If the company you’re interviewing with invites you to drinks or a happy hour at the office, you’re probably thinking one of two things:

“Um, what?”

or “THIS IS IT! I’M IN!”

If you’re in the first camp, here’s the scoop: While the idea of selling your skills to a hiring manager over Sauvignon Blanc might sound bizarre, it’s actually not uncommon, particularly if you’re interviewing for a client-facing role or with a startup. In either case, this phase of the process could mean any of the following:

  1. They like your skills and background, but they want to make sure you pass the airport test. (A.k.a., They want to work with you, but do they want to hang out with you?)
  2. They want you to meet several more people, but they don’t want to put you through the process of sitting down for hour-long interviews with all of them.
  3. They’re hiring you for a role that interacts with people regularly, and they want to make sure you don’t transform into a different human being in a non-interview setting.
  4. They like you a lot, and they want you to get a better sense for the team so you can decide if it’s right for you.

For those of you in the second category, note that this list does not include “They want to toast you in person to congratulate you on your new job!”

In fact, while this might be the final stage of the process, you could very well still be competing with one or two other top candidates (who are coming in tomorrow for cocktails). Translation: You’re 100% still in interview mode.

That sounds simple, but it’s the most forgotten piece of advice I see in happy hour interviews, and thus the most important one I can give you when it comes to throwing one back with a prospective employer (emphasis on the one). Yes, I could draft a list of dos and don’ts (“Don’t have red wine if you’re wearing white” and “Do leave your typical bar jokes at home” come to mind), but in reality, the way to ace this part of the process is to remember that it’s still an interview and to keep in mind all the job search advice that got you this far.

Which includes: Be the most charming, professional version of yourself. Act kind to and interested in everyone you meet, from the department head to the receptionist. Make sure to connect with people, to listen to their stories, to be interested in what they have to say. Answer questions in a way that highlights your best skills, your most relevant experience, and why you’d be the best person for the job.

Of course, you can relax a bit more in this setting than you did in that first, suit-clad meeting in the board room. If you’re asked what you like to do on the weekends, for example, it’s not a trap, and you don’t have to respond with, “I relax at my desk with the latest productivity bestseller.” Instead, be honest (OK, selectively honest—no one needs to know that you typically spend Saturday mornings hungover in bed, eating egg sandwiches). Again, this part of the process is often a way for your potential future co-workers to get a better sense for who you are outside of work.

Still, though, think of it like a client dinner: You’re opening up a bit about yourself to pave the way for better relationships; you’re not opening up a third bottle of wine and inviting everyone to your destination wedding.

As a final note, remembering that this is an interview will also help you keep in mind that you can and should still be deciding if the team’s a good fit for you. Perhaps more than any other situation in the hiring process, this is a great chance to figure out whether you want to spend 40+ hours a week working alongside these people. Because they won’t just be your collaborators in the office, but also the people you’ll be going to after-work happy hours with for a long time. And when those evenings come around, you’re going to want to spend them with people you genuinely enjoy (and who can finally appreciate your egg sandwich obsession).


Photo of happy hour courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.