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Dessert Spoon, What Dessert Spoon? A Simple Guide to Interview and Business Etiquette
Authored by: Nancy Sue Merz
BMW. The immediate image these letters conjure up is of a sleek and expensive automobile. But for the young men of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity at Kansas State University, it means something entirely different.
I conducted a business etiquette short course for these students where I tried to instill in them that BMW stands for Bread, Meal and Water, a useful method to remember the basics in a meal related job interview. I wanted these students to know which bread plate belonged to them, what type of wine glass is intended for red, white or rose wine, and I wanted them to know where a dessert fork and spoon are placed. But most importantly, I wanted them to practice over and over the basic rules of etiquette, until they were so comfortable with those rules that they became second nature. I wanted them to be poised and self-assured.
Why is it so important to teach correct etiquette? Teaching etiquette helps college students establish the self-confidence needed for job interviews conducted over a luncheon. Interviews are stressful enough without having to wonder what fork should be used during which course or what to do with your napkin if it falls on the floor. Lastly, Unfortunately, some students fail to learn good manners while growing up.
Even though business etiquette is based upon common sense, it is important to gain knowledge beyond the fundamentals. While students should know not to talk with their mouths full, most do not know that they should eat a small snack before a luncheon interview so they can properly concentrate on the interview and interviewer, and not on the fact that they are starving. Along this same line, it may be common sense not to eat before everyone is served, but students need to know that if they have not yet been served while most at the table have their meal, that they should to encourage the others to start eating.
Many students may know that they should not use a toothpick, but they should also know how to place their utensils on their plate when they finish their meal. Common sense will dictate that the student thank the host for the meal, but the student should also remember to treat the wait staff with similar courtesies, using "please" and "thank-you".
Acting the Part
Proper interview etiquette dictates the appropriate way to make introductions: introduce the younger or less prominent person to the older or more prominent person. Once again, practice makes perfect, and this practice will help to ease any self-consciousness that the student might feel when making introductions.
Students, likewise, need to know how to handle etiquette "faux pas." Most of us have been in a situation where someone is making an introduction and can't remember a name. The best advice here is to understand that everyone makes mistakes and a simple and sincere apology will go a long way to rectifying the situation. Simply say, "I'm sorry, but your name has slipped my mind." Or, "cover" by introducing the person that you do know first. "Do you know Eric Jones, he is one of our Admissions Counselors?" That will usually get the unknown person to introduce him or herself. Failing to make the introduction is a worse faux pas than admitting you have forgotten a name.
Students on the receiving end of an introduction should repeat the person's name back; saying "Hi" or " Hello" is not enough. Instead, say, "It is a pleasure to meet you, David." Or say, "Do you prefer being called David or should I call you Dave?"
We all can benefit from remembering that there may come a time when we are the object of the faux pas, and not the offender. I once saw a slender young man, sitting on a chair, at a dinner interview. One minute, this young man was upright and eating, and the next, he was on the floor, in the middle of a broken chair. I sat in amazement, wondering what he would say. Would he swear and get angry? Would he cry? He did neither; he made a joke, saying, "I've only had one beer, I swear!!" Everyone laughed and the tension in the room immediately evaporated. The key is to be gracious and to play down the incident.
Another faux pas is the use of derogatory language toward anyone (present or absent) or using harsh words. There is just never a good time for abrasive language or distasteful jokes.
Dressing the part
The itinerary of any interview etiquette course should include the proper clothes needed for interviewing. The message I convey is dress for the job that you want, not the job that you have. When dressing for an interview, it never hurts to err on the side of formality. The person conducting the interview may be in a polo shirt and khakis, but if the interviewee really wants the job, first impressions are critical. A conservative well-pressed suit and shined shoes are essential.
Since the students often have pre-conceived notions of how job interviews take place, I surprise them and teach about two little understood types of interviews: behavioral and stress interviews. Often, students have no idea that these types of interviews exist.
First, (since they are the most fun to practice!) we talked about stress interviews. A stress interview is a direct interview tactic where candidates are asked questions designed to induce stress. I wanted the students to understand that the interviewer was not really a maniac, but would certainly appear to be one during the interview. I also wanted them to understand that this is more of a test to see how well they perform under pressure.
In a worse case scenario, I explain that they could be kept waiting, for as long an hour and then once they were introduced, the interviewer could just coldly stare at them. I also explain that the interviewer could hurl tough questions and not wait for an answer, or show disdain or disagreement with an answer. It is important that students remain calm and polite, even if the interviewer is rude. Do not get flustered; rather to view this type of interview as a game. Then we practice the scenario; I sit down with a student facing me. I am calm and pleasant for the first few minutes and then become hostile, defensive and argumentative. Then, I calm back down. With this type of interview, practice makes perfect.
In the behavioral interview, questions start with, "Tell me about a time when you." or "Give me an example of..." Behavioral interviews are not about what you know, but rather what you did. College students often lack applicable job experience to call upon for their answers. So, how does a college senior ready to graduate prepare for this type of interview? The student should recall experiences from college, e.g., group projects or working in the residence halls.
There are several excellent websites that deal with job interviews. Start with the Clearinghouse's Job Interview Resources . Look for questions that fall under the category of stress or behavioral interviews; practice answers to those questions.
Writing a Résumé
Effective résumé writing techniques are important to any job search; after all, students only get one chance to get it right. I advise against using templates, since they can become distorted if sent electronically and making changes to a template can be difficult. ALWAYS have someone else proof read a résumé for misspellings and typos. The last piece of advice: this is not the time to be creative, i.e., don't lie about anything on the résumé or cover letter. For more information, check out the Clearinghouse's Resume Resources.
I have proofread many resumes and cover letters, and conducted mock interviews, but these tools are quickly forsaken once a job is offered. Good manners and proper etiquette are instruments that will serve students well in all aspects of life, not just during their workday. Business etiquette is a genderless art. Mastering this art will allow anyone to walk into a room with good posture and a confident air.
I would like to end by passing along one more piece of etiquette advice. This advice is good for student and advisor alike. If you go to lunch with someone you enjoy being with, but find yourself routinely stuck with paying the bill, get out of the rut. Don't get mad. Go out again with that person and, as you begin to order, tell the waitress or waiter you would like separate checks. After the wait staff leaves, look over at your companion and exclaim, "I didn't want you to think that you were going to have to pay for my meal!" That gets you off the hook, and you look gracious doing it.
Authored by: Nancy Sue Merz
Student Financial Assistance
Kansas State University
Cite using APA style as:
Merz, N.S. (2005). Dessert Spoon, What Dessert Spoon? A Simple Guide to Interview and Business Etiquette.Retrieved -insert today's date- from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: