You’re at a networking cocktail party. You’ve got a wine glass in one hand, a plate in the other, and an employer you want to impress is headed straight your way. You want to shake hands – but how?
This, and other tricky etiquette calls, were discussed at a five-course networking dinner held January 29. For the first time, mentors and the College of Business students they help attended the dinner together.
The 2014-2015 academic year drew applications from 90 students and 60 mentors, among them COB alumni and members of the local business community, making it the largest group since the COB’s mentoring program began five years ago.
Typically, the mentors meet with students to share career advice, industry-specific insights and real-world business experience, helping them guide students’ entry into the post-college world. The etiquette dinner was something different: an opportunity for students and mentors to continue their ongoing conversations while learning proper conduct at a business meal.
“It’s fun to see professionals in action and observe what etiquette they know thus far and what they can learn from,” said Yanyn San Luis, (BA ’10), assistant director, Alumni Relations, Office of Advancement. “It provides the student with the idea that they are not invincible and can also learn new things.
San Luis helped attendees through the tricky cocktail party handshake: Keep the hors-d’oeuvres plate in your left hand with the wine glass atop it, far back enough to hold both, and the napkin underneath the plate. That leaves the right hand ready for shaking.
Other advice she shared: A nametag goes on the right lapel, which puts it at eye-level when shaking hands. Forget mom’s advice of keeping the left hand on your lap when eating; rest that wrist on the table.
Don’t forget to wipe your mouth, and blot your lips instead of swiping the napkin across your mouth. And when you’re done with dinner, place the fork, teeth down, across the plate and the napkin beside the place setting, not on top of the dirty plate.
Stacking was probably the biggest surprise for dinner attendees, noted San Luis. “This is where individuals place on back of the fork any of the vegetable sides such as corn, peas, or other offerings,” she added. “This method is widely used in Europe and adopted by Queen Elizabeth herself.”
“Learning protocol and being well mannered gives you an edge with the competition,” she said.
Giving students new ideas is part of the mentoring challenge.
For mentors and mentees, the dinner was an opportunity to meet informally, catch up, and reflect on the rewards they receive from mentoring.
“I help make students better equipped to anticipate problems and offer advice to keep them dreaming,” said Fidel Chacon, business development leader at Visa International, covering Latin America and the Caribbean. “Being a mentor challenges me because I need to come up with new ideas and keep up to their expectations.”
Mentors are a valuable resource for students, noted College of Business undergraduate student Kenny Neto. Upon finishing an internship in international relations, Neto realized the career wasn’t right for him, so he began from the ground up studying international business.
“If I had a mentor back then, I wouldn’t have picked something I didn’t like,” said Neto, who in August 2014 began working with mentor Keith Clarke, a finance director at Walmart covering stores in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Puerto Rico. His advice: “Get the guidance of a mentor and take advantage of it.”
Early on, Neto and Clarke worked on resume writing and interviewing techniques. Neto began sending out resumes and applying for jobs, and soon, a Chevron executive called for an internship interview. Neto begins the internship this summer in his native Angola.
“I’ve been able to share my knowledge as to what the students need to enter the workforce and make them better prepared,” said Clarke.
Mentors’ recommendations have made the learning process easier for students.
“I’ve gained insight that otherwise would have taken years to attain,” said Radita Chowdhury, an international MBA student from Bangladesh, said of her mentor Eugene Lukac, a specialist leader in business-IT strategy at Deloitte Consulting.