The finger positions "b" for bread on the left and "d" for drink on the right help a CALS etiquette dinner participant remember dining protocol. (Photo: Lynn Ketchum)
The finger positions "b" for bread on the left and "d" for drink on the right help a CALS etiquette dinner participant remember dining protocol. (Photo: Lynn Ketchum)

Practicing the Job Interview: The Etiquette Dinner

The annual event helps UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students develop skills for interacting with industry professionals in a dining and social setting.
Feb. 28, 2017
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The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Career Center complements the academic preparation students receive in their coursework with essential career skills to help them gain employment. Versed on the uniqueness of the majors offered within CALS, the center staff coach students as they prepare to enter their chosen fields. CALS Career Center Coordinator Kyle Sharp and internship coordinator Dari Trujillo, both CALS alumni, assist students with resume reviews, cover letter coaching, mock interviews, workshops and opportunities to interact with industry professionals. 

Tips for Job Interviews

By Kyle Sharp, coordinator of the CALS Career Center 

It is increasingly acceptable to send a thank you email rather than a thank you note. Often hiring decisions are made before a handwritten note can arrive in the mail. If you know there will be a delay in the decision then an old-fashioned handwritten note does add a touch of class. 

Attitudes toward alcohol and business vary depending on the organization's culture. Watch how your host orders and then order accordingly, but if you typically don't drink alcoholic beverages don't feel obligated to imbibe. 

Dress codes and dress definitions are constantly in flux. For an interview or introduction, when in doubt, err on the side of being overdressed rather than underdressed. 

Be aware of what is happening in the broader world and explore new interest areas. This can lead to fewer bouts of awkward silence. 

There is nothing worse than a limp handshake, other than a bone-crusher handshake. Show confidence with a firm handshake, gripping the person's hand thumb web to thumb web, and shake for 2 to 5 seconds. 

Time is valuable. If you have an appointment and absolutely will not be able to attend, be polite with a quick phone call or email cancellation. 

Beginning with the initial handshake to picking up the proper fork during dinner and carrying on a conversation, much can go wrong during a dinner interview with a prospective employer.

To help students avoid the pitfalls and get hired, the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences holds an annual dinner with a certified etiquette trainer who conducts a step-by-step tutorial on what is expected. 

Attending an etiquette dinner may seem old-fashioned, but studies have shown that bad manners can impede personal success — and negatively impact organizations and businesses. The college's networking and etiquette dinner is one of its signature events to teach students the skills they need to transition into the professional realm. 

"When you're interviewing for a sales-type position, it usually involves being taken to a meal or happy hour to see how you act in a social setting," said Kyle Sharp, coordinator of the CALS Career Center. "It's part of the screening process companies use to assess your suitability for being hired, and also later on when you are being considered for promotion. The etiquette dinner is a confidence-builder for the students, giving them an opportunity to interact with industry professionals or CALS administrators during the evening." 

Open to sophomores, juniors and seniors in the college, this year's event was held on Feb. 21 at the Mountain Oyster Club in Tucson. About 45 students attended, with four to six students interacting at each table with professionals from industry or college administrators. 

Along with Shane Burgess, dean of the college, and Michael Staten, associate dean of Career and Academic Services, industry representatives were from agricultural supply companies, financial services firms and the college's alumni board.

Knowing the Details Counts

Students were briefed in advance of the event on business attire and customs through the college's Career Center workshops and via email.

"We actually had a lot of questions about how and when to shake hands — they can't be 'bone-crushers.' They do realize there is an importance to carrying and presenting yourself," said Dari Trujillo, internship coordinator at the CALS Career Center.

During the dinner, the trainer described the etiquette protocol, including fork and knife use, how to properly eat bread instead of cutting it in half, where to put the napkin — "the little details in a dining interview setting that people really do notice," Sharp said. The presenter asked students and industry professionals to join her presentation to serve as examples for proper execution. 

To practice conversation and active listening skills, participants were given ample time to network over light hors d'oeuvres and dessert. The students learned to spend the customary 30 minutes conversing after the business meal, rather than inappropriately leaving as soon as dining ended. 

Feedback From Students

"One of my favorite parts about the dinner was that the speaker who was presenting the workshop on etiquette also encouraged questions and interactions from the audience, and even gave the opportunity for other business professionals who have been through the process of hiring people to give their feedback and comments on those etiquette issues," said NaRayah Runyon, a student in the Agricultural Technology Management and Education Program.

Although alcohol was not served at the etiquette dinner, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students were coached previously regarding legal and prudent alcohol consumption and to remember that it's a job interview. 

"I've hosted employers who have taken students out to a local restaurant or bar where they ordered too many drinks," Sharp said, adding that they failed the interviews. "And students may order alcohol not knowing it might be against the company's expense account." 

Although professional skills programs are common in business schools, CALS is one of few colleges of agriculture and life sciences in the country with a dedicated career center offering amenities such as the etiquette dinner. "Interest is so high that we had a wait list," Sharp said. 

Nicole Bokanoski, a student in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, said she especially enjoyed being able to speak with working professionals.

"There are a lot of little things that I didn't realize I was doing that I shouldn't be doing, so it was kind of interesting to learn more about how to handle business dinners in that type of situation, and be professional in general," Bokanoski said.

CALS has held three etiquette dinners over the past four years, engaging nearly 120 students. Many graduates have said they were able to land jobs using the skills they practiced and mastered through the Career Center and the dinner. 

"I thought the information from the etiquette presentation was very valuable," said Hannah Porter, who is studying veterinary science. "I feel more prepared for future interviews because of the information I learned about what to wear, as well as the dinner manners that are not common knowledge to most professionals, in a relaxed and enjoyable setting."