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Business Etiquette

Posted At: December 1, 2008 12:14 PM
by Miranda Harbin

There are tons of Web sites, books and even blogs on etiquette. However, it seems like with growing technology fewer people are putting these etiquette lessons into action.

For instance, I recently had a professor tell us about an incident when a student walked into her office while she was on the phone and stared her down until she finished.

In our fast-paced, mobile society it seems that we are losing sight of the personal connection that we receive communicating with each other face to face.  While social media is a growing channel for public relations, it is important that we remember how to conduct ourselves in face-to-face encounters with our peers, as well as professionals.

For most students, the first opportunity they have to impress a potential employer is through a cover letter or resume.  However, if students advance to the next level of the process, it will require either a phone or face-to-face interview.

Phone etiquette

Due to both time and geographic restraints, many employers now conduct phone interviews as opposed to a face-to-face meeting for the first interview.

Blame Internet instant messaging or text messaging, but current college students and recent college graduates are not as familiar with using the phone as say graduates from 10 years ago.

Where does this put the preceding phone generation? Behind the desk that will make a hiring decision.

Phone tips (taken from :

• Have a plan of what you are going to talk about prior to making the call.

• Decide what you will do if the person you are calling is not available, i.e., leave a message or call back later. (Don’t forget to send a thank-you card to everyone you speak to, even secretaries and assistants. After all, they are the gatekeepers.)

• Remove yourself from all distractions before placing the call. Turn off the radio, television and computer.

• Focus on what the other person is saying, taking notes if necessary. Don’t make a lot of shuffling noises while on the phone — it will make the other person wonder if you are listening to them.

• Do not eat or chew while on the phone, because the phone amplifies the sound.

• Remember to smile. While the person on the other end may not be able to see your face, they can hear a smile in your voice.

• Keep your umm’s, uhh’s and like’s to a minimum. Try to keep answers to questions as clear and concise as possible.

Personal etiquette

Regardless of the context of the first interview, eventually one will meet his or her potential employer face to face.

While everyone says that first impressions are lasting impressions and often those first impressions are made through e-mails or phone calls, it is still important to impress during the first face-to-face meeting.

This is your opportunity to prove that you are not reading from notes over the phone and that you have written your own cover letter.

According to Peter Post, “Your skills will get your in door; your people skills are what can seal the deal.”

Here are some tips for business etiquette:
• Arrive 15 minutes early for interviews and meetings. This initiative shows that you value your client or prospective employer’s time.

• Put a smile on your face before the elevator doors open and keep it there until you leave.

• Make an attempt to remember names of those people you meet. You never know when you may need to contact them with questions or concerns.

• Get a business card from key acquaintances — you will want to e-mail or send them a thank-you card later. This way you will have access to the information without having to look it up or calling the office. It shows that you are invested in the person and what they have to say.

• Think of questions that you could be asked prior to interview. Also, think of questions that you can ask about the specific job position or of the general activities of the office. This shows that you are thoughtful of their business practice and you have a vested interest in what they are doing.

• Remember to wear an appropriate suit and be neat in your appearance. You are not going to a club or party, so dress to impress. Check out the Platform Blog to see what not to wear.

• The handwritten thank-you note is vastly becoming a lost art. Most people would tell you to always send one. However, you should judge your audience and chose which form of communication — handwritten or e-mail — best suits them.

Just a few general pointers:
• When you are attending a telecast of an event, even though you are not in the same room as the speaker and they cannot hear you, you should conduct yourself in the same manner that you would if you were sitting in the primary audience.

• Never bring food to a meeting or an event, even if there are several hundred attendees, and believe you will just fit in.

• Business casual can be a dangerous. Make sure your clothes are office appropriate. According to a recent ABC News article, which cited a survey, 35 percent of the 2800 companies surveyed have had to send an employee home to change clothes.

• If you do land a job, always dress better than your client. Be prepared for unexpected client visits. Remember in public relations firms you bill by the hour, and you don’t want the client to think you are slumming around in sweatpants while you are charging them.

• Please don’t suffocate your co-workers, clients or potential employers! Easy on the perfume or cologne. Not only do some people have allergies, but it isn’t attractive to leave a scent when leaving a room.

A resume chocked full of wonderful skills and activities may not be able to survive a etiquette faux pas. It is important that you understand the type of environment that you are entering. Oftentimes this information will shed light on how you should dress and conduct yourself in interviews and meetings. By researching a company or agency’s Web site you can find key information about the “style” in which they conduct their business. Best of luck!

Think you are up to speed on etiquette? Check out the USA Today’s talking etiquette quiz to find out!

The Emily Post Institute is a great resource for everything about etiquette. Especially check out Peter Post’s Business Etiquette section, as well as Lizzie Post’s College and Beyond section. After all, who better to coach you on etiquette than Emily Post’s family!

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