We’ve all been there. You aced the job interview and your credentials are a perfect fit for the position. Now comes the hard part – the ‘beer test’ or the personality test, a casual chat over drinks or dinner meant to determine how well you will fit with an organization on a personal level. Since your resume can’t really capture what kind of person you are, both you and the interviewer are walking into an unknown situation with unpredictable results.
But despite the dangers of the process, it’s possible to pass the test with flying colors if you recognize the priorities of your potential employer and the questions they are really trying to answer:
What else are you good at other than work?
This may seem irrelevant to the job but it’s not. While serving on the board of a mid-sized radio group, I was tasked with identifying and hiring a new Chief Operating Officer. The leading candidate was a long-time consultant for media companies who checked all the technical boxes for the job. However, learning about her passion for composing music in her spare time and sailing gave me a sense of a well-rounded person who could not only manage the firm’s logistical operations but also liaison with the quirky radio personalities that were our bread and butter.
She got the job and was extremely successful at securing popular new radio hosts for us, many of whom enjoyed discussing her music with her more than audience ratings. She also organized a sailing outing for the firm, which was a hit with the employees. Revealing your outside interests can help your interviewer see the three-dimensional person you are and (maybe) tap into some of your hidden talents.
Are you socially adept?
There are two aspects to this. Some very smart and capable people are bad at social interaction. In some professions, such as medical research or back-office accounting, that might not matter. But in other jobs, such as in marketing, sales, or even general management, social skills are extremely important and can determine your ability to do your job. How well you engage with your interviewer during a beer test will show him or her how good you are at interpersonal communication.
In addition, your future employer may be trying to gauge if you know how to socialize with a work colleague, which is not necessarily the same as with your friends. When spending time with a colleague, you need to be aware of personal boundaries that would be dangerous to breach. You may not, for example, want to discuss the subject of dating, which a colleague might consider intrusive and which could cause problems in the work environment later. It also opens up the company to lawsuits.
Being friends with your co-workers without being too friendly isn’t easy but essential, especially in smaller organizations where socializing is inevitable. Too much closeness can lead to awkwardness, misunderstandings, and office gossip. When confronted with this type of challenge, your best bet is to show your acumen by using it – chat engagingly but casually, avoid sensitive topics, and show your interviewer that you know how to have a good time within boundaries.
Are you Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?
In vino veritas as the saying goes. In wine (or beer) there is truth. This is probably the single most important reason for employers to want to meet a candidate socially. We all put on our best face during official interviews, but from an employer’s standpoint that can be a problem. After all, no one wants to hire the polished Dr. Jekyll and wind up with the wild Mr. Hyde instead – especially in the age of social media where that picture of you dancing on a table with your shirt off can go viral.
A social outing tends to entice people to let their guard down. That’s totally fine, as long as you don’t let it too far down and maintain the same decorum you would with anyone you respect. Another vital thing to remember is that just because it’s called a beer test doesn’t mean that you have to overload on the beer. Whenever you’re around co-workers, it’s always best to moderate your drinking, and this is something a smart interviewer will watch for.
And if you’re a party animal who just can’t help himself, and manage to offend your potential employer with your behavior, then you may be better off working at a different company or in another profession.
Why do you really want the job?
When interviewing analyst candidates during my investment banking days, I would routinely receive canned answers to this question, but what I was really looking for was that spark of honesty that gave me confidence the candidate was truly motivated to work at the firm and would go that extra mile for his or her job.
In a beer test, the logic is that without the pressure of being in an interview room, a candidate will feel more comfortable giving a heartfelt answer to the question. If you’re in this position, keep in mind that there isn’t one ‘right’ answer. In some cases, the fact that you want to use the job as a stepping stone to some other career in the distant future is perfectly acceptable – as long as it’s clear to the employer that you’ve really thought about it and have a convincing motivation to excel at the job.
The problem arises when you really don’t have a compelling reason for wanting the job except for being unemployed at the time. If all you want is a paycheck and the job you’re interviewing for requires deep commitment, then the job may not be right for you. That’s a reason to take a step back, be honest with yourself as well as your future employer, and decide if you have a better reason for taking that job.
Great employees flourish in great jobs, but only if the two are compatible. The beer test is designed to determine this very intangible.
Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.