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Serving Up Success

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 Milligan Magazine.

All dressed up, hair combed and fixed, the students huddled into the President’s Dining Room below gazing portraits of Hopwood, Leggett, and Greer. They stood idly by their place settings: chairs pushed in, forks and spoons perfectly aligned, tables draped in white.

Awkward glances shot around. A few snickers.

Beth Anderson, director of Milligan’s Center for Calling and Career Development, broke the silence, introducing Dr. Amelia Brown, etiquette expert and professor emerita from East Tennessee State University.

After a brief welcome, she gestured towards the table.

“There is a correct way to be seated,” said Brown with a wry smile and easy southern drawl. “Make sure the front edge of your chair is right under the front edge of your table.”

The students immediately fumbled with their chairs, scooting and adjusting, until they were just so. She invited everyone to sit (“always from the left side,” she noted) and proceeded to cover the gamut of how to impress a potential employer during a dinner: how to shake hands (“nice and firm,” not a “dead fish,” she added with a quick laugh); “pass food in one direction only, preferably to the right”; “use utensils from the outside to inside.”

The first course was served, and Brown instructed the students how to properly twirl, not cut up, their spaghetti—a difficult task, judging by the students’ faces.

Following the etiquette portion of the three dinner events held at the end of October, the students were served not just food, but a chance to practice their interview skills through mock interviews with area business professionals, including representatives from 21st Mortgage, Bristol Motor Speedway, Christian Medical and Dental Associations, Eastman Credit Union, General Shale, Johnson City Schools, Mahle, Medtronic, Mountain States Health Alliance, Northwestern Mutual, and Wellmont Health Systems.

“My goal for these dinners is for our students not only to be prepared for the job search process but also the many scenarios they may experience, like graduate school or job interviews, as well as other professional encounters,” said Anderson. “We cannot prepare them for everything, but I can do my best to expose them to the traditional aspects of finding a job. By sitting with table hosts from various regional companies, students gain exposure to professionals in a wide variety of fields who can offer them not only solid advice but also assistance to help build their network.”

Brianna Snyder, a sophomore communications major from Butler, Tennessee, found it “helpful to make connections and network” and learned from her table host, Carol Cross, vice president of human resources at Eastman Credit Union, that sometimes your career comes to you through indirect means and may not be something you seek out at first.

With plans to pursue law school and maybe one day enter the world of politics, Snyder said the etiquette training (like learning practical advice to cut up bites into small pieces) will no doubt come in handy.

James Rice, a sophomore psychology major from Irmo, South Carolina, said he learned that he should put more thought into where he wants to work and the “atmosphere” of the work place he is seeking.

“I’ve been pondering this since the dinner because even though I know what I want to do, I don’t know where I want to do it,” he said.

Like most of the students at the event, Kirsten Phillips, a sophomore psychology major from Erwin, Tennessee, said she doesn’t have a lot of work experience, but Cross assured her that any experience she has is beneficial.

“Even my job in a restaurant can teach me how to be a more effective leader and communicate better,” said Phillips.

Mark Millwood, director of human resources at Eastman Credit Union, agreed.

“Even if you don’t have work experience,” said Millwood, “when being asked a question about your skills, find something in your life you can relate it to, whether it’s showing leadership, project management skills, or team work—even if you learned it at home.”

At the end of each dinner, the various representatives offered their tips to all the students,
giving them a wide variety of job-seeking advice.

These dinners are part of a larger effort to better prepare students for the job market, according to Anderson, who developed a “Calling and Career” class in 2008 that is required by all students starting their sophomore year. The once-a-week class with Anderson helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses and learn about resume and cover letter writing, networking, and how to search for a job. Also, she invites many guest speakers from the college and the community to speak with the students.

“When they leave this class, our students have a greater perspective of what a job process looks like,” said Anderson. “I try to get students to look at all the opportunities for building their resumes. Once they graduate, these experiences will give them an advantage over the competition in the job market.”

Ultimately, the college’s career preparation methods are working: one year post graduation, 98 percent of Milligan students seeking employment are employed or in graduate/ professional school.

Millwood said that, over all, the dinner events were great preparation for Milligan students entering the job world.

“Whether you’re in an interview situation or just a dining meeting, it’s important to know how to act appropriately in an uncomfortable situation,” said Millwood, who’s worked in HR for over 30 years. “Hopefully, the dinners will help students have a little more confidence in these types of professional situations.”

Even if it’s learning how to twirl spaghetti.

Learn more about the Center for Calling & Career Exploration at milligan.edu/career.
Want your company to be involved in the next etiquette dinner at Milligan? Contact Beth Anderson at BAnderson@milligan.edu.

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MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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