INTERVIEWS / JUN. 11, 2014
version 4, draft 4

How to Answer "Do You Smoke or Drink Alcohol?"

Legally, this is a question that your interviewer CANNOT ask you. There is nothing wrong with drinking or smoking in moderation, and what you do on your own time is none of your company's business. However, you'll find that many companies will find sneaky ways to ask this question, such as:

"Have you been disciplined by a previous company for violating company policies regarding nicotine and alcohol use?"

See what they did there? They asked if you have ever been in trouble with your company--thereby making it a professional matter that they can legally ask you about--for something that is part of your private life.

(Here is a list of questions you cannot legally be asked...)

So how do you answer this question?

How to Answer the Question

The truth is that you probably do drink, as do most people in the world. There's nothing wrong with drinking--in fact, it can actually make you a better employee. If you enjoy a drink on the weekend, you'll find it much easier to get back to work on Monday feeling nice and relaxed.

However, interviewers are going to ask you this question in order to find out if you have a problem with drinking. Many people drink in excess over the weekend, and that interferes with their ability to work well on Monday. If you have an issue with drinking, the company will want to know about it.

Smoking, on the other hand, isn't the same type of problem as drinking, but it can still be a problem. Many smokers take numerous smoke breaks during the work day, which leads to a lot of time wasted. Your interviewer will want to know if you smoke a lot, as it will affect their perception of you.

If the interviewer can find a legal way to ask you this question, it may be tough for you to reply with, "I'm a chain smoker who gets drunk every weekend." It will definitely impair your chances of getting hired, so you need to answer the question the smart way.

Do you drink?

  • "I like the occasional drink to relax on the weekend."
  • "I’m very health-conscious, so I only drink on the days that I don't go to the gym."
  • "I enjoy a drink from time to time, but it's not a part of my daily life."

Do you smoke?

  • "I have a cigarette now and again, but I'm not a smoker."
  • "I like to smoke to relax, but it doesn't interfere with my putting in a full day of work."

If you are a big smoker or drinker, you should downplay it. You need to be honest as much as possible, but don't come out and say, "Yes, I finish off a bottle of wine with every meal." Instead, say things like "I enjoy the occasional drink or smoke", and make it sound as casual as possible. Your interviewer has no right to know what's going on in your personal life, but you can't flat our refuse to answer the question. By giving them a casual answer, it lets you off the hook.

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