, account people have to think about these things. I can only assume that you are one of those people who would bring coffee.

    Based on the number of people who have responded directly to me by emailing or Facebook commenting, I am delighted to see that most people agree with me. It is the details that count on an interview.

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  6. Amen. It's so... "I'm just passing through" or "I couldn't be bothered to get up early enough to have breakfast before I got here." It's one more thing to juggle and potentially spill on yourself, too.

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  7. I'd be too freaked out about my breath, to tell the truth. But it honestly wouldn't occur to me that bringing coffee was even an *option*. Maybe I'm just too old....

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  8. I agree with you.

    I think you should be prepared for an interview before the interview. That includes having your morning Joe.

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  9. It would seem weird to me if an interviewee brought a drink. This would bug me less than the person who chews gum during a job interview. I saw this recently, and all three of the interviewers were horrified.

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  10. By the way, many interviewees do not consider a recruiter to be a "real" interview. I hear this a lot.

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  11. I agree...the details count...but they count as much for the interviewer as they do the person being interviewed. I have been to several first meetings in my past where the recruiter/HR rep did not offer a beverage. Maybe it's because I'm from the south, but I always offer a beverage, regardless of time of day...it's just good manners, and if you want to recruit the best of the best, yes, they have to impress you, but you have to impress them as well.

    On not bringing beverages to friends houses...I think that's ridiculous. My friends come into my house with drinks all the time, and I do the same at theirs...I think that opinion is a little uptight for my taste.

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  12. I'm guessing a pulled pork sandwich is probably out of the question???

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  13. You're right, this isn't the kind of thing we often think about in this age of fewer boundaries and etiquette norms. It's good that we have you to remind us that not all potential employers welcome a BYO policy.

    Besides, it's a slippery slope; first coffee, then a mini muffin...next thing you know you're unwrapping a McGriddle Sandwich and putting your feet up on the desk.

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  14. So I suppose bringing a beer or a bottle of Jack Daniels in a paper bag is out of the question?!!!!!!!!!!

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  15. I agree. For morning sales calls or any type of appointment, including interviews, I usually ask my host if I can bring them some coffee and if they decline, I bring nothing. Many offer me coffe when I get there and I usually respond, "only if you're having it."

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  16. Anonymous here again. I'm the ECD at an agency and I interview people and make hiring decisions across departments on a regular basis.

    The thing I don't get is this. Say at 9 a.m. you show up at my office to interview for an AD job, with a latte you bought downstairs, and I'm really turned off by that read all sorts of negative things about you into it. Then at 9:30, someone on my team comes into my office holding a latte they bought downstairs and I don't think twice about it. Then at 10:15 I go downstairs and come back up for a 10:30 client meeting that the CEO is at holding a latte and nobody thinks twice about it. Then at 11:30 I interview someone else who is holding a latte and get really offended. Then we get in a car to drive to another client meeting in NJ and stop at Starbucks on the way, etc.

    I guess the point is that holding a coffee cup in your hand is a such a normal, ingrained, routine, harmless, ubiquitous thing in agencies and the business world in general that I have a really hard time seeing it as a clue that someone is insensitive or selfish or socially inept.

    And yeah, I've usually shown up at my own interviews with coffee and I have a thriving career, and I seriously doubt it's ever hurt my chances of getting a job even a tiny bit.

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  17. In response to Anonymous, I think you fail to acknowledge that an interview is a "contrived" encounter and NOT the same circumstance as an employee coming into your office or your visit to a client with whom you have a standing relationship. You may wear jeans and chew gum all day and find that a normal, ingrained, harmless agency practice...but using the same standard, would you honestly say that it's ok for a prospect to do the same on an interview? (Note that this article addresses all job interviews, not just creative jobs where, granted, there may be a bit more license.)

    The point is why not give yourself every advantage by avoiding practices (even harmless ones) that MIGHT turn off a potential employer?

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  18. One more pov for anon (who really likes his lattes!) -

    My dad, the guy who wrote this post, the one with the cute beard, always taught me that the professional choices you make should be about keeping your options open. You can *choose* to go to WCC over Harvard, but then you need to know what that does to your options.

    I think the point of this post is not that people who carry coffees around are necessarily rude or selfish or smell bad or suck at bowling. But that there's a chance they may be perceived less than positively by an interviewer. Once you know that, do you still bring Starbucks on an interview?

    Up to you.

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  19. As an HR Professional myself, I have to say - who cares?!! It doesn't make me think twice. It's a ridiculous thing to eliminate someone on!!!! I've never heard of anyone in the HR world caring about this.

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  20. In fact, to add to my last comment: if anything, this is a very outdated way of approaching an interview.

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  21. Would it be equally inappropriate to bring a bottle of water to an interview or to any business meeting? When one expects to be speaking at length, he should expect to get thirsty and he should be prepared. Therefore, bringing a beverage to an interview is a sign of someone who comes prepared. But, more importantly, if you're a coffee drinker, drink coffee. If you're a bowler, talk about bowling. If the person interviewing you is afraid of a person with a personality (specifically, your personality), it's not an option worth keeping open.

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  22. So also, I guess, make sure your hair is short, because some people think long hair is a sign of being untrustworthy, and wear khakis and a tucked in oxford shirt because some think that anyone who would dress any other way might be unprofessional, and don't show that you have a sense of humor because some would take that as being unserious, and definitely don't have a tattoo etc., and basically just be as self-conscious as possible about every little thing that might offend the person you are talking to... and make sure to be ready to talk about what your greatest strengths and weaknesses are...

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  23. When I was a freshman in high school I tried out for the baseball team with about 100 other kids. Conditioning and tryouts started well before Spring, so we played in the school parking lot because the fields were not yet open. Notices were sent to instruct students to move their cars by 3:00 to avoid having them pummeled with baseballs, but inevitably there were always a few cars left in precarious positions around the playing area. One day at practice (in the parking lot), I was taking the cut-off from the outfield and making the throw to home plate. I was competing with many other kids with impressive arm strength. On one memorable play I launched a throw from short centerfield, over the catcher's head. The throw went directly through the windshield and into the driver's seat of a nearby truck. While the throw was not on target, it was very strong, and arguably the most memorable throw of the tryout. At the time, Coach was very upset that I broke a windshield - but several weeks later I was on the team.

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  24. I agree completely. You can suck it up for a short period. And who wants to deal with potential bladder issues if an interview is going super-well and your interviewer says, "Let me introduce you to..." for a one-time chance to make a great impression via a 20 minute unplanned conversation?

    There's the entire rest of the day to drink coffee.

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  25. I dont agree with that because no one is obligated to bring anybody anything just because they bought themself one. True enough, it might be unprofessional to bring coffee to an interview but to say you wont hire someone because they didnt ask if you wanted a coffee is just stupid and a little over zealous...thats problably one thing that contributes to such a low employment rate and for what??? coffee???? come on! please start looking at other qualities...THAT MATTER

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  26. Dear Anon: You may be right. But why chance it? Besides, where I come from manners and politeness MATTER.

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  27. Yes manners and politeness matters, thats why out of the kindness of my heart I would ask if you wanted something, but still its unfair to think someone is suppose to get you something just because they have it. They dont have to get you anything...just like you dont have to hire them, and leave them free to move on to the next prospect employer...i for one think tattoos on the face and neck is unacceptable for any work environment unless youre a tattoo artist..but not coffee. I respect your opinion though, we are all right in our own opinions

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