Career Advice

May 17, 2013

Soft skills: Gen Y gets schooled in old-school professional etiquette

Soft skills: Gen Y gets schooled in old-school professional etiquette

Arden Clise, right, shows Gracie Quatchon how to hold a glass and appetizer plate in one hand in order to be able to shake hands at a networking event. (Lora Shinn / Special to NWjobs)

Like many young professionals, Gracie Quatchon is learning how to navigate the business world with charm. It’s not necessarily something taught in school alongside marketing or budgeting, the 30-year-old Seattle banker says.

Of course, it isn’t just millennials who are confused by manners. At a quarterly etiquette class for young professionals taught by Arden Clise at Seattle’s Sorrento Hotel, Quatchon learned alongside plenty of Gen X and baby-boomer attendees how to gracefully enter and exit a networking conversation.

“I feel shy at networking events, but this class really helped boost my confidence,” Quatchon says. After all, she now knows how to juggle a glass, an appetizer plate and a handshake at a networking function.

Professionalism among recent college grads

Each year, York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Professional Excellence conducts a national study on the state of professionalism in the workplace, focused on employers’ experiences with recent college graduates.

According to the 2013 survey, half of the respondents (50.1 percent) indicated that problems with technology abuses or etiquette among new employees have increased in the past five years.

Common types of technology abuse are:

• Text messaging at inappropriate times (74.3 percent)

• Inappropriate use of the Internet (65.7 percent)

• Excessive use of Twitter/Facebook (65.2 percent)

• Excessive cellphone usage for personal calls (59.7 percent)

• Text messaging/e-mailing when direct conversation is more appropriate (56.1 percent)

No generation is perfect from the start, says Laura Schildkraut, owner of Onboarding Gen Y, a Seattle-area firm that helps bridge generational gaps. “When we went to our first job on our first day, did we do everything right?” she asks. “We’ve all done silly things we thought were perfectly fine.”

Gen Y tends to value efficiency over effectiveness or etiquette, Schildkraut says.
She advises young professionals to be observant when they are first entering the workforce.

“Look at the people around you, see how they work, and make life easier for them,” she suggests to millennials. In other words, read the room and adapt to the culture rather than expecting it to adapt to you.

In Clise’s class, young adults learn what to order on a lunchtime interview (match the price range of the host, and get something that’s easy to eat) and whether it’s appropriate to ask for a doggy bag for your leftovers (no).

Pre-interview, figuring out appropriate interview attire may require calling the receptionist and politely asking for tips. “When you get there, bring a small two-piece box of Fran’s Chocolates and say, ‘I’m the one you talked to; what you said helped me feel more comfortable,’” Schildkraut says.

If offered the choice, connect face-to-face on an interview, even if a phone interview is more convenient. Afterward, ask the interviewer which form of follow-up he or she prefers: email or phone. “It indicates that you’re astute about different communication styles,” Schildkraut says.

While networking, either formally or informally, give others your full attention and interest instead of updating your Facebook status or making the conversation all about your job search. “The No. 1 complaint I hear from my clients is that millennials don’t know how to communicate in person and rely too much on communicating via their digital tools, especially texting,” Clise says.

“Millennials often use their digital tools inappropriately -- when meeting with others, communicating via text with clients and potential employers, and answering their phone in public places,” she says.

Social media also puts you at risk in networking situations, Quatchon says. Down too many drinks at the bar, sneak home with buffet leftovers or ignore a customer, and someone might snap your picture. A future employer or client might be in the room as well. “You never know who’s watching you,” she says.

So to play well with others, focus on social skills and personal interactions. “People still want to hear someone’s voice, and they want the courtesy of your attention while they are talking to you,” Clise says. “Digital tools have their place, but treating people with kindness and respect should never be an inconvenience.”

“In bad economic times, the gift of undivided attention means a lot,” Schildkraut says.

Editor's note: Click the video below to see Arden Clise's four etiquette essentials for moving your career forward.


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2 Comments

knxvil on May 21, 2013 1:27 PM | Reply

I have to disagree firmly with the ideas of bringing a gift for the individual who greets you in the office ("receptionists" do far more than receive, and many take offense to that term anyway), and also that you should match your host's price point at a lunch interview. Speaking as someone on the cusp of Gens X and Y and with a reasonable amount of interview experience on both sides, as candidate and interviewer, gifts are probably the worst thing you can bring. They're unnecessary and can be construed as some form of pandering or an attempt to kiss the correct derriere to get an "in" with the right people in the office. A better rule to follow, one that I'm surprised is not emphasized more here, is to always be polite to anyone who assists you, regardless of their level within the organization--starting at the bottom. Plus, what if the person at whom you're slinging chocolates turns out to be on a diet, diabetic, or allergic? You never need to ask about the dress code in the first place, because you should always overdress. Even if a dress code is mentioned while making interview arrangements, the golden rule is this: "Dress one level above whatever you're told is standard." That applies even if your contact swears that the workplace is casual. As for lunch interviews, good table and conversational manners far outweigh the price of what you order for yourself. Hosts often defer to the candidate to start the ordering; in that instance, you're first at bat, and there's no price point to which you can compare--middle of the road is always safe. Alcoholic beverages are much more of a concern, and I would avoid those completely--this is a business meeting, not a social call. If your interviewers choose to drink and the interview becomes considerably unfocused, you might want to consider how that potentially translates into their office behavior. I don't really think Gen Y is as inept overall as the article paints them, however. Anyone on an interview needs to turn their phone completely off, or at least silence it, and concentrate on the task at hand. Remember how to interact with an actual person, and not someone on the other side of a screen. Finally, send a written (hard copy or email is sufficient) thank-you note--do not call unless the majority of your contact with the company has been solely by phone. These are not skills that you should pay anyone to learn; that they are no longer common sense is the real problem.

GMak on May 21, 2013 9:32 PM | Reply

These are not skills that you should pay anyone to learn; that they are no longer common sense is the real problem. "AMEN!!!!

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