Feature: An experience at the Etiquette Dinner

By Julian Curet, [email protected]

Last Wednesday I, and many other students and alumni, attended Career Service’s Etiquette Dinner in the Student Union Ballroom. For only $5, registered guests received professional headshots for use with services such as LinkedIn, a chance to meet with area professionals and practice networking, and a three-course dinner.

Once I got my nametag I saw the line for the professional headshots. First impressions are extremely important and, as we learned during the dinner, many employers recruit through social media. A good headshot can portray a confident and professional potential employee.

After photographs it was straight to the mock-cocktail. In a room adjacent to the Ballroom, light appetizers covered two long tables and soft piano music filled the ears. Near the end of the room a television displayed a slideshow showcasing many tips to help with socialization such as “The Art of Listening.”

Professionals from companies like Verizon, Goodyear, Infocision, and many others mingled as confident and nervous students alike navigated the vegetable tray and calculated their approach. Some guests found comfort as wallflowers while others moved gracefully from conversation to conversation.

Eric McCurdy, a graduate assistant with Career Services, was there to make sure nobody was left out. Serving as a social lubricant, he would introduce himself, start conversation, and then seamlessly introduce the guest to another guest. He brought a few people to me and this is how I met Kathleen Mallady.

Mallady is a UA nursing student near her graduation date. She is no stranger to networking events but still finds that there is always a benefit to practicing social skills. She says that the cost of the Etiquette Dinner was great too. Other local networking events can be as much as $20 but they don’t provide dinner, education on social graces, or the safety net offered by Career Service’s nurturing environment.

A few conversations later I encountered one of the invited employers. Tricia Cooke is the co-op and intern coordinator for Goodyear. She recruits and manages all of the engineering students.

As a recruiter, Cooke appreciates seeing a student involved in many activities and clubs.  She adds, however, that candidates really stand out when they know “how to present themselves, how to make eye-contact, shake your hand, and have that step-up professionalism when they speak and how they carry themselves.”

Cooke advises students to always be prepared with an “elevator speech.” She learned the “elevator speech” technique during her time as an intern for Career Services.

Imagine if you were in an elevator with an employer and you only had less than a minute to tell them about yourself. You should lead with your name, major, year, and what employment or experience you are seeking. This works as a great opening to help break the ice and start a conversation.

An hour of mingling, conversation, and networking passed by and the wall opened to reveal the Ballroom where we would be dining. No seats were assigned so we were free to sit with our new acquaintances or forced to sit with strangers. This might be a nightmare to some people but it proved to be another opportunity to practice their skills.

Before our salads arrived, Laura Carey, director of Career Services, greeted everyone and Jennifer Pirtz, part of the Career Services team, gave us a breakdown of the table settings and how to eat in public. This was accompanied by a handy pocket-sized chart, given to everyone, showing what utensils and plates are placed where.

Pirtz shared guidelines for posture, when to cut your food, how to use your napkin, and even how to pass things to others at the table. Bread, salad dressing, and other items should always be passed to the right. Salt and pepper should always be passed together.

Other presentations included tips on social media, the not uncommon interview dinner, and email correspondence.

Michael Kulick, Career Services’ associate director of co-ops and internships, said that 90 percent of employers use social media to recruit candidates. How you conduct yourself as an online presence can affect your chances of being hired. Kulick urged everyone to “Google” themselves often and be in control of what is publicly available.

Tips on interview dinners were given by Emily Vees, associate director of career placement. It helps to research the menu beforehand, if possible. That way you can decide what foods you would be comfortable with. Definitely avoid alcohol. And, just in case, be prepared to pay your portion of the bill.

Vees also spoke about the importance of proper email writing.  While they are both forms of electronic communication, emails are not phone texts. Every word should be fully spelled out.  They should be informative but concise. Voicemail messages should also be clear and concise, with your name and contact information on both ends of the message. And, a “thank you” note goes a long way.

As we continued to enjoy our salads and entrees some of us apprehensively put into practice the dining tips we had just been given. Before the style show, which was the final event of the evening, we had a chance for some more conversation. Amber Gobrogge was one of the guests seated at my table.

A UA student in the field of criminology, Gobrogge said that she is transitioning into a more professional aspect of student life. She was interested in the Etiquette Dinner for its advice on social networking and business attire, and was looking forward to the style show to provide specifics on how she should expand her current inventory of formal wear.

Near the end of the dinner, Eric McCurdy took the stage and began the style show, where members of UA’s Greek Honorary Societies modeled examples of attire that were divided into three categories: business casual, business dress, and professional dress.

McCurdy shared which styles are appropriate in certain settings. This also included hair and facial grooming. He said to avoid perfumes and colognes, as many people are sensitive or allergic to these scents. Strong smells might hurt an employer’s ability to see themselves working with you.

All the information provided at the Etiquette Dinner can be found at Career Services on the second floor of the Student Union. The office also helps students with resume writing, mock interviews and self-assessment tools that help with securing experiences and employment beneficial to students’ futures. Visit the website at uakron.edu/career.