By Scott Steinberg
This article previously appeared at Quartz at Work.
Q: Should you accept a cup of coffee or water at a job interview?
Dear Parched Job Applicant:
Don’t be afraid to drink the Kool-Aid (read: double shot of espresso): It’s 110% OK to accept a cup of Joe at a job interview when it’s offered. Not only will it make you more comfortable personally—not to mention caffeinated and alert—but it will also make your hosts more comfortable in your presence, sending the message that you’re (a) appreciative of their hospitality (b) at ease and in their presence and (c) confident in yourself.
Equally important, accepting the drink also helps establish a social dynamic in which parties are more apt to treat each other as equals who aren’t above assisting and helping each other out (i.e. team players)—even if one party is technically in a subordinate role.
Worried that you’re wasting a possible boss’s time or being a bother by needing something to sip on? Remember: Refreshments wouldn’t be offered if the other party wasn’t comfortable doing so—and such an offer is often provided as a casual bridge to more formal conversation during which small talk can occur. In fact, the few minutes it takes during which to make and/or consume a drink, especially if you’ve got to walk through the office to visit the kitchen, offer valuable time during which you can:
- Refresh, relax, and mentally prepare for the meeting
- Get comfortable with your surroundings
- Gather and organize your thoughts
- Prepare any documents—resumes, references, samples, etc.— you’ve brought for sharing
- Notice small details (diplomas, family photos, signed baseballs or rock posters, etc.) in your surrounding environment that you may be able to draw on during conversation
- Speak with interviewers in a more relaxed setting
- Fortuitously bump into prospective colleagues or other contacts you’d do well to meet
- Get a closer look at the office and other employees’ workspaces, which can give you a better sense of corporate culture, everyday office life, and the types of people with whom you’ll be spending 8 to 16 hours a day, every day, with
What’s more, the process can provide an all-important window between formal interviews, during which informal conversations can take place, helping create more opportunities to break the ice and more opportunities for potential employers to truly get to know you. It allows you to show how polite and courteous you can be— and how well you can interact and communicate with others.
In short, when provided the option of a cup of coffee or water, the correct answer here is yes, always accept the offer, even if you’re not thirsty ( you can always pretend to sip).
The simple act of doing so in and of itself will make you seem more approachable and likeable.
Two quick caveats here: Don’t ask for a drink if you’re not offered one, which could be considering demanding or make others uncomfortable if they don’t have a refreshment to offer. And skip the snacks—you don’t want to chew your way through answering a question.
But always, always accept the offer when a beverage is suggested: It gives you time to be more thoughtful, more relaxed, and truly take in more of your hosts and surroundings—and we’d gladly drink to that.
Scott Steinberg is an expert on leadership and innovation, and is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.