Every year UMass Lowell’s Career Services and Cooperative Education Center hosts Dine & Dress for Success events to help students learn the finer points of eating a formal four-course business dinner while making a good impression on a potential employer. More than 70 students and representatives from a half dozen businesses attended the Career Center’s most recent dinner, with students learning about everything from which fork to use first to how to keep conversation flowing. Anne Apigian, a career counselor at the Center, offers some tips on how students can avoid rookie mistakes.
What are some suggestions for navigating a job interview or meeting conducted over a meal?
Don’t arrive hungry. It’s not about the food. Order something that’s manageable and easy to eat. Follow your host’s lead. For example, wait for your host’s invitation before you sit down or reach for the bread basket. Don’t begin eating until your host has started. When it comes to silverware, use the pieces that are farthest away from your plate first.
Don’t forget to turn off your mobile phone. Texting, checking messages or tweeting at the table is unacceptable. At the end of the meal, thank your host.
How can students avoid common missteps when attending a networking event or business meeting?
One thing is clothing selection. Some students dress up as if they are going out with friends for the evening. Business attire is generally more conservative. Make sure that clothing fits well, is pressed and in good repair.
Lack of preparation is another issue. Students should find out in advance what companies will be at an event and come prepared to ask relevant questions. They need to keep their goal in mind: They are there to make connections.
Any pointers on how to work the room at a networking event?
Do advance preparation. Research the companies you want to connect with and seek out their representatives. Ask the people you meet about their roles at the company or how long they’ve worked there – but don’t ask anything too personal. When making conversation, stick with safe subjects – the weather, sports, travel or general businesses topics. Stay away from politics, religion or anything divisive or controversial.
Students should be ready to talk a bit about themselves – describing their major, their interests, when they expect to graduate and their career aspirations. Be concise and focused. Students who can clearly articulate what they want to do will impress. Be confident! Consider any sort of gathering a networking opportunity and understand that the more you practice these skills, the more comfortable you’ll become.