Millennials need a lesson in good etiquette

People looking for work stand in line to apply for a job during a job fair in Miami, Fla.

Tess Vigeland: Competition for jobs these days is fierce. But for members of the Millennial generation, the market is downright cutthroat. It's not enough to have a college degree or two and maybe even an internship under your belt. To get a "real job," you need manners.

Wait... and this needs to be spelled out? Are you kidding me? Apparently not. Here's reporter Alex Goldmark.

Alex Goldmark: Millennials can blog and tweet like pros. Multitasking is second nature. These skills are something boomer bosses appreciate, but younger workers aren't always so good at focusing or communicating face-to-face.

Jennifer Loftus: And even the idea of eye contact many times can be challenging, not so much that it gets creepy, but if we're talking with someone you expect that they can focus on you for the full two minutes, three minutes.

Jennifer Loftus is the president of the HR NY and head of consulting firm Astron Solutions. She and her HR colleagues view this generation as a challenge and an opportunity.

Loftus: These young people who are coming out of college they're great with math, or they can code like nobody's business, but you bring them to a business lunch and they have no clue what to do.

Knowing when and how to pick up the tab, and what to order can help a candidate stand out from the competition. Now keep in mind around 16 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are unemployed, almost twice the national average.

Loftus: Many times if you have two candidates who are equally skilled, they're equally talented, talented, who's gonna get the upper hand when it comes to making the final decision? The person who presents well, the person who suits up well.

So, to get an edge, more and more Millennials are turning to the pros. Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick is the director of the Etiquette School of New York. She says business is booming with 20-somethings. Usually they're signed up by a parent, but increasingly it's their companies.

Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick: Their bosses call me and say, "He's great, he's smart, he's tech savvy, except..." and then he lists all these things that he needs. Well, why are you keeping him now? "Because he's smart. We like him."

Tonight's two-hour class has two students, both 20-somethings. They've paid $200 to be here. We're seated around an ornate dining table with spiral bound workbooks in front of us.

Napier-Fitzpatrick to group: So how do you distinguish yourself from the competition? On the next page, you have presence power points. Your presence power points, have you heard that term before.

Student: No, I have not.

Napier-Fitzpatrick is instructing us on things like how to make eye contact at the office: Keep it in the triangle between the eyes and center of the hairline, never below the neck. We also practice shaking hands, formal introductions and get tips on softer skills, like schmoozing.

Napier-Fitzpatrick: OK, let's talk about improving your mingling proficiency. What's your definition of small talk? Nikki, what's your definition of small talk?

Nikki: My favorite go to is the weather, can't fail. Everyone has an opinion on the weather.

Matt Stevens: That is an interesting... I am writing that down.

Napier-Fitzpatrick: You haven't thought about the weather as small talk?

Stevens: I just always thought that other people didn't like it as much as me.

It really does take time, practice and training to build up your best behavior.

Stevens: What if you are left handed though?

Napier-Fitzpatrick: You can't shake hands with your left hand.

Stevens: Even if you are left handed?

Napier-Fitzpatrick: No.

Stevens: Huh.

Matt Stevens just finished from college and is applying to graduate schools. He knows what he has to work on. That's why he's here.

Stevens: I don't think I've met my potential when it comes to social situations, and being able to maintain a professional and a mature appearance.

He's wearing a well-fitted suit and looks just fine to me. Napier-Fitzpatrick gave him high marks on attire too. According to a study by the Society of Human Resource Management, the top workplace complaint about his generation is inappropriate dress. I'm a few years too old to be considered a Millennial, but, apparently I share that shortcoming.

Napier-Fitzpatrick: Jackets are professional.

Collins: I have a button down, that's close.

Napier-Fitzpatrick: That's a button down?

Collins: Well, yeah.

Napier-Fitzpatrick: You look fine.

Napier-Fitzpatrick laughs

At least I kept my elbows off the table.

In New York, I'm Alex Goldmark for Marketplace Money.

Log in to post7 Comments

So if wearing a suit and tie is the basis for successful career what do we need college for? I guess I wasted that $120,000 on something I only needed to go to Men's Wearhouse to get.

I recently held a job where I worked with a large bunch of relatively-fresh-out-of-college interactive designers (read: Flash developers). We communicated predominantly through instant messaging. Having a face-to-face conversation with any one of them was a rarity. You hardly ever heard people talking in the office-even around the water cooler.

When we interviewed new designers, they would come in wearing trendy, but ill fitting suits (not a tailored navy pinstripe among them). The sleeves of their button down shirts were always too long. And ties? Forget it.

And the majority of them had no ability to "small talk". Establishing any kind of rapport was impossible.

@ Sam - Yes, it really IS a big enough problem to build a buisness around.

I wonder how much more money I would have in retirement in 40 years if I didn't have to drop hundreds of dollars on useless pieces of clothing like suit jackets (not to mention the cleaning bills for them).

I was always taught not to judge someone based on appearance. I am sure all of those Wall Street brokers that helped bring about the financial crisis were really well dressed and would pass this course with ease.

Were these young people raised by wolves??? I am willing to teach any of these young clots how to eat at a dinner, what to wear and how to act. Of course, their parents, should have done that.

I was really bemused by this piece on good etiquette having just experienced poor etiquette from one of Marketplace Money's very own. Last week I responded to a story in last week's show (July 8). I quickly received an email from one of your producers asking if I would be willing to record my comment for the Letters segment. I responded that I would. Your producer then asked for my phone number and about my availability that same day or the next. I responded with the number and that I would be available the next morning. I waited all morning, postponing errands I needed to do. I never heard from your producer. I never received an email with an explanation, much less an apology.

I understand that things come up, plans change, etc. But it seems to me that simple courtesy would require some sort of follow up. Perhaps your staff should enroll in Ms. Napier-Fitzpatrick's school?

Within a few minutes of hearing your "Millennials need a lesson in good etiquette" piece which included comments about eye contact and such among tech savvy youngster, I was reminded that the eye contact trait, in particular, has always been correlated with mathematical talent. In my area, your show was immediately followed by an On Being episode entitled "Autism and Humanity"


Honestly is this big enough of a problem to build a business around? Really? I mean REALLY?

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