by Rochelle Kaplan
Question: Career center directors at NACE member schools asked the NACE Principles for Professional Conduct Committee to consider the implications of serving alcohol during the recruiting process. In the first case, an employer decided to skip hosting the traditional on-campus company information session. Instead, recruiters invited students who were prospective job candidates to meet with them at an off-campus bar where students were treated to beer and mixed alcoholic drinks. The recruiters asked career services staff to make sure students knew about the change in plans.
In another case, during the third and final round of interviews, students were invited to spend the weekend at a hotel with their prospective employer. On Saturday afternoon and evening, students were treated to an open bar. The employer told students that they weren't being "tested" by the company, and because students had hotel rooms for the night, none were at risk for driving after drinking.
Answer: A little research showed that these aren't new or unique situations: Some employers are holding receptions where alcohol is served to students. Career services practitioners on several campuses question whether alcohol should be served during the recruiting process, including at on- and off-campus receptions.
NACE's Executive Committee turned the issue over to the Principles Committee to examine. The NACE Executive Committee asked the Principles Committee to consider:
The Principles Committee, which is composed of both employers and career services practitioners, discussed the issue from a number of positions. Committee members noted:
Committee members concluded that alcohol should not be a part of the recruiting process on or off campus. This includes receptions, dinners, company tours, etc.
In the preamble to The Principles for Professional Conduct, employers and career services professionals are encouraged to "Maintain a recruitment process that is fair and equitable to candidates and employing organizations."
In the employer's portion of the ethics document, the principle states that: “Serving alcohol should not be part of the recruitment process on or off campus. This includes receptions, dinners, company tours, etc. “The committee concluded that it is wrong to require students, either implicitly or explicitly, to attend a social event where alcohol is served in order to obtain company information or to be considered for an interview. A company that requires a job candidate to endure a situation that has nothing to do with the actual position for which he or she is interested in goes against the principle of "a recruitment process that is fair and equitable to candidates."
Recruiters, the committee said, should be concerned about the message given about the company to students if an entire evening is spent at the bar with job candidates.
The committee urged employers to leave alcohol out of the recruiting equation by refraining from ordering alcohol themselves, even wine with supper if students are present.
"If the purpose of getting together is to give a human, informal face to the organization, alcohol doesn't have to be part of it," said one committee member.
"I've never had a student complain about not having alcohol at a reception," said another member, "but I do get questions about what to do if alcohol is served."
Employer committee members cited several examples of student recruitment activities that have been successful for their organizations. One employer said that she invites students to sporting events or holds intramural-type sporting events for potential hires. Another described casual receptions that allow candidates to meet company employees are popular with students. A third said that his company has taken candidates to video arcades for adults as an informal way for job prospects to interact with company officials.
Employers should remember that many college students are below the drinking age in most states. Thus, purchasing drinks for those students could be a violation of a state's criminal laws. Additionally, serving alcohol may violate a school’s policy.
Moreover, if the employer is using the reception to test a job candidate's ability to handle alcoholic beverages at a work-related function or other social skills, the employer should check with the organization's legal counsel about any discriminatory impact such selection criteria might have and whether the ability to drink alcohol is a job-related criterion.
The Principles Committee noted that career services staff should advise students that some employers may provide alcohol at social events to determine how well students can handle the situation. A student should be told to that it is acceptable to order a soft drink instead. Students who do drink should be advised that the reception is a professional function, and that they should not treat it as a party.
The committee does not believe that there is an ethical problem with the school's publicizing such an event. The career services staff should ask the school's legal counsel to determine if the school has a policy against advertising off-campus events that include alcoholic beverages for students. As a practical matter, the employer hosting a reception should create the advertisement or poster publicizing this event. The information should include the name of the employer's representative who will provide students with details of the event; the career services office should not be named as a contact.
If attendance at the event is voluntary—i.e., nonattendance has no impact upon whether the student is considered by the employer and the student may obtain the information about the company in other ways—then serving alcohol does not seem to be an ethical violation.
One committee member declared: "I think [employers are] dancing with disaster any time you serve alcohol. So, just don't do it."
This article originally appeared in the Summer 1998 Journal of Career Planning & Employment. Current as of June 2012.
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