ENG Students Learn Fine Points of Interviewing while Dining

By Mark Dwortzan

Nationally recognized recruiting expert Maureen Crawford Hentz shaking hands with BME undergrad Michael Wexler, who demonstrates impeccable etiquette through his one-handed
Nationally recognized recruiting expert Maureen Crawford Hentz shaking hands with BME undergrad Michael Wexler, who demonstrates impeccable etiquette through his one-handed

Try holding a plate of sesame chicken tenders and a wine glass with one hand and shaking a recruiter’s hand firmly with the other, all while making direct eye contact. One awkward move could undermine years of stellar grades and research achievements, shifting you from the “maybe” to the “no” column in a split second; but making a good first impression while you balance food and drink could help get you to “yes.”

To learn how to navigate the rocky shoals of interviewing and networking while dining, 80 undergraduate and graduate students attended the College’s first “Engineering Etiquette Dinner” on March 28. Guided by guest speaker Maureen Crawford Hentz, U.S. manager of talent acquisition for a large global manufacturing company and a nationally recognized recruiting expert, the dinner featured a complementary three-course meal with beverages and interactive demonstrations and advice.

The etiquette dinner is the latest initiative of the Career Development Office (CDO), which provides ENG students with career fairs, company information sessions, resume workshops, one-on-one career counseling, mock interviews and “speed networking” events with ENG alums and hiring managers representing various companies. The main thrust of these services is to equip students with the skills they need to advance in their careers, from graduate school applications to job interviews to high-stakes corporate meetings.  

“You can sell yourself on a resume and cover letter, but you also have to sell yourself in person,” said CDO Director Dottie Catlin, “and that includes dressing, acting and communicating appropriately. Companies want prospective employees to show that they’re well-rounded, and have what it takes to represent the company after they’re hired.  I want our students to feel confident in selling both their hard (technical) and soft (people) skills to employers.”

From the moment they arrived in the Photonics Center Colloquium Room, Crawford Hentz showed participants how to act, eat and impress prospective employers. For starters, she held court at a standing reception where students strived to balance non-alcoholic drinks, appetizers such as those sesame chicken tenders, and conversation.

“I hire engineers all the time and have actually withdrawn offers for people with poor etiquette,” said Crawford Hentz, who demonstrated the art of holding your glass and plate with one hand, shaking hands with thumbs in parallel, and practicing direct eye contact.   

As she worked the room, Crawford Hentz offered feedback to students on their performance of such tasks, occasionally issuing on-the-spot requests (“Somebody show us the drink-plate hold!”) and pithy advice (“Do you know how to break into a triad? Stand across from one person and catch their eye and step into the interaction sphere.”).  

After the reception, students took their seats at eight round tables, where they learned how to impress their tablemates while moving through forkfuls of garden salad, thyme-marinated chicken breast, butternut squash raviolis and walnut caramel tart.

Fielding questions from several tables, Crawford Hentz offered recommendations on topics ranging from who to engage (“The interaction sphere at your table is the two people on each side and the person directly in front of you; you need to make sure you’re giving nonverbal attention to that person.”) to table-to-bar etiquette (“If you get up, you say, ‘I’m going to go to the bar, can I get you anything?’”) to how to sit (“You need to be close enough to the table so if something falls, you can catch it. Sit with the back of your shoulder blades touching the back of the chair and your knees under the table.”).

Much of Crawford Hentz’s advice stressed the importance of showing an interest in the needs of everyone at the table. “When you want some more bread, don’t say, ‘Could I get some?’” she quipped. “Say ‘May I have some more bread for the table’ to the server. When you’re out of water, make eye contact with the server and say, ‘May we have more water for the table?’”

Cultivating refined manners not only makes everyone feel good, Crawford Hentz observed, but also makes you look like a smoother person who can handle any situation. And that’s of critical importance to employers seeking people who may ultimately represent the company to the rest of the world.

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