Desalina Allen, Senior Assistant Director at NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development
The results are in! I recently shared assessment plans for our Dining for Success etiquette dinner. We moved away from a satisfaction survey to a pre-dinner and post-dinner skills assessment for the first time and, as I shared in my previous post, I was a little nervous about the results. Here is what we found:
Section One: Understanding Formal Place Settings
Let’s face it. We could all use a refresher on how not to steal your future boss’ bread plate, and our students were no different. Before and after the event they were asked to identify each plate, cup, and piece of silverware in this photo:
Then, at the beginning of the event we had all utensils, plates, and glasses piled in the center of the table and asked each student to organize their place setting. We noticed a bit of uncertainty during the activity and our employer volunteers stepped in often to help, which tells us that students were not completely clear about formal place settings.
This experience conflicts with what we found via the assessment. We didn’t see much of a difference between pre and post results. In fact, most students correctly identified the items (with #6 dinner fork and #5 salad fork being confused just a few times). We did see a slight drop in the number of blank responses, which could be interpreted to mean that students felt more certain about formal place settings after the event.
Section Two: Appropriate vs. Inappropriate Table Topics
Students were asked to list three appropriate topics to discuss at mealtime interviews or networking event as well as three topics to avoid. During the event, we provided employer volunteers with a list of suggestions and encouraged them to supplement based on their experience.
On the pre and post surveys, students were instructed to leave questions blank if they did not know the answer. Comparing responses revealed a significant increase in the number of students who answered these questions after the event. We also noticed that a wider variety of more detailed topics were listed in the post surveys. For example, students most often listed “career,” “food,” and “hobbies” in the pre-dinner survey, while post-dinner survey responses included things like “the professional’s background,” “the industry,” “new projects,” and “current events.”
Section Three: Ordering Food
While guests were only offered two entrèe options, employer volunteers were encouraged to share basic guidelines regarding how and what to order during sit-down dinners or interviews. Almost all of the pre survey responses revolved around not ordering food that is too messy or difficult to eat. Post survey results again provided more breadth and detail. Student mentioned avoiding “smelly” food, considering price, and following the lead of the interviewer/host. One student even suggested not ordering meat if your host is a vegetarian…discuss!
Section Four: Following Up
How should students follow up with an individual after a networking event or meal time interview? Turns out, most students already understood the basics (insert career counselor sigh of relief here). On the pre-event survey, many students responded that you should send a follow up thank you via e-mail (or in some cases, USPS), however after the event students included details like “within 24-48 hours” and mentioned LinkedIn for the first time.
What we learned
Overall, we were happy with the improvements we saw between the pre and post-event surveys. And, of course, we found that 97 percent of students were satisfied with the event! Here are a few key takeaways and thoughts regarding the survey for next year’s event:
The table setting question may not have accurately measured students’ level of comfort with formal dining before and after the event. The way the image was laid out may have been too simple. For future surveys, we are considering having students draw a diagram or place items around a plate to more accurately reflect our table setting activity.
Students understand the basics regarding discussion topics, ordering, and following up after events, but the activities and discussions gave them a more broad and anecdotal understanding of how to navigate during mealtime events and interviews.
We will consider measuring different skills/content areas each year. Our event also included activities revolving around introducing yourself and handling sticky situations that were not assessed in the pre- or post-event surveys. It would be interesting to see how students’ understanding of these topics changed as a result of the event.