Minding Your P's And Q's

Oct. 19, 2004

Wiping hands on the tablecloth, using fingers to dunk a lemon slice in iced tea and visiting the buffet table one too many times. These are only a few of the etiquette errors that Blaine McCormick witnessed as a former recruiter for a Fortune 50 oil company.

McCormick, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the Hankamer School of Business, urges new graduates not to underestimate the advantages of knowing proper etiquette -- behavior that shows respect to others. "Good manners stick out in the marketplace. Mealtime manners are especially important," he says.

Although staring down a 20-piece place setting at a formal dinner can be intimidating, good manners are a basic skill that should be used in all situations -- from a casual business transaction on the golf course to a fancy gala, says Sarah Aynesworth, BSE '92, a Waco etiquette consultant. "Rules aren't black and white; they aren't made to make us feel superior, but rather to help us get along better and coexist more peacefully. They are basic tenets of mindfulness and thoughtfulness," she says.

For new graduates, using proper etiquette could mean the difference between getting a job offer and being rejected. Practice is key. "If young grads have table manners down so it's a habit, they aren't worried if they are doing the right thing. Then they can get down to business," Aynesworth says.

Simple rules of thumb such as refraining from vulgarity and being on time also can give candidates a surprisingly strong competitive advantage, McCormick says.

Etiquette faux pas also include improper introductions, negative body language such as crossing the arms in front of the body, and chewing gum. By being more aware of basic etiquette, a person can use it as a powerful tool to become more successful in everyday and business life, Aynesworth says.

One method of learning proper manners is to take a class. Private coaches, such as Aynesworth, can be located online or in the telephone directory, and colleges may offer courses. Protocol instruction is offered by many employers, including designer Kate Spade, who requires all new hires to read a book by etiquette maven Emily Post, Aynesworth says.

And, of course, there's the tried-and-true way of learning good manners, McCormick says: "Listen to your mother."

Etiquette tips

Introductions:

Introduce a client to the boss. Introduce a senior member to a junior.

At the table:

When in doubt, follow the host when ordering food and choosing utensils.

Name tags:

Wear name tags on the right side; the eye easily finds it when people shake hands.

Shaking hands:

Give a firm grip with two to three pumps and establish direct eye contact.

E-mail:

Don't use slang in business e-mail. Always include contact information.

Thank-you notes:

Follow a job interview with a thank-you note sent the same day.

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