I’ve written about this before. Alcohol and conferences sometimes do not mix well. This was proven once more at the recent National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference, held in Las Vegas, NV. “Gone in 60 Seconds” is a phrase that best describes what I witnessed one evening while enjoying libations with friends; because one short minute was about all the time it took for an alcohol persuaded young woman to potentially torch her career before our astonished eyes.

As has been amply documented by “outside the industry” members of the media, (who have no real understanding of business interaction practices), these conferences always feature prominent receptions and gatherings. Food and alcohol flow freely at these functions, and it is not uncommon for participants to migrate to local bars afterward to continue the social exchanges. ProPublica may not like or understand it, but an awful lot of the business that these conferences facilitate is conducted at these after-hours functions.

And it is all well and good, so long as people understand that it is still business, and that poor personal behavior, including excessive drinking, can easily cause issues for both companies and careers.

On one particular night last week, after leaving a sponsored reception, I met a friend at one of the many bars scattered throughout Mandalay Bay. He was with several people from his company, all of whom I have come to know and respect over my years on the road. The bar was busy, and there were other conference attendees with them that I had never met before. One of those people was a young woman, who had apparently interviewed for a position with my friend’s company. As we would soon learn, she was extremely disappointed that she had not been extended an offer of employment. 

You’ve probably figured out I am not naming anyone associated with this story for a reason.

Several of us watched in amazement as she drilled the CEO of her dream employer over the lack of a forthcoming offer of employment. She had not been hired by them, and she made her displeasure over that fact known. What was most remarkable about this was that the CEO of her current employer was sitting in a chair nearby as all this transpired. I have no idea if he was aware of what was happening or not; but the fact that it happened in such close proximity to him can’t be good.

Then again, the fact that it happened in such close proximity to me probably wasn’t good, either.

She complained that she had not heard back from them, and proceeded to inform our ensnared CEO that she had far more talent and was much better than the person they currently had in that position. The pinnacle of their interaction came when she employed a sweeping, Vanna White like gesture, raising her hand up just above her head, fingers pointing to the ceiling in a theatrical pose, then swept downward across her body, while saying “and you could have hired this.”

(There is some debate over whether she said “could have hired this” or “could have had this.” I opted for the “hired” version, as the “had” version could be easily misconstrued with a meaning I believe unintended) 

Eventually our haggard CEO extricated himself from the discussion by faking a heart attack, or some other plausible excuse, and she moved to a nearby table (where her current CEO was sitting) to continue the spectacle by taking this up with my friend and another fellow; a man who was once in leadership at the company in question but was no longer affiliated with them. At this point the raucous din of the crowded bar was fairly strong, and I could not hear everything she said. I just simply watched from across the table in stunned bewilderment as she directly (and rudely) pointed into each of their faces as she recounted her grievances over the process. They eventually mumbled something about meeting other clients, and made a beeline for another area of the bar. At this point our Dale Carnegie dropout turned her attention to me, detailing what she believed went wrong with the initial interview and lamenting “I think I just screwed up.” 

Ya’ think? Have another drink. You’ll forget all about it.

The true irony here? I found out the next day that the company she so strongly wanted to work for had been “slow walking” the process, and had not yet made a decision on the position in question. She was still in the running, or rather had been until the previous night. But the damage had been done. By that next morning, the sweeping hand motion and the phrase “but you could have had this,” had become the hilarious catch phrase of the day among a growing audience who heard about and shared the exchange. It is a moment bound to become part of NWCDC legend and lore, similar to the conference “ass grabber” I wrote about several years ago.

I really can’t say that alcohol was the sole influencer in this situation. It is possible the woman is always that obnoxious, but I doubt it. I suspect the booze brought about this rather regrettable behavior, and her career and reputation may take a hit as a result. On the plus side, there are lots of other industries she can work in.

But I would suggest she skip the after-hours mixers. Alcohol and disappointment don’t blend that well at all.

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