Everything You Want to Know About Drug Testing (Except How to Get Around It)

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Like it or not, drug testing is a regular part of getting hired on Wall Street. Recruiters confide that job seekers almost never disclose concerns about drug tests since that would raise more than eyebrow. "It's like asking about a company's vacation policy," one recruiter says. "You really don't want to let anyone know it's important to you." For senior roles, as least, "everyone should know the drill," adds another. The unwritten rule: Don't ask anybody about drug testing.

That said, the simple truth is that job seekers are often confused and worried about the drug testing process - wondering who tests, when, what for, how long it takes to get a particular drug out of their system if they indulge once in a blue moon, and what will happen if they can't shake it before they're tested. Here are short answers to some of the more worrisome questions:

Who gets tested?

Most banks test most applicants' urine for drugs either when the they've made an offer or when applicant is on the short list of candidates. It's pricey to test on a broader basis. And tests on hair samples, while more accurate, are more expensive as well.

When will testing occur?

In some cases you'll be tested quickly - within 72 hours of receiving a verbal offer, for instance. In others you'll have up to 30 days as long as the test is no less than a week or so before you start work. Don't count on that however. "They might say, 'Go right now,'" advises Ann Hayes, president of Investigative Management Group, a New York firm that handles drug testing and background checks for big banks and other employers. Try and stall for even a day and "it's an immediate red flag."

What about second-hand pot smoke?

From a drug-testing perspective, Hayes believes second-hand smoke can be as dangerous as first-hand. Not so, says a Web site produced by a team of Columbia University health professionals.

"Second-hand marijuana smoke - buzz producing, or not - can leave traces of the chemical THC in your urine for a day or so after breathing the smoke. However, the amount is usually not enough to make you test positive. Most drug tests have intentionally high standards to avoid false positive results due to incidental ingestion of second-hand smoke."

Nevertheless, it's probably best to stay away from clouds thick enough to make your eyes tear, at least while you're on the interview circuit. Better safe than sorry.

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