Business Students Taught Manners

The Sun, November 29, 2006

by Hannah Cho

  • 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 county are signing up for etiquette instruction with more frequency since growing numbers 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 advisors 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 educational 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 unwritten laws 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, college are adding etiquette training because the job market demands more now than in the past. “That’s part of our jobs to prepare them even though it’s not 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 campus wide 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.