Des Moines Register, IA

06-10-11

Elbert: The dos and don'ts of business etiquette

Quiz time: What should you never do while seated in a waiting room prior to a job interview?

Or better yet: If you are taken to lunch or dinner during a job interview and need to leave the table, where should you place your napkin? How should you hold your fork? What should you not do with your fork?

Be careful before you answer, because if you're wrong, you'll likely be on the job hunting circuit a lot longer than necessary, said certified etiquette instructor Callista Gould of Des Moines.

Gould will provide the correct answers to those and other questions during a series called "Morning Blast of Business Etiquette" that will take place from 7:30 to 8 a.m. each of the next three Tuesdays at the Des Moines Social Club facility located in the Kirkwood Hotel.

The first session on Tuesday is about making first impressions. The June 21 session will cover table manners. And the June 28 session will focus on cocktail party and networking etiquette.

Bad manners are bad policy on so many levels, said Gould, who operates a business called the Culture and Manners Institute.

Doing or saying the wrong thing can hurt your career, as well as your social life.

In fact, Gould believes that bad manners are a cause - not a reflection - of the growing lack of civility in modern society.

The idea for weekly classes at the Social Club came during a meeting earlier this year of the Civility Project that's being sponsored by the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

The foundation has been holding civility meetings since last fall in an effort to encourage people to dial down the rhetoric and volume that surround most political issues and many other aspects of modern society.

"The discussion was about 'How can we improve civility in Des Moines?' " said Gould, who was on the Better Together Committee with Matthew McIver, the artistic and education director of the Social Club.

"Etiquette is about making the people around you feel comfortable and consideration of others. We thought the series would be a fun way to iron out the rough edges that people have," she said.

The connection between good etiquette and employment has always existed, and in recent years many universities have begun requiring that students take etiquette courses.

Table manners are a particular concern, said Kathy Wieland, who teaches etiquette to freshman and sophomore business students at Iowa State University.

Many students enter college without the slightest idea of what fork to use or other basic table manners, she said.

"One reason is that so many families don't dine in that manner or interact in that manner any longer. Students were coming to us and the most fine dining experience they've had was at the local sports bar," Wieland said.

"We teach freshmen and sophomores so they are ready to go through the interviewing process" to obtain internships.

Iowa State's MBA program also has a series of etiquette courses for its graduate school students.

Separately, Gould teaches etiquette seminars to students in ISU's liberal arts college.

Gould got into the etiquette business five years ago after a career in marketing and public relations. A Des Moines native, Gould worked for a number of businesses ranging from startups to old-line manufacturers, as well as nonprofits. At one point, she worked for Sony Music in the marketing department, handling performers including Ozzy Osbourne, James Taylor and Celine Dion.

"Being in the music business helped me understand how human behavior affects your career," Gould said.

For example, she said, "Ozzy Osbourne, despite his crazy persona, is kind to people behind the scenes. He's a very nice man" and has good manners. "That's part of his success."

On the other hand, she said, "I've seen artists who come out of nowhere and have a lot of talent and have a great first album, and all of a sudden they crash" because they are not considerate of others. "They have attitude and they are awful to people. You can see why their careers go away."

Those kinds of experiences, as well as seeing close up what makes a good corporate executive different from a bad one, convinced Gould that she could create a new career for herself as an etiquette expert.

She got the training she needed to become a Certified Etiquette Instructor, and five years ago when her father was in poor health, she moved back to Des Moines to help out with his care.

Gould has been answering etiquette questions ever since.

One of them is the waiting room question I posed at the beginning.

Here's the story that Gould tells:

"A woman approached me after a talk in Oklahoma and said, 'I am the receptionist in my office. The hiring manager has asked me to keep an eye on the job candidates in the waiting room and report back to him which ones are talking on their cellphones, checking messages or texting. Those are the candidates we do not hire.' "

Instead of playing with your smartphone, Gould recommends studying your notes about the company that is interviewing or going over answers to tricky questions in your head.

"Leave the impression that you are focused on the business at hand and not distracted by other things in your life, especially your Solitaire app," Gould said.