Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 24, 2002Volume 30, Number 30Two-Week Issue

Deborah Cucinotta of the firm Global Etiquette gives gradudate student Akiko Fujimoto guidance on the proper use of dinner utensils during the Interview Etiquette Program.

Graduate students get practical
advice on interview etiquette

Graduate School students got a crash-course in how to avoid common mistakes while having drinks and dinner with a potential employer at an Interview Etiquette Program sponsored this spring by the school's Career Services Office.

About 50 students donned their finery for the occasion, which was held in the McDougal Graduate Student Center. The evening featured a cocktail hour and four-course catered meal, with students getting guidance every step of the way by an expert in protocol.

"When you are at a cocktail party, your main goal is not to drink and eat the entire time," said Deborah Cucinotta, head of Global Etiquette, a consulting firm based in Princeton, New Jersey. "You are there for a purpose. This is a business environment, so don't go there starving.

"As a rule of thumb, keep your right hand free, clean and dry, so you can shake hands. Balance your drink and plate in the left hand," she instructed.

Cucinotta was trained at the Protocol School of Washington. Her usual clients are business people who are being groomed to rise to upper-level positions. She counsels them on appropriate dress, basic people skills and good manners.

"Cucinotta very successfully adapted her expertise to meet the needs of arts and sciences graduate students who interview for academic, corporate and government positions," said Mary Johnson, director of Graduate Career Services. "These interviews can take place over several days and include a number of social occasions. The aim of a program like this is to make students who are perfectly comfortable in an intellectual dialogue be equally comfortable at the social gatherings that are part of the interview experience."

McDougal Fellows for Career Services April Smith and Jennifer Larsen helped Johnson organize and run the event. "We wanted students to get practical etiquette advice in the context of an event that was also fun," noted Smith, a third-year graduate student in psychology.

Cucinotta touched on topics ranging from good manners -- "As you enter a cocktail party, find and thank the person who invited you" -- to such esoterica as the proper way to open a luncheon napkin versus a dinner napkin. She also covered such basics as how to excuse yourself from the table to what gestures to use when thanking your host with a toast at the end of the meal.

Some of her suggestions were purely practical: "Don't order spaghetti; it's too hard to eat." Some were strategic: "Don't order the most expensive thing on the menu. You don't want to give your future employer the impression that you're high maintenance."

She showed slides of formal table settings and discussed how to position utensils to signal to the wait staff that you have finished a course. She advised, "Show courtesy to the staff at all times. A 'thank you' now and then is appropriate, but not every time they serve you."

Cucinotta discovered that a fair number of participants were not comfortable with a knife and fork. About a third of the students at the dinner were from countries in Asia, and some of them had very limited experience with Western etiquette -- including Jie Lin, a third-year doctoral student in electrical engineering, who remarked that in China he used only chopsticks, except when he went to Western restaurants in his hometown near Shanghai.

The students also peppered Cucinotta with a variety of questions, including:

When a man sits down, may he unbutton his jacket? "Once you're sitting down, unbuttoning is usually fine," she said. "If your host remains in a suit jacket, so should you. Your host is your leader."

Can I put on lipstick at the table? "Absolutely not," declared Cucinotta.

How late should I arrive to a party? "On time is on time," she said. "Five minutes late is fine, and 15 minutes is the outside limit."

Larson, a fifth-year student in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, said, "We were pleased that the event worked equally well on two levels -- for students who were not familiar with Western customs and for students who needed a refresher on the basics and guidance on the fine points of etiquette."

The Etiquette Dinner is just one of the programs designed to prepare students to face real-world challenges that were offered this year by the Graduate School. Others included:

* A Teaching Forum in April, designed to inspired creative instruction among current and future faculty members, as well as various workshops on how to design courses and syllabi and how to prepare a teaching portfolio.

* Two panels featuring students who received good faculty and postdoctoral offers this year. The students shared their search experiences and offered suggestions to those who will be on the academic job market next year.

* A talk aimed at those seeking posts outside academia by a former student who is now an epidemic intelligence service officer at the Centers for Disease Control.

* A session on "How to Publish Articles in Scientific Journals: A Practical Guide for Graduate Students."

-- By Gila Reinstein


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Commencement Information

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