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Sunday, May 25, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.
You've spent four years in school (more or less) and now you're ready to graduate. Maybe you're one of the lucky ones and you've already landed your first "real job." But are you ready to enter the workforce?
You may be able to crunch the numbers, or write the report; but what about the things they don't teach at school? What makes a good handshake? How should you dress? Will you know what to do at that first business lunch?
Here are a few tips to help you avoid common mistakes.
Remember the Utensil Rule: Order food you can eat easily with a fork or spoon. Avoid red sauces, cherry tomatoes, burgers, pizza. Otherwise, you might be wearing the evidence all day.
Silverware: Start outside, work inside. If you're really worried, wait and see what everyone else is using. As long as you don't eat your steak with a cocktail fork, you'll be fine.
If, for some reason, you get stuck choosing the wine, relax. There are general guidelines (red wine with red meat and red sauces; white with white meat, fish and white sauces) but even those are often cast aside by true wine lovers. If you are completely mystified, ask your tablemates or server for a suggestion.
The wine-presentation ritual: Not as esoteric as it appears, but it can be mystifying to the uninitiated. The purpose of the ritual is to make sure the wine hasn't spoiled. A quick primer:
(1) The steward or server will show you the label. You're supposed to make sure it's the same bottle that you ordered.
(2) He will uncork the bottle and set the cork next to you on the table. You can look at the cork to see how far it has been penetrated by the wine; if the wine stain goes all the way through the cork, the wine may have spoiled. Don't bother sniffing the cork, unless you really want to.
(3) He will pour a little wine into your glass. You're supposed to smell the wine. If you want to, you can swirl it around a little while you sniff.
(4) If it doesn't smell spoiled, have a taste. If it doesn't taste spoiled, voice your approval to the server.
HOW TO DRESS FOR WORK
"Business casual" is a vague term, providing lots of room for error.
Overdress for the first day of work. Then decide how casual you can be for Day Two.
Wait until after your first day to buy a closetful of work clothes.
Remember: It's business casual. Tuck in your shirt, keep your belly-button ring to yourself, and learn to use that iron your parents gave you.
Men: If your dress-code is "professional" and you must wear a suit, think basic blue or gray. Sharkskin or retro-plaid might make a statement, but it's likely the wrong statement for the workplace.
Dressing well not only makes a good impression, it creates a mindset for success: "The way you dress affects the way you think, feel and behave, and then how others react to you."
HOW TO ACT AT WORK
Your first job is not the place to hone your slacker skills.
Handshakes: Keep it simple. Eye contact, firm grip, three seconds, done.
Speak well: Don't be all, like, um, you know.
Find a mentor: Someone experienced, respected and amiable. Anyone with these qualifications will be happy to help. Just ask.
Be bold: Ask questions. If you're new and not asking questions, your boss might think you don't care. So, ask away. Just be sure to learn as you go along.
Show up early: But don't make a habit of staying late. If your bosses notice you staying until 8 every night, they might wonder why you can't finish your work during the day.
Internet and e-mail: Remember the Desk Rule. Don't view anything on your computer that you would be ashamed to leave on your desk. Assume someone is monitoring your online activity.
Office romances: Bad idea, most experts say. But according to recent studies, between 25 to 75 percent of workers admit to workplace affairs. If it's your first job, and you're trying to make a good impression, it might be best to heed the experts.
Sources: "life after school. explained." Cap & Compass; "Graduate! everything you need to succeed after college," Kristen M. Gustafson (Capital Books); "Most Likely To Succeed At Work," Wilma Davidson, Ed.D., and Jack Dougherty (St. Martin's Press); "A Car, Some Cash, And A Place To Crash: The only post-college guide you'll ever need," Rebecca M. Knight (Rodale).
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