Business students taught manners

Area colleges' etiquette classes a result of workplace demands

November 29, 2006|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,Sun reporter

Shake a job recruiter's or client's hand with a firm grip and maintain eye contact.

Write e-mail like a business correspondence and not as a text message to friends.

Wait until the host begins eating before picking up a fork.

These tips sound like lessons out of charm school. But college students across the country are signing up for etiquette instruction with more frequency since a growing number of schools are providing the training to better prepare their graduates for the workplace.

Employers now expect graduates to be equipped with technical know-how, the rules of doing business and proper etiquette right out of school, according to college career advisers and etiquette consultants. That's partly because companies have less time and resources to train young hires on the finer points of protocol compared with past generations, business and education leaders say.

Globalization also has fueled the need for students to be more aware of cultural nuances and international etiquette. And increasingly, younger workers have become accustomed to casual manners and informality, partly fueled by their everyday use of technology.

"The workplace is now 24/7, and students are presumed to arrive at their first day on the job with advance knowledge of how everything is going to work, including what I call the unwritten rules of communication, such as basics on etiquette," said Dede Bartlett, a former executive at two Fortune 500 companies who lectures on career issues to college students.

On top of workshops in resume writing and interview techniques, colleges are adding etiquette training because the job market demands it more now than in the past. "That's part of our jobs to prepare them even though it's not the book stuff," said Laleh Malek, director of professional experience at Towson University's College of Business and Economics. "We are moving with those changes."

At Towson University, school officials have held campuswide events on networking and dressing for the workplace. This semester, the business school also held a separate networking workshop, where local recruiters evaluated students' skills on handshaking and making eye contact and gave pointers on proper ways to follow up with e-mail, phone calls or notes.

Malek said the business school is looking into holding a mock business dinner, an increasingly popular way to teach students table manners.

McDaniel College in Westminster, which has stepped up its etiquette training, held its first business dinner event in the spring and plans to hold another next year. Zephia Bryant, director of the Office of Multicultural Services at McDaniel, said she noticed that many students lacked such skills.

And Villa Julie College has held its dining etiquette program for at least five years, drawing dozens of students each time.

In part, demand for table-etiquette training has been driven by changes in America's eating patterns, say etiquette consultants and college career specialists. Many families no longer sit down for meals, opting to eat on the go, they say.

"As we've gotten to a culture where a lot of [dining] is fast food, how many times do you sit down at a table with a place setting?" said Maureen Casey Gernert, director of Western Connecticut State University's Career Development Center, which recently held its second annual dining etiquette program.

Besides learning which utensils to use or the proper way to eat soup or peas, many dining events cover other issues, such as how to make small talk, network and dress for the job. The dining etiquette event at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., for instance, includes tips on social drinking and writing formal e-mail.

At High Point University, a 3,000-student private liberal arts school in North Carolina, first-year students are required to take a course called Life Skills that includes lessons in business etiquette, time management, financial literacy and communication skills.

The two-credit course over two semesters was created last academic year. It is taught by High Point University President Nido Qubein, a business consultant and chairman of Great Harvest Bread Co. Qubein said colleges should offer students as many practical and real world lessons as they do courses in philosophy and math.

Employers used to invest in their young hires and instill the proper skills to succeed on the job, Qubein said. In return, companies got loyalty from their workers. Today, the cycle of rotating doors demands that companies find skilled workers who can perform quickly.

"We live in a very demanding global environment, which is competitive and impatient," he said. "Therefore, you take the average CEO of a company, she or he is not thinking 10 years down the road, he's thinking the next quarter. They're all asking the same question, `What kind of people do I need on my team to give me the edge?'"

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