Boost Your Job Search Success With Professional Etiquette

by Julie Griffin Levitt and Shelley Metzger

Kissing the hand of the interviewer is not expected interview etiquette. However, sending a written thank-you note following the interview is expected.

Did you know that leaving your cell phone on during an interview could cost you the job? It's considered rude for job applicants to get phone calls during an interview or informational meetings. Such a professional etiquette blunder could cost you the job!

Employers tell us that many job candidates lose out during the job search and interview process because of professional etiquette errors. During networking and informational meetings or interviews, these candidates don't demonstrate the professional etiquette skills employers are seeking. Employers believe the way a candidate treats them indicates how the candidate will treat their customers or clients.

Some applicants lose out on jobs just because they haven't learned professional etiquette expectations. This article arms you with the etiquette guidelines you need to navigate your job search successfully.

What is Professional Etiquette: Why is It Important to Your Career?

Professional etiquette is based on the expectation of respectful, cultured behavior, including courteous manners, appropriate image, and appropriate communications. This article focuses on how to demonstrate your professional etiquette skills through:

· Courteous and considerate treatment of others and avoidance of abrupt, aggressive, or indifferent behavior
· Appropriate appearance
· Appropriate body language
· Appropriate use of Internet communications
· Expected dining etiquette skills

Etiquette Errors Convey Disrespect

Job candidates who make errors in any of the five expected professional etiquette areas listed above risk conveying disrespect. If the interviewer feels disrespected by your behavior, you can bet that it won't help your job prospects. This is why it's important to your career success to know and practice good professional etiquette.

How Professional Etiquette Pays Off

· Quickly develop positive rapport with interviewers
· Build stronger work and career relationships
· Improve personal and professional image
· Achieve greater career success

Employers Want People With Strong Professional Etiquette Skills

Just one etiquette blunder could cost you your dream job! To build good relationships with customers and clients, employers want their employees to have good business etiquette skills. In today's competitive job market, employers are very choosey in who they hire. To keep pace with the competition, you need to avoid making any etiquette errors.

Professional etiquette is associated with business competence because it enhances the ability to connect positively and develop rapport with people-very important for business success. If you don't understand and exhibit expected etiquette, employers are likely to assume you are not professionally competent. They won't want you working with their clients or customers or representing them or their organizations. You could be seen as a liability who could cost them business.

An important goal for conducting a successful job search is to project a polished and professional image. By demonstrating good business etiquette skills in your job search, you will gain a decided edge over other candidates who don't. Read on to learn how you can project competence by demonstrating expected professional etiquette skills.

Outdistance Your Competition With Courteous Behavior

Job candidates who make an effort to be courteous always gain a decided edge over competitors who overlook this employer-valued behavior.

Be courteous on the phone. The first contact you have with an employer may be by phone. Always be courteous, patient, and attentive in your telephone communications, and use a pleasant tone of voice. Employers don't want to hire discourteous or abrupt people.

Also be prepared for telephone interviews so you appear organized and so you don't waste the employer's time. Create a log to reference during phone interviews that contains the names of employers you have contacted, a list of your qualifications that match each job, contact information, and other details relevant to each employer.

Be aware that your interview begins in the waiting room. The receptionist can have a big say in who gets hired. Treat everyone with respect and courtesy regardless of position. Many employers tell us they always ask the opinions of their front staff members before offering candidates a job. They are particularly interested in feedback from their staff regarding the courtesy and professional image projected by candidates.

Demonstrate courtesy through attentive listening skills. One of the most important keys to the interview is listening. Never interrupt the interviewer, even if you're certain you know what the interviewer is going to ask or say. Many employers cross candidates off their list who interrupt them. Demonstrate professional etiquette skills by listening to what you are being told and asked.

Use Positive Body Language to Project a Professional Image

Body language (or nonverbal communication) makes the greatest impact of the three sources of face-to-face communication (words, voice qualities, and body language). During your interview, your body language will comprise 50 percent of the impact of your presentation. Inappropriate body language projects an unprofessional image. To send positive body language messages, pay attention to the following:

Handshake. Make it firm and assertive while maintaining good eye contact and a warm smile. Don't give a bone-crushing or a limp handshake. A limp handshake conveys a lack of trustworthiness or a lack of competence.

Eye contact. Good eye contact conveys competence and trustworthiness. Give comfortably direct eye contact and avoid letting your eyes dart back and forth.

Facial Expressions. Smiling conveys that you are confident, competent, and have good human relations skills. Aim for a pleasant, relaxed expression. When concentrating, avoid frowning or scowling-it can be interpreted as anger or disagreement-not the message you want to send!

Distracting Nonverbal Habits. Also avoid distracting nervous habits such as biting your lip or nails, touching your face, fiddling with any object, drumming your fingers-all distracting, negative habits.

Arrange a practice, videotaped interview prior to your real interview so you can see for yourself what negative body language habits you may have; then work to eliminate these. Some people discover that they tap a pen or paperclip or twist their hair throughout the entire interview, never realizing it until they review the videotape!

Tone of Voice. Convey a pleasant tone with good energy, and avoid rushing and talking too fast or loud.

Appearance. Make sure your appearance is neat, squeaky clean, and appropriate for the organization or occasion. This conveys knowledge of expectations for professional appearance. Conservative dress is typically on target for job search activities. Dressing in business-oriented clothing conveys respect for the interview-a plus!

Posture. Lean forward slightly and sit up straight! Both postures convey energy, competence, and confidence-all qualities employers value. Slumped or lazy posture projects sloppiness, laziness, indifference, or lack of respect-not qualities employers look for in hiring.

Hands. Keep them in check. You want the interviewer to listen to your words, not to be distracted by too much or fidgety hand movement.

Keep Your Elbows Off the Table

If your interview will include dining with the interviewer, you need to pay special attention to expected dining behaviors. A faux pas here could disqualify you quickly. Pay attention to these basic dining guidelines to stay in the running for the job.

1. Don't shake your napkin to open it. Lay it on your lap, and leave it there until you need it. If you leave the table during the meal, lay your napkin on your chair as a signal that you will be returning.
2. Don't order first, if you can avoid it, so you can see what the expected price range is. If you must order first, order something at the lower end of the price range.
3. Wait for everyone at your table to be served before you begin eating.
4. Pass food to the right. The salt and pepper should always be passed together.
5. Be aware of place setting logistics so you don't accidentally drink your neighbors' water or eat their rolls. The rule for your place setting is that solids are placed to your left and liquids to your right.
6. Use your utensils by starting with the outside utensils first and working your way in.
7. Don't leave your spoon in your coffee cup or in your soup bowl.
8. Don't blow on hot soup or break crackers into your soup bowl.
9. Don't wipe up gravy or sauces with your bread or roll. (This is O.K. when you're camping.)
10. Take the butter with your knife and place it directly onto your plate, then use your knife to butter your bread-don't take the butter from the dish and butter your bread directly. Break your bread into pieces, and butter each piece as you eat it. Don't butter the whole piece at once (tacky!).
11. Don't lick your fingers (tacky, tacky!).
12. Never wipe your nose with your napkin or blow your nose while at the table (outrageous!).
13. Do chew and swallow before joining the conversation (chew, swallow, talk).
14. Do cut two or three pieces of food (not the entire serving) at one time.
15. When you are finished eating, lay your fork and knife side-by-side diagonally across the plate with blade of the knife facing inward.

Polish Your Netiquette

The term "netiquette" means Internet etiquette and is another important aspect of business etiquette. One of the most common mistakes job seekers make is making errors when sending or responding to e-mail. To project a professional image, follow the guidelines below:

1. Don't send e-mail messages that contain grammatical, punctuation, or spelling errors; these demonstrate that you aren't competent in these areas, eroding your professional image. Proofread your e-mail messages just as carefully as your cover letter and resume. Use the grammar and spelling checker.

2. Use a respectful, business-like tone, not an overly informal one, and avoid slang. Use the standard mix of upper and lower case text-don't use all caps; it projects that you are SHOUTING and is difficult to read. Don't use all lower case text; it is also difficult to read and creates serious errors in capitalization, such as the pronoun, "I," which should always be capitalized.

3. Don't use emoticons (symbols that indicate emotions such as smiling or winking); these are considered unprofessional. Also remember that e-mail communications can be retained permanently and can be forwarded endlessly. Send only appropriate content to relevant recipients.

4. Always complete the subject line in the e-mail message carefully-think of it as the "headline" of your message. Make the subject relevant to the contents of the message. Misleading subjects are often used to get the message opened, but they usually backfire because people don't like to be manipulated.

5. Use a professional e-mail address-many applicants make a bad first impression (or disqualify themselves immediately) by using an e-mail address such as "" or "" These addresses may amuse your friends, but they don't project a professional image to employers.

6. Leave the "TO" field of the address blank until the body of your message is completed, proofread, and spell checked. You will avoid accidentally sending the message before it's ready to go. When the message is completely ready, add the employer's e-mail address and send.

7. Be complete. Read and respond completely to all incoming e-mail. Incomplete responses project a lack of professionalism and reliability. Also be complete (provide all necessary information) in messages you initiate.

Avoid Job-Busting Blunders

If an interviewer is greeting you for the first time and extends her hand, don't give her your coat-this is the time for a proper business handshake! The following "Do's" and "Don'ts" provide additional tips for demonstrating winning professional etiquette:


1. Do learn to spell and pronounce people's names properly-and do so!
2. Do smile during the interview; it conveys courtesy and friendliness.
3. Do arrive on time to all meetings. Employers often disqualify late applicants.
4. Do call immediately to explain if you have an unavoidable problem that will cause you to be late for a meeting or interview.
5. Do wait for the interviewer to invite you to sit. You are the guest.
6. Do send a thank-you letter within 24 hours following an interview.
7. Do avoid distractions during phone interviews (dogs, children, radio, etc.)
8. Do review all e-mail messages carefully before clicking the "Send" button.
9. Do avoid having an inexperienced person or child answer your telephone when you are expecting calls from employers.
10. Do be prepared for telephone interviews. Create a log to reference that contains names of employers you have contacted, a list of your qualifications that match each job, contact information, and other relevant details.
11. Do respond on time to all follow up you agree to, such as calling back on at a certain time and date or providing additional information.
12. Do respond promptly and courteously to all job offers, whether you accept or refuse.


1. Don't forget to turn your cell phone or pager off before interviews or meetings.
2. Don't take a seat during a meeting or interview until you are invited to do so.
3. Don't use a "cutesy" e-mail address or phone answering message during your job search. Employers find these unprofessional and may not try to contact you again.
4. Don't chew gum or eat anything during the interview.
5. Don't read documents on the desk of the interviewer-it's considered rude.
6. Don't waste the interviewer's time by rambling during your interview. Practice beforehand to deliver a clear, concise description of your qualifications.
7. Don't comment on highly sensitive subjects (politics, extreme opinions, etc.)
8. When someone gives you a business card, show respect by reviewing it before putting it away.
9. Don't e-mail jokes to your employment contacts. (Tell me you knew that!)
10. Don't trash former employers or the people you worked with-interviewers may believe you would trash them after leaving their organization.

International Business Etiquette Expectations

Did you know that it is perfectly acceptable to slurp your soup in Japan but not in the United States? Or, that in China avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect? In some countries, admiring a person's possession can oblige him to give it to you.

The key to international business etiquette is not making assumptions! Be respectful, and always learn and demonstrate the expected etiquette when working with someone from another country or culture. Some international faux pas include using inappropriate body language (smiling versus not smiling), making inappropriate gestures, showing the soles of your shoes, and rushing to establish relationships (conveying that you're in a hurry").

Professional Etiquette Counts in the Job Search

To boost your job search success potential and your lifetime career, demonstrate your ability to connect positively with others through the use of expected professional etiquette.

About the Authors:

Julie Griffin Levitt: Julie is the author of the best-selling job search and career planning book, Your Career: How to Make It Happen. She is a former department head at Boise State University and, in addition to writing instructional materials, is currently a professional speaker and corporate trainer. To access over 100 links to top job search and career planning web sites, go to the website for Julie's career development book, and click on the "Links." ( Her communications-based training programs are featured on the web site for her training business: ( ).

Shelley Metzger: Dr. Shelley Metzger is the Associate Director of the Boise State University Career Center. She has a PhD. In Education and an M.A in Counseling. She has extensive experience working directly with college students to help them make sound career choices and to conduct successful job searches. She also works directly with employers to confirm what skills, abilities, personal qualities and other qualifications they are seeking in hiring.