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Sun, Nov 02, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Georgetown fights job slump by teaching MBAs manners

Graduates from prestigious business schools often have business acumen, but lack basic social graces, a deficiency a number of universities are seeking to correct

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At a seminar for 30 MBA students in an Ohio State University ballroom, the requirements were simple and savory: Listen to a brief lecture on dining etiquette and then enjoy a meal of chicken, rice, wine and salad, topped off with whole black olives.

"The point with the olive is to avoid eating it since you'll have to take the pit out of your mouth," said Kimberly Kilpatrick, a student at the Fisher School of Business in Columbus. "That can be embarrassing if you are interviewing for a job."

Today's MBA students at the top 25 schools are getting more than finance and marketing lessons for the US$63,000 they pay, on average, in tuition for two years. The number of top 25 programs as ranked by US News and World Report that offer voluntary and required etiquette courses about table manners, work attire, party schmoozing, interviewing tips and even handshakes has grown from five to 15 in the last three years.

With 24 percent more MBA graduates looking for work this year compared with 2000, according to a Duke University study, schools say training in manners makes students more attractive to corporate recruiters.

"A lot of recruiters take students to lunch or dinner and we want them to be prepared for that," said MBA Program director Kembrel Jones at Emory University's Goizueta School of Business in Atlanta. "This is about first impressions."

Paul Kurth, university relations manager for Dell Inc, who often recruits MBAs from Harvard University School of Business and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Business, approves of etiquette training. Kurth has interviewed more than a few new MBAs, he said, who "possess a high degree of arrogance."

"They wouldn't fit in at Dell, where an element of graciousness is needed in dealing with other executives and customers," said Kurth.

That's not the way Harvard, which doesn't teach etiquette, views its graduates.

"Our students are adults and we expect them to act like ladies and gentlemen," said Jay Chrepta, spokesman at the school in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Birmingham, Alabama-based AmSouth Bancorp, a regional bank operating in six southeastern states, said more business schools should require etiquette training.

"We are not seeing there is enough being done to ensure students' success," said Janet Parker, senior vice president of corporate employee relations.

The bank has rejected candidates because they act too informal and use bad grammar and curse words, she said. AmSouth now puts new hires through its own dining-etiquette course and provides work-attire guidelines.

Business students need etiquette training partly because they no longer learn it at home as family dinners become less frequent, said Peter Post, co-author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business.

"Families do this less and less, sit around a table in the evening and have a meal together, so children don't practice etiquette," said Post, who has taught etiquette seminars at Verizon Communications Inc and General Dynamics Corp. "Students themselves are recognizing there's a need for it."

Not every student. Before earning his MBA in last year, Max Sklar took the required dining etiquette seminar at Miami-based Florida International University's Alvah Chapman Graduate School of Business. For the seminar, chefs create trap-laden meals, such as soup with parsley flakes, to warn students about such courtesy breaches as getting food caught in their teeth.

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