(Posted to Sacred Heart Univ. website Feb. 2011)
By Mike Lauterborn
Fairfield, CT – Crisp suits, portfolios in hand, nametags on lapels. A corporate affair? In a sense. Call it a practice drill.
On Wednesday evening Feb. 16, at the invitation of the Welch College of Business at Sacred Heart University (SHU), Consultant Robert Shutt led a business networking etiquette program targeted to students and supported by faculty, alumni and local business representatives. The setting was the University Commons room at the school, which was dressed out to simulate a corporate gathering and allow students to practice interfacing with business professionals.
“Employers are telling us that students are coming out of school with great grades, but no social skills,” said Sean Heffron, Director of the Student Experience in the Welch College of Business. “So we have recreated a social environment like one they might encounter in the business world where they can learn how to approach a group and interact.”
Specifically, Shutt helped student attendees to feel more comfortable with introductions and conversations, walk away with information that could lead to future opportunities and learn the importance of following up with new contacts. The trainer also served up a healthy helping of etiquette tips that are critical to social situations in a business climate.
Students, like SHU Junior Christine Schneider, 20, were eager to gain these strategies. “I really want to learn how to network and approach people. I tend to get shy and want to overcome that,” she said at the outset of the evening.
Fellow SHU Junior Karin Black, 20, concurred. “I want to enhance my interview skills to better my chances in the job world.”
The etiquette session is just one part of a larger effort that Heffron’s department conducts to help students prepare for life after college. “We offer free tuition for study abroad, free golf lessons and speaker engagements. The latter are interactive and result in internship opportunities. In the past, we’ve had reps from sports management, music, sales and marketing, and entrepreneurism. We’re exposing students to a lot to help them gain a professional comfort level and decide what they want to do with their majors, while enhancing their resumes with their experiences at the same time.”
Alumni Services supports Heffron’s department’s goals by securing alumni for social events and to serve as mentors that students can shadow in business environments. Similarly, the Career Development and Placement Center draws business people from its network of employers for event activities and internship opportunities.
Shutt explained that there are three important components of communication: tone of voice, words you use and body language. “Fifty-five percent of effectiveness is body language, 38% is tone of voice and 7% is words. We use the least effective form of communication most of the time. We need to be more conscious of feedback and what people are saying.”
Shutt also laid out the important foundations for successful interaction: courtesy with regard to words, actions and even scent and how those impact those in your vicinity; focus on the person’s agenda; and respect and understanding of the hierarchy of a situation.
Among effective tips, Shutt suggested researching an event before attending it, having a goal at a social occasion and considering the first impression one makes. Other guidance was more etiquette related including keeping your power hand (right hand) free, asking open-ended questions to get people to talk about themselves, being informed about a variety of topics and taking small amounts of food and beverage.
Both students and businesspeople, who were encouraged to interact with each other, were impacted by the evening’s experience. “It was awkward at first to approach people, especially if they were in mid conversation,” said Accounting Sophomore Megan Papp. “But once you start talking, it boosts your confidence level.”
Marketing Junior Christina Bologna said, “I spoke with Amelia from Barnum Financial Group. She offered to refer me to a friend at a PR firm. She was very easy to speak to. I was apprehensive about meeting people in this atmosphere, but now I’m more at ease.”
Softtech Web and Multi-Media Consultant Danya Jimenez, a 2005 SHU alumnus, was glad to help coach students. “I understand where they are coming from. When I was in school here, Alumni Services helped me with resume prep, interviews and preparing me for the job world. This is a great way for them to become more relaxed about interacting with a potential employer.”