I originally posted this in August of 2010 and it brought a torrent of comments and discussion. I thought it time to re-post. and update. I know that many of you will think I am nuts after reading this post. But bringing coffee on an interview may preclude you from getting your dream job.
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 - and so do many others.
People bring coffee, soda or water into my office almost every day. In most 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 on the way to work or an interview. We just don't think about it..
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 liked my candidate but wasn’t passing her 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.
Linda Kaplan and Robin Koval from the Kaplan Thaler Group paraphrased this story in their wonderful book, The Power of Small: Little Things Make A Difference. The point they make is that bringing coffee is selfish, but offering to bring coffee (or just bringing it) for the interviewer shows that as a candidate someone is service oriented. I agree.
Simply put: 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, a can of soda or a plastic bottle of water 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 one of my people had a Starbucks. I made her leave it in the lobby. She was furious with me. When we got to the client, he 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 even 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.
President of The Gumbinner Company, executive recruiters for advertising. Glass collector. Former Chairman of Urban Glass. Blogger: www.viewfrommadisonave.blogspot.com; Contributor to Ad Age and Adweek.