Saying no to wine during an interview over dinner

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Q:  I have interviewed three times with one company.  I believe I am a serious candidate.  I have been told that they have narrowed down the pool of candidates to two final candidates. I know a little about this company because a neighbor of mine works here also.  I was told by my neighbor that the final interview might be over a dinner, where they try to determine if my personality will fit.  I don’t drink alcohol and I fear that may be a concern for this dinner. Do I refrain from drinking or do I order a glass of wine and pretend to drink it?

A: Congratulations on making the final cut.  You must have done quite a few things right to get this point in the selection process.  Kudos to you.  Although, unrelated to your question, I am thrilled that you disclosed how your neighbor has shared valuable information with you about the selection process.  Having someone you know “on the inside” can be a distinct advantage, especially if your neighbor is a strong performer in his or her role.

Usually at this stage in the process, the interviewees are asking “Who would work best with me and our team?”  They are often trying to get a sense of how you communicate and interact with others.

You are smart to have a plan in place before the dinner.  First, make sure that you dress appropriately.  You should not walk into an upscale restaurant with shorts and a t-shirt on.  Make sure that you know where you are going and how you will get there.  Is there parking available?  Do you need an umbrella?  Build in extra time for transportation.  Bring a few hard copies of your resume.  Arrive about 5 to 10 minutes early to show you are punctual.

Prepare a plan to support your intention not to drink alcohol.  Don’t feel like you need to explain why you are not drinking.  Instead, offer a quick request like “I think I will pass on the wine, but a sparkling water with lime would be great.”  Then, move on to the next topic.  There is no need to dwell on the topic or explain your choice.  Those enjoying dinner with you should respect your decision not to drink.  If they pressure you, you should question whether this role is a good fit for you.  If drinking is required for this role and you don’t drink, is that worth it to you?  If you are in recovery, your recovery is far more important than a new job.  If a work environment encourages drinking, it may not be the healthiest environment for you.  I am not an expert in addiction, but I do know that being sober is far more important than landing a new job.

Finally, be gracious and thank those who attended the dinner.  Follow-up with a quick email and/or thank-you note.  Good luck in hopefully closing the deal!

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.