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Beyond the Dining Hall

As graduation approaches, students learn to mind their manners at business dinners

Julie Rimbault settled into a seat in the Goldstein Alumni and Faculty Center dining room, took a sip from her water goblet, and turned her attention to the matter of manners

Expecting to graduate this spring with a master's of professional studies in environmental science, Rimbault said it was time to "get back into the groove of how to behave" as she enters the job market.

With that goal in mind, Rimbault joined about 25 other soon-to-be ESF graduates and some 50 of their counterparts from neighboring Syracuse University for an etiquette dinner that was part of the Career Development Series sponsored by the ESF Office of Student Life.

They heard a presentation by Brian O. Earle of Cornell University, an expert in the areas of interpersonal and organizational communications, who reminded them of the basics - turn cell phones off during dinner - and taught them a trick for determining which is the correct bread plate and water glass to use at a crowded table: Put your hands in your lap, palm down. Make a circle with the thumb and pointer of each hand, leaving the other fingers straight. Look at your hands. The right hand will have formed a rough, lower case "d," meaning that's your drinking glass to the right of your dinner plate. The left hand will be shaped like a "b," so reach to the left for your bread plate.

Earle told stories about students who lost out on jobs they wanted because of a last-minute civility goof, such as beginning to eat their meal before their hosts were served.

ESF Career Development Officer John Turbeville, who organized the event, said learning the fine points of conducting themselves during a business lunch or dinner will help these students succeed.

"We hear each day about the bad economic climate and the continual rise of the unemployment rate. It is important for us all, and especially students who are entering a job search, not to ignore or hide from the reality that is out there today," Turbeville said. "This event on dining etiquette is important because it will be the little things that separate one candidate from another. To have refined your skills in this area and through the general tips delivered in this presentation about interviewing could be what gets a student his or her first job."

Rimbault also used the opportunity to look for differences between practices in the United States and those in her native country. "I also want to compare the etiquette here with that in France because that's where I'm from," said Rimbault, who is focusing her studies in the field of environmental policy and democratic processes.

At Rimbault's left sat Shiuli Mahmud, who is completing her doctorate in the Department of Paper and Bioprocess Engineering. She said she had found earlier installments in the Career Development Series to be helpful.

One of the reasons she attended the etiquette dinner was to become more mindful of the etiquette differences between the United States and her native Bangladesh. She is not sure where her career will take her, but she wants to be ready for the interview process.