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by Mary Crane

If you’ve landed a job as a summer associate or intern, you know that the quality of the work you complete over the next several weeks will have a huge impact on whether or not you receive a job offer. Your work product, however, won’t be the only factor that’s considered. In addition to knowing that you have the talent to tackle assignments, employers want to discern whether you’ll “fit” within their organization. To this end, you will be invited to a variety of summer social events, and it’s critically important that you attend as many as possible and perform professionally at all of them.

If the thought of attending receptions, cocktail parties, business meals, and the like overwhelms you, don’t worry. Keep in mind the following five key principles, and you’ll manage the summer’s business-social events with ease.

  1. R.S.V.P. and Attend

As soon as you receive an invitation to a business-social event, check your calendar and confirm your availability. If an R.S.V.P. has been requested, respond as quickly as possible. Among the most frequent complaints that I receive from recruiting staffs is the failure of summer recruits to respond promptly—if at all—to invitations.

The same rule applies to any invitation that you might receive to lunch or dinner. Please don’t delay your response in the hopes that you might receive a better offer.

By the way, once you indicate that you will attend an event, only an absolute emergency excuses your absence. Whoever hosts the event will order food and beverages based upon the number of R.S.V.P.s that he or she receives. Do not place your employer in a position where it spends money needlessly.

  1. Balance Work and Pleasure

As an up-and-coming new professional, you must demonstrate that you can manage work and pleasure. Please don’t ruin your credibility by asking whether you can turn in an assignment late because of an impending social event. Remember, to the extent you are getting paid this summer, work always comes first.

If you are introverted by nature, please don’t use impending assignments as an excuse to avoid business-social events. Employers schedule these activities for a reason. They want to see how you connect with others outside of the formal office setting. Attend as many scheduled events as you can.

View your entire summer experience as a multi-week interview. Every day will afford you multiple opportunities to interact with firm professionals. Focus on demonstrating your technical skills and your emotional intelligence. Make the effort to initiate relationships with the very people who will have input as to whether or not you receive a job offer.

  1. Prepare

Before you attend a business-social event, invest a small amount of time in preparation. If you’ve been invited to a welcoming reception, contact your favorite recruiter and request a list of the senior professionals who plan to attend. Then, before the event, go online and read each attendee’s bio. Do the same sort of research when a partner or senior associate invites you to lunch or dinner. Look for points of commonality (for example, you attended the same undergraduate school) or shared interests (for example, you share an interest in sports law).

Arrive at every business-social event with two or three questions that you can ask virtually anyone. Understand that most people love to talk about themselves. To the extent you ask questions that allow others to do just that, you’ll be viewed as a brilliant conversationalist. Consider inquiries like: How long have you been with the organization? What’s the best thing you can tell me about it? Where do you see the organization going in the next five years?

And while it’s perfectly okay for you to arrive at larger social events with your fellow summer associates or interns, focus on mingling with senior professionals. Doing so demonstrates self-confidence and a genuine interest in others.

  1. Meals

The odds are pretty good that you’ll be invited to lots of lunches and dinners. If you have time to brush up on basic table etiquette, make the effort. The people who are in a position to hire you have a right to expect that you know how to manage a business meal with style.

At a minimum keep the following in mind:

  • If you and your host have dressed in suits, as long as your host continues to wear his suit coat or jacket, you should do the same. If your host says, “It’s a hundred degrees in the shade today. Let’s ditch our jackets,” then you can feel free to remove yours.
  • When deciding what to eat, skip the menu’s most and least expensive items. Also skip anything that you don’t know how to eat or anything that might be messy to eat, for example, a burger or pasta with red sauce.
  • Order the same number of courses that your host or hostess orders.
  • When wait staff delivers a course to the table, do not start to eat until everyone has been served.
  • Pace yourself. If you find that you are consistently the first person to finish your meal, slow down and spend more time talking with fellow diners. If you’re consistently the last person to finish eating, as soon as everyone else has completed a course, put your fork down. Don’t force others to wait for you.
  • Be respectful of wait staff. Say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate.

And don’t forget to thank senior professionals who take you to meals and other social activities. In most cases, a thank-you email will suffice. If you are invited to a partner’s home, however, take the time to handwrite a thank-you note and mail it to the partner’s home address.

  1. Alcohol

This summer you may have more access to free alcohol than you have ever had in your life. Be very careful. I don’t know of one case in which a summer recruit failed to receive a job offer because they chose not to drink or self-imposed a personal limit of two drinks per event. On the other hand, I know of lots of cases in which a job offer was withheld because a summer recruit consumed one too many drinks and then acted in an unprofessional manner. Don’t stop your career before it starts.

If you choose to abstain from alcohol altogether, there’s no reason for you to feel self- conscious. Make your decision and hold your ground. If you feel a need to offer some explanation, simply state, “I still need to work on an important assignment later tonight and want to make sure that I stay sharp.”

And if you wish to abstain unobtrusively, here’s an old trick: ask the bartender for tonic water with lime. Everyone will assume you’re drinking a gin and tonic.

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