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Sgt. Manners
New grads face the terror of the interview lunch
By Kimberly Swick Slover

The young man sailed through the early interviews, dazzling the search committee with his intelligence and engaging personality. But while dining at a fine restaurant, he nearly blew the job with a dinner roll.

"We wanted this particular person," explained Selma Naccach '72, chair of the English department at Manchester (N.H.) Central High School. "But he took a roll and put it down on the table. And then he ate it." The candidate's complete disregard for, or ignorance of, the proper use of a bread plate rocked the committee. "Afterward there was a huge debate about whether to hire him," Naccach recalled. "This person has to interact with the community and serve as a role model for students."

Naccach was describing the kind of job-search blunder that makes, or should make, interviewees shudder. To help soon-to-be-graduates avoid a similar fate, UNH-Manchester offered this spring a class called "Interviews with a Twist of Lemon." Like a similar "Street Smart Soirée" in Durham, the program started with interview tips from Naccach and Liberty Mutual's Paul Bamford '75, and followed with a lunch at nearby Fratello's Ristorante to put theory into practice. Over a nice meal, the students learned the unpalatable truth: in the job market, knowledge, skills and individuality can be trumped by bad manners and inappropriate dress.

"Like it or not, appearance counts," Naccach said. "People your age feel clothing shouldn't matter. 'This is who I am,' they say. The problem is, you have to know your audience."

The important thing about the interview meal is, she said, "It's not about the food." It's about respectful submission to authority and adherence to strict rules of etiquette. She suggested the candidate's goal should be to emerge from the meal without causing the host discomfort or drawing undue attention. "If you arrive at the restaurant first, wait for your host to arrive and lead you to the table. This is the host's territory," Naccach advised. Additionally, avoid potentially awkward subjects. Be polite to the wait staff. Don't order anything messy like linguine or a hamburger. No alcohol. Eat at the same pace as your interviewer. Pass food counterclockwise. No elbows on the table until the food is cleared. Be able to distinguish between the salad and fish forks. Refrain from gripping the fork with your fist to stab the meat. Don't cut salad unless you have to. Cut meat one piece at a time. Butter and eat one bite of bread, repeat. For the students, some of whom were looking worried, it was all tough to swallow.

A student asked what to do if she spilled red wine on her host. "You should not touch the person. Hands off!" said Naccach. "Offer to pay the dry cleaning bill."

The bottom line is, she told the students, "Be yourself, act professional and exude enthusiasm." And yes, you must do all three simultaneously.

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