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Should interns drink at after-work social events?

June 8, 2011

Alex Braun, Eye of the Intern editorBy Alex Braun

The summer I turned 21, I worked next to Wells Street in Chicago’s South Loop, the domain of commodity traders and storied watering holes like Alcock’s, the Billy Goat, Poag Mahone’s and the always-classy Cactus Bar.

Like the traders, I worked with a relatively young staff that liked to go out once or twice a week for after-work drinks. So, within the first couple days on the job, my fellow interns and I were invited to join.

I was a little hesitant. My landmark birthday wasn’t for another couple weeks, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the only person drinking a water.

Poag Mahone's, 75 W. Jackson, Chicago

I miss you, Poag Mahone's.

If you’re under 21, it’s pretty obvious that you shouldn’t be drinking at an after-work event. Even if you don’t think coworkers know your exact age, some may have figured it out through your Facebook profile, your application materials or things you’ve mentioned in office conversation. Besides, getting busted with a fake ID in front of your boss is one embarrassing way to nullify a whole summer of hard work.

So I didn’t drink on that first trip. But I have always felt it’s very important that you go to social events when you’re invited, unless you have other pressing plans.

If you’re “old enough to party,” as McLovin once said, have a drink or two – but not more than that.

I walked with the group down to Mahone’s, and surveyed the scene with one of the other underage interns. Despite the razzing we received about our youth, it ended up being a pretty fun time. We got to see which quiet coworkers became 30 decibels louder outside the office, and heard stories that made them seem more like us – past jobs, disgruntled girlfriends and which video games they’d been battling through on Xbox Live.

In an internship, where so much of your five-year outlook rests on the trust you build and the connections you make, all those little things matter.

If you’re “old enough to party,” as McLovin once said, have a drink or two – but not more than that. Make sure you’ve had a bit to eat – even two drinks on an empty stomach can make you a little careless.

McLovin's Fake ID

If you're not 21, don't drink around coworkers. But still tag along if you can.

If possible, order last, and see what everyone else is getting. Like it or not, people look to anything to form opinions when they don’t know much about someone. So if your favorite drink legitimately is a Long Island iced tea, even if you’re really diligent about sipping it slowly, definitely consider downgrading to the house margarita — or, better yet, a standard beer.

Remember also the cruel trick that someone who’s nervous about slipping up in a new situation tends to drink faster without realizing it. That’s why it’s better to stick to comparatively low-alcohol drinks at after-work get-togethers, especially when you’re just an intern.

And if you don’t drink at all? Go anyway, and stay active in the conversation. You won’t get accused of being no fun if you can socialize at everyone else’s pace.

Have a different opinion? Share it in the comments below. For more tips on after-work socials, check out intern coach Colleen Sabatino’s article in our Student Resources.

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