Students get a taste of business etiquette


For anyone who doubts that an employer might make assumptions about a job candidate based on something as seemingly insignificant as salting food before tasting it, think again.

"Taste first," LaChelle R. Wilborn, a business etiquette expert, recently stressed to a group of McDaniel College students. "It's a true sign of impatience if you salt first. Think of the interview process as a series of hurdles you have to jump. That's a hurdle a lot of people use [to rule out candidates] in a competitive field."

In the business world - where the competition can be stiff and job hopefuls must find ways to separate themselves from the rest of the pack - it's important to realize that employers are always sizing up the candidates, Wilborn told nearly two dozen students and a few faculty members who had gathered in the President's Dining Room for a lesson in dining to impress in a business-social setting.

"You're in college for a reason," Wilborn said. "Most of you want to better your lives."

But, she said, many employers want to see more than academic achievement as evidence that a job candidate is ready to join their company.

"It's not just, `Send me your resume. I love you, I'll hire you,'" she said. "I need to see who you are. How you interact. How you fit into my corporate culture."

Wilborn's advice was eye-opening for the crowd of mostly women - only a couple of men attended the seminar - who admitted they would probably feel intimidated at a business dinner with a prospective boss.

"Most of this stuff is so common sense that it does stick," she said.

Throughout the session, Wilborn used humor as she walked the students through the typical seven-course meal to demonstrate the finer points of business dining, such as how to properly use the napkin and the right way to eat soup.

"Your napkin should not get dirty in the dining process," she said.

The napkin, which should be folded and placed on your lap, is meant to catch crumbs, not wiping your mouth, Wilborn told the stunned students.

If you must excuse yourself from the table before you're done eating, the napkin should be draped over the back of the chair. Never place it on the seat of the chair, Wilborn said.

She encouraged students who have been invited to a business dinner to ask about the appropriate attire if the invitation does not specify.

"There is no problem with asking," she said. "It really does show your maturity if you ask this question."

April Curley, a freshman whose friend signed her up for the etiquette seminar, said she was interested because she wants to be as prepared as possible.

"This is not something I've ever needed" to know, said Curley. "I've been taught simple rules: no elbows on the table, don't chew with your mouth full. But I had no idea where you're supposed to put your napkin if you excuse yourself from the table."

Zephia Bryant, the school's director of multicultural services, said a group of seniors told her they needed a seminar like this one so they would know what to do in the business-social scene.

"In everything we do, we try to prepare our students to compete in society," she said. "The reality is that no matter what they're doing, they're being sized up from the time they walk into the room. That's why it's very important to know etiquette in the business situation."

While the program was open to all of McDaniel's students, Bryant said she is particularly interested in working with minorities.

"I want them to be aware of what others are expecting of them," she said. "They'll be more marketable and can compete with anyone else sitting at that table with them."

Wilborn, who holds a doctorate in hospitality and tourism management, repeatedly advised the candidates to exercise restraint at the table. "Don't eat like it's your last meal."

She said she began conducting these seminars because she grew weary of students missing out on opportunities simply because they didn't know proper etiquette.

"Your average citizen ... doesn't have the means to go to charm school," she said. "You can have the best resume. But if you can't speak well and if you're unable to carry yourself in a professional manner, it doesn't go anywhere."

Etiquette Tips

Turn off beepers, cell phones and any other electronic device that might make noise.

Never wear a hat at the table and avoid very casual clothes.

When faced with many knives, forks and spoons, start from the outside and work inward.

It is not appropriate to ask for ketchup to go with your meal at a formal occasion.

Always pass the salt and pepper as a set.

Cut one bite (meat, fruit, vegetables) at a time.

Do not drink from the soup bowl.

Never make a slurping sound.

Do not blow your nose in your napkin.

Sit up straight.

Say please and thank you to the wait staff.

Don't order foods that require twirling or licking, are apt to splatter or spray, or require you to wear a bib.

Write a thank you note to your host within 24 hours of the event.

[ Source: LaChelle R. Wilborn]

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