Boost Your Job Search Success With
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
14. Do cut two or three pieces of food (not the entire serving) at
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 "email@example.com" or "firstname.lastname@example.org."
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
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
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
2. Do smile during the interview; it conveys courtesy and friendliness.
3. Do arrive on time to all meetings. Employers often disqualify late
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,
8. Do review all e-mail messages carefully before clicking the "Send"
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
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
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
6. Don't waste the interviewer's time by rambling during your interview.
Practice beforehand to deliver a clear, concise description of your
7. Don't comment on highly sensitive subjects (politics, extreme opinions,
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
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." (www.levitt.swlearning.com).
Her communications-based training programs are featured on the web site
for her training business: (www.jglevitt.com ).
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.