A return to manners

They can hold a conversation — but can they hold their forks properly?

University graduates may hit the career path running with high marks and great intentions, but without polished manners they can easily become fish out of water.

It’s a problem B.C.’s Simon Fraser University is taking seriously. The institution made etiquette — in the boardroom as well as in the dining room — an integral part of its Careers Future Week in September.

In the changing world of business, the tables are literally being turned, says Jane Martin, co-ordinator of the business faculty’s career services centre. “Companies are going back to a more professional style of dress and presentation,” she says. “The professional manners will follow.”

In April, Martin organized a two-day workshop package, dubbed Etiquette 101, which attracted more than 40 business students and resulted in a long waiting list.

The pilot program — featuring etiquette in the workplace and dining etiquette that included a practice dinner — has been expanded into a week of daily workshops.

“We want to give our business students a competitive edge in their career preparation. It’s so important to be the finished business person, a complete package, if you aspire to any kind of managerial position,” says Martin, noting that some companies, like IBM, put new recruits through their own in-house etiquette programs.

“Without proper business and social graces an employee can easily give a company a black eye,” she says.

The workplace etiquette seminar covers everything from the do’s and don’ts of working around superiors to handling office gossip. Dining etiquette features such basics as which fork to use and how to pour wine. Both are offered to business students.

“So many business deals and even job interviews are done over lunch and dinner,” adds Martin. “First impressions mean everything. Not being able to handle the environment can often make or break the deal. So etiquette can affect the bottom line.”

Martin says Queen’s University offers a similar program and other universities are catching on.

“Students are loving it because it boosts their self-confidence, gives them an edge in their job searches and can make their careers that much more successful,” Martin says.

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