FAST TRACK: Are you any good at lunch?

Making small talk may seem like a dull pastime, but to potential bosses it is a sign of professionalism.

SUMMER IS high party season for working professionals. If it's not corporate hospitality at Henley, Goodwood or Cowes, it's drinks with the boss. But don't be fooled. There's more going on here than corporate largesse: for a growing number of professionals, social skills are a key determiner of career progression.

Successful business lunches, corporate hospitality and client entertaining require empathy, flexibility and sound judgement. Much business is developed through informal meetings and bonds forged at social occasions. It's hardly surprising, then, that prospective employers in professions as diverse as accountancy, law and advertising often try to establish the social skills of new recruits before making them an offer or earmarking them for a seat on the board. Their tactics may vary, but their approaches are always subtle.

David is a London-based IT consultant. "I was taken on with a number of other graduate trainees seven years ago," he says. "The final selection round involved an assessment day at which we were all expected to work together on various tasks. Afterwards, we were taken out for dinner by the partners. Believe it or not, it was good fun - although you couldn't forget that the selection process was still going on."

As the wine and conversation flowed, his future employers kept a beady eye on how their prospective recruits performed in the seemingly relaxed atmosphere of an Italian restaurant. "It's not so much about whether they can use the right knife and fork, but what they're like as people," explains an advertising agency executive whose company does the same thing with shortlisted applicants. "It's because at the end of the day, we'll all end up working together. After the second bottle of wine they stop pretending."

In retrospect, David adds, it was a shrewd tactic, if, perhaps, a little underhand. "With so much business being down to whom you know and how well you get on with prospective clients, it's essential in my line of work to get on with people," he says. "Success in this job is not just about doing your job well; I have to bring in new business, too. They were clearly looking not only for people they could get on with but who would click with clients, too."

His view is endorsed by Geoff Webb, chief executive of the international change management consultancy The Webb Partnership. "It is important to engage with clients at a personal level, and quickly. It makes the professional relationship you are trying to build a lot more solid," he explains. "The challenge is that often you have just a few minutes to hit it off. The ability to get on with people at all levels is critical, and it can be difficult at first for someone fresh out of college."

Like many firms, Clifford Chance now operates a two-stage recruitment process, with initial interview followed closely by an assessment day when applicants undergo tests, a further interview, group discussions and role play. "There's little point being an extremely good lawyer if you are unable to communicate effectively to clients and do not have their confidence and trust," says Simon Davis, the firm's partner in charge of graduates.

"We test the ability of people to work with others - not whether they hold their knife and fork in the right way, but how effectively they deal with other people." This means whether they are good listeners and sensitive to other people's views, and, of course, whether those already with the firm would enjoy working with them.

"I would be extremely surprised if someone bright, quick and adaptable made a complete ass of themselves in public," he adds. "We don't test this as such, but then we wouldn't expect [our] people to behave differently in a work situation to how they would behave in a work-related social situation. There is, however, a balance. We will always look for people who enjoy life beyond the office - zesty people are more likely to get on with our clients."

Ian du Pre, recruitment partner at PriceCoopersWaterhouse, agrees. "We expect people at an early age to be aware of the dangers of being over- entertained, or entertaining too much, and the implications this might have," he says. "We are looking for adaptability, flexibility and judgement. If you are young and inexperienced and are taken out for a business lunch, you may not know what knife and fork to use or what you'll get by ordering gazpacho, but it doesn't take long."

He adds: "When I was 21, I had no interest in making small talk about someone else's kids, or the debt crisis in Mexico. Repeated exposure to corporate social events means that you do."

As David points out, "It's naive to assume that if your boss throws a drinks do for the office, or asks you round for dinner, it can ever be a truly `social' event. You're only there for one reason: because you work for them." Corporate hospitality may sound like an excuse to let your hair down, but there really is no such thing as a free business lunch.

Party

Survival

Tactics

l It sounds obvious, but don't drink too much. If wine tends to go to your head, water it down. Or pace yourself by alternating between alcoholic and soft drinks.

l Keep your wits about you. Useful snippets of information can always be gleaned at a party - just make sure the indiscretions under discussion are not your own.

l Don't be shy of engaging the boss in small talk (such as asking about their last holiday) but don't get over-familiar. Store up personal details that he or she may let slip, but keep things neutral.

l Perfect the art of listening. This doesn't mean nodding whilst scanning the room for someone more interesting.

l Try not to be the last to leave - it looks as though you've got no home to go to. Leave too early, however, and you may appear to be a party pooper. Watch the signals.

l Remember, you're not here solely for fun, but also because of what you do for

a living.

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue