May 17, 2013
Soft skills: Gen Y gets schooled in old-school professional etiquette
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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