Should Recruiters and Employers Really Care If Candidates Smoke Weed?

I was recently watching a bunch of those old black and white movies from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood.

While I’d seen most of these classics before, this time I noticed a recurring theme that somehow struck me this time around: no matter what film, in practically every shot and scene, someone is smoking a cigarette.

Seriously. Some of the most iconic moments ever captured on celluloid – think Bogie in Casablanca, Brando in Rebel Without A Cause or Bacall in the Big Sleep – feature protagonists perpetually puffing away on a cigarette.

Hell, even wholesome stars like Shirley Temple and Lucille Ball were known to chain smoke offscreen (and both, coincidentally, died of lung cancer decades later).

Butt Out: Smoking Cigarettes and Social Norms.

The smoky haze and the Silver Screen were inexorably intertwined for decades, a ubiquitous accessory underscoring the fact that smoking used to be seen not only as acceptable, but aspirational, too.

As hard as it is to believe these days, it was considered desirable, not detrimental, to be a smoker in society. Smoking was, well, popular.

Back in the day, there was no stigma surrounding smoking in front of your kids, lighting up in the office or in an airplane; I’m pretty sure some folks smoked at church, too.

In World War II, Lucky Strikes were a standard part of soldiers’ rations (“the last and only solace of the wounded,” per the New York Times).

As recently as the late 60s, national publications featured full page ads touting the fact that “more doctors smoked Camels than any other cigarette!”

Then, of course, we found out that there were some downsides to constant and conspicuous tobacco consumption – as the Surgeon General continues to warn us to this day. Cigarette ads were banned from broadcast TV and print publications; smoking quickly lost its luster (and smokers remain a ‘dying breed,’ as it were).

Every restaurant and hotel used to have a smoking section; these days, it’s nearly impossible to find a place where you can light up along with your meal or during drinks. In many places, you’re not even legally allowed to smoke outside these days, as local ordinances and societal norms have pushed smokers from the mainstream to the margins – literally and figuratively speaking.

Smoking just isn’t considered cool anymore, for a myriad of mostly legitimate reasons.

These days, people who continue to smoke almost unilaterally try hiding their habit, aware of the fact that smokers are now social pariahs. If you still feel the need to feed the beast every 32 minutes, then you don’t just have a bad habit; in fact, today, it somehow makes you a bad person, too.

Now, I’m assuming folks that do smoke still bond with other social pariahs smokers. There just aren’t that many people who will admit to being a smoker, except, of course, for when they’re drunk and desperately trying to bum one off of those few people who are addicted enough to be open about being a smoker by necessity; the phrase “social smoker” is almost an oxymoron these days.

I get it and it’s a bit unfair. But…

Dying For A Job: How Cigarette Smoking Impacts Hiring Decisions.

Yeah. Cancer.

Fucking cancer hits everyone. And with every pack of cigarettes in the US advertising the fact that “smoke this, and it will fucking kill you” right there on the label, one has to think that the smokers probably should have gotten the message by now.

Hell, go to any European country, and it’s way worse. There, you get visual reminders right on the side of every single pack, prominently placed pictures of blackened lungs or post-mortem photos of victims of carbon monoxide poisoning or other intentionally nauseating imagery that leaves little to the imagination.

And, one has to think, the 1 in 5 deaths currently ascribed to cigarette smoking are imminently avoidable.

C’mon, lung cancer and emphysema shouldn’t be commonplace medical maladies, but couple those with smoking-induced heart disease, and you’ve got a pretty serious case for quitting cold turkey.

Unfortunately, 20% of the population still finds out the hard way that those warning labels are right – smoking does kill.

Of course, not everyone who gets lung cancer is a smoker, nor does regular smoking inevitably equate to an untimely death. There are obviously a combination of factors like genetics, science and stuff like that at play, too.

But while God doesn’t hate smokers – or at least, I’m assuming he doesn’t – the link between smoking and diseases like cancer (for many, the “Big C” is almost as taboo a topic as tobacco) sure helps the rest of us pass judgement. And for the most part, we seem to have decided on damnation; smoking is so unpopular and so widely loathed that abstention isn’t enough.

We have to actively ostracize and marginalize smoking – and smokers – probably to avoid anyone else making a similarly stupid mistake at some point. We try to avoid conscious bias where ever possible, but in the case of smokers, bias is not only considered acceptable, but also commendable.

Yeah, bias.

Puff, Puff, Pass: Rethinking Smoking and Recruiting.

Which got me thinking about hiring, in particular, and the side effects of smoking we never really talk about – particularly, when it comes to how smoking not only impacts personal lives, but just as profoundly, professional ones, too.

Let’s delve into this bias a bit.

Situation 1: Kool and the Gang.

Let’s say you’re hiring a software engineer. Just for shits and giggles, lets make it a Java developer in San Jose, like every demo for every sourcing product you’ve ever seen.

It’s a big deal job, and the mission critical req has sat open for a full two months.

Your sourcing team has done its job finding and engaging some great candidates, who you’ve personally phone screened. One candidate in particular seems perfect, and you have that feeling you get when you find the person you know in your gut is going to end up getting hired. Every recruiter knows what I’m talking about.

So, you hurry to get them in front of your hiring manager for an in person, hyping them up as the solution to what’s becoming a bigger problem every day the role sits unfilled. The hiring manager scrambles to rearrange his schedule (this is a hypothetical situation, obviously) and see the candidate as soon as possible.

The day of the interview arrives. Emotions, anxieties and, most importantly, expectations, are running high.

Your dream candidate shows up early, and the receptionist puts him (or her) in the windowless integration Interview Room, the one that could pass for a business center at a Motel 6. You know, with the one shitty piece of wall art, chipped conference table and uncomfortable chairs.

You enter the interview room soon after, and notice, in the stuffy, self-contained fishbowl that is the interview room, that it absolutely reeks of smoke. Not like a faint hint, either, but like someone was puffing away at a pack of Winstons out in the hallway. The smell grows stronger as you approach the candidate. The smell of smoke is pungent, inescapable.

The candidate stands up to shake hands, and you notice that other than the fact the candidate smells like a walking Kool Menthol, he/she is otherwise impeccably dressed and professionally polished. Your eyes are telling you a very different story than your nostrils, however.

Stop. Freeze frame right there. Alright, now, I have a few questions.

  • Do you think less (or more) of your candidate?

  • Subconsciously, do you think about stuff like the potential rise in healthcare premiums or lost productivity due to smoke breaks at all during your meeting?

  • Let’s say your grandmother died from lung cancer after smoking two packs of Marlboro Reds a day for over 40 years. Does the cause of her death in any way change how you feel about the candidate?

  • If you’re a smoker (or a former smoker) do you have any additional empathy?

  • If you’re a non-smoker, do you feel any disdain or disgust?

  • Point blank: does the fact the candidate smokes impact your hiring decision?

Really think about it. Does a candidate who smokes have the same chance of ultimately receiving an offer than an otherwise identical non-smoker for the same position? Put another way, are smokers less likely to get a job with you?

According to a 2016 study in the JAMA Journal of Medicine, the answer for most of you is an unqualified yes; not only did researchers find that smoking negatively impacts the length of a job search, but those smokers who were able to find work received offers that were far less than those of non-smoking test group.

So, let’s face it. The cost of smoking seems to be higher than just one’s health; in addition to the sometimes staggering costs of cigarettes these days – what is it, like $20 a pack in Manhattan now? – cigarette smoking impacts one’s wealth, too.

And it seems pretty obvious that hiring bias plays a critical role in this phenomenon.

Now that we’ve talked tobacco, let’s alter our minds and think about smoking in a different way. Okay?

High Times.

Let’s say that you work for a company whose corporate headquarters just happen to be in the beautiful Mile High City of Denver, Colorado. It’s a major transportation hub, has more sunny days than any other major city in the US (true story) and consistently ranks in the top 10 of those “best places to live” lists.

Oh, yeah. And it just so happens to have one of the highest qualities of life in the U.S. Not only according to US News and World Report, who recently ranked Denver #1 on their 2017 Quality of Life study.

Turns out, Denver is also the hub of the burgeoning legalized marijuana industry in Colorado, the first state to permit the sale and possession of cannabis in the US.

It just so happens that despite its headquarters location, your company does not drug test nor have any sort of policy for drug testing in place. Chances are, the legality of marijuana in the state of Colorado will remain the law of the land, whether or not the federal government follows suit (guessing not).

So, no matter who the President happens to be, legal weed isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But considering who is actually President, it’s probably best that it goes into some sort of bong or butter extract. I digress. But still.

Open your minds, if you will, and let’s delve into the ol’ wacky tobackey.

Or the sticky icky, as the kids over at Death Row Records call it.

Situation 2: Kush Gig.

Exact same hiring scenario as the one we described in Situation #1 (OK, only now it’s Denver instead of San Jose, where weed is also legal, coincidentally). Same software engineer, same great candidate, same high stakes, high stress in person interview that’s more or less a Hail Mary for an aging req.

Oh, and to clarify: the candidate is identical in every way to the candidate who smokes cigarettes. Same professional polish and presentation; same outfit, same briefcase, same everything. It’s the day of the big interview; you already know that their resume alone made the job the candidate’s to lose. The fact that they killed it on their phone screen should make this as close to a slam dunk as you get in recruiting.

When this candidate shows up, however, they smell like they just got off of Willie Nelson’s tour bus or came straight over from a Cypress Hill concert. Instead of reeking of Kools, the odor wafting through the air smells distinctly like Galactic Jack (er, the Internet tells me that this is a popular strain of legalized marijuana).

While they aren’t obviously high, they pretty obviously partake – or at least their clothes were in close proximity to either a half ounce of kush or a fatty blunt at some point in the not too distant past. You suddenly just wanna listen to some Snoop…

Back the situation at hand. Ain’t nothing but a G Thing, but it presents an interesting point.

What really runs through your mind as a recruiter?

Before you answer, some more questions to think about.

  • Do you think less (or more) of your candidate?

  • Do you think about those awkward high school days spent smoking schwag out of apples?

  • If you’re also a regular pot smoker (13% of American adults are, by the way) do you have empathy?

  • If you don’t smoke pot, do you have disdain?

  • Point blank: does the fact the candidate smokes weed impact your hiring decision?

See, thing is, I’m asking for a friend. But recruiters and hiring managers out there, I really wanna know your take. So, do me a solid and let me know what you think in the comment box below.

And don’t worry this is a judgement free zone. Which means when I respond, I promise I won’t be an asshole (assuming you do the same). So let me know:

If a candidate smokes marijuana, does this influence your hiring decision? Should it?

Appreciate you passing a little recruiting knowledge to the left hand side.

william_tincupWilliam Tincup is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a Writer, Speaker, Advisor, Consultant, Investor, Storyteller & Teacher. He’s been writing about HR related issues for over a decade. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 15 HR technology startups.

William is a graduate of the University of Alabama of Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.

Follow him on Twitter @WilliamTincup or connect with him on LinkedIn.

William is the President of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He’s written over 200 HR articles, spoken at over 150 HR & recruiting conferences and he’s conducted over 1000 HR podcasts. William prides himself on being easy to find on The Internet, Google him and connect with him via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Not up to speed in the social media game? Reach out via email. William serves on the Board of Advisors for Talentegy, Wellocity, GlitchPath, Talent Ninja, Universum Americas, Engagedly, Echovate, VibeCatch, Continu, Hyphen, Bevy, Happie, RolePoint, Causecast, Work4Labs, Talent Tech Labs, and SmartRecruiters. He was previously an advisor to PeopleMatter (sold to Snagajob Q2 2016), Good.Co (sold to StepStone Q1 2016), Smarterer (sold to Pluralsight Q4 2014) and a board member of Chequed (merged to create OutMatch Q3 2015). William is a graduate of the University of Alabama of Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.

  • Paul Miller

    I think the metaphor is slightly off. I equate it to alcohol. I don’t care what you do in your down time, when you’re off work. Don’t show up drunk/high, don’t let it affect your performance.

    I completely judge any candidate who shows up for an interview drunk or stoned, because what does that say about their self control? Like the smoker who can’t lay off for a few hours before the interview, WHY are you drinking/getting high before you come in to interview for an opportunity that could literally change your life? If you need a boost of confidence, or to calm down, run up and down a flight of stairs or meditate. Lay off the bong for a few hours, it won’t kill ya.

    • Nathan Hockett

      I very much agree with you Paul. What one does on their own time isn’t for me to judge, but the in-person interview is a critical moment in the hiring process for a candidate and we all know how impactful a first impression is. If a candidate doesn’t recognize the importance of presenting themselves in the best possible light, it speaks to a larger issue of poor decision making and/or lack of awareness of the situation. I am a former smoker, but I never went into any business meeting and especially not a job interview having just smoked and smelling like smoke.

      • Paul Miller

        Thank you, and congrats on the “former” part. Both my parents smoked and I saw how hard it was to quit.

    • William Tincup

      What if smoking doesn’t affect performance? I had a professor in undergrad that smoked when he woke up and smoked when he went to bed. He was tenured, well liked, great as his job and had (at that time) written 8 books. So, his performance was fine. I guess the question is… would you think differently if performance was the same or better if the employee was high af?

      • Paul Miller

        If it doesn’t affect performance I’d never know about it, right? Are you saying that in some cases it might be a performance enhancer?

        • William Tincup

          In some cases, yes… maybe even all cases it could be used as an enhancer. Obviously, depends on the job but I’m not sure I’d hire a graphics designer that didn’t consume drugs. Not sure I could trust that.

  • Mike Wolford

    If it is part of corporate policy to drug test then yes, if not as long as someone isn’t under the influence at work it should be okay. I remember my first manager told me when I started that what I did in my personal time, as he made a puff puff gesture, was my business but that I shouldn’t bring it into the office.

  • William Tincup

    Theme music for the article…

  • MikeTownsend28

    I have been in interviews where the candidates wreaked of cigarette smoke. It didn’t influence the hiring decision but we were thrown off. If a candidate is going into an interview and really wants/needs the job, they shouldn’t be smoking anything beforehand. As they move further into the process, they should stop smoking weed (even temporarily).
    What people do in their own time is their business. However, if there are accidents at work, that employee will be drug tested immediately. If they are deemed to be high or drunk, they WILL be fired. Weed can impair judgement; cigarettes can’t. However, cigarettes will slowly kill you from the inside out (which is why I quit a long time ago).

  • Kim McCarthy

    If a candidate is qualified then…that’s a qualification to move on to the client rounds. Unless the client firm explicitly states it does not hire smokers (or offer cessation programs that must be completed within X months of hire), or a drug test is required (and listing what the test is capturing), my focus is on your skills and level of professionalism. After all, there are plenty of odiferous origins that can stink a place up (curry, grease/oils, garlic, salon chemicals, moth balls, cigarettes, cigars…) If a candidate comes to the interview drunk or under the influence of ANYTHING suspected, I note the candidate portfolio. I would definitely say something to the candidate 1) for reaction and 2) for honesty; however, I determine when to ask (on spot or for a later discussion). Because my firm name would be attached to the candidate and this issue, I would remain transparent with client, as well. After all, coming to an interview under any influence may be a bigger addiction problem that will effect the client with theft, job performance, insurance, hazards, and risks which all adds up to a lot of moolah. But smelling like it? Nah. I would coach the candidate through “successful” interview techniques.

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