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Business Etiquette in a Casual World

 |  By: Britt Cumbie, CPA, Director of Contract Accounting Services


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Your resume is not the only thing you need to polish when looking for a job. The way you carry yourself in front of potential employers plays a big role in your job search. Knowing how to behave during a lunch or networking event will increase your possibilities of getting a job with your dream company.

There is only one chance to make a positive first impression. As a recruiter, I have to attend several networking events and I frequently see people making avoidable etiquette mistakes.

Any seasoned business professional will tell you networking is a great investment of your time. Attendance at these professional events is rising and frequently involves food and often includes sit-down meals.

Many people don’t know what to do with the things in front of them when sitting at a table. There are different types of forks, knives, spoons and questions arise: What to use first? What to do with the bread? Do I have to wait until everyone has their food or can I start now?

My favorite example, which I have repeatedly observed, is the following scenario:  You attend a dinner and are asked to squeeze into a seat at a round table.  You’re seated and suddenly you realize you have no idea which water or bread plate belongs to you.  That’s when you start going over the options in your head:

  • Option 1: Wait to see what the two folks surrounding you do
  • Option 2: Google for guidance on your smart phone
  • Option 3:  Guess and hope you are correct
  • Option 4: Fast

If this scenario sounds familiar perhaps this points to a potentially larger issue of dining etiquette.   Here are some simple tips:

  • Invest some time in sharpening your overall knowledge of etiquette. The resources online are endless when it comes to etiquette. Use them.
  • Think ahead about where you are going, the likely etiquette challenges that might occur and the appropriate way to handle them.
  • When it comes to silverware begin from the outside and work your way in.
  • Always follow the host’s lead. Don’t drink alcohol if they don’t. Wait until they start eating to start. You see how this goes, right?
  • Think of BMW. Not the car, this one stands for bread, meal and water. Bread is on your left, your meal is in front of you and water on your right. This way you won’t embarrass yourself by drinking someone else’s water.

Good etiquette is about making a positive impression. It’s not necessary to attend a 6-month course on manners (for most people), but it is important to know what is the appropriate way to behave in a formal setting. If you are not sure what to do in certain scenarios, look for the answer before attending the event. Be prepared– in every way– to be at the level you want be.

Are you ready to start a conversation?

Posted in: For Candidates