This section will provide you with skills and knowledge needed to have meaningful and professional interactions with employers, clients, and colleagues.
Professional etiquette provides a basic set of guidelines to make business life go smoothly. Following are several directives which, if followed, will help you secure employment and advance in your career.
Common Courtesies: Hold the door open for the person behind you. Put items back where you found them. Return a borrowed item in the same condition. Show appreciation; compliment others. Do what you say you will do. Say “please” and “thank you.” Offer assistance to others. Assume the best unless you have facts to prove otherwise.
Introductions and Greetings: When you are first introduced, stand up to meet the person if possible. If you are introducing other people, introduce the lower ranked person to the higher ranked person (for example: “Mr./Mrs. Greater Authority, I would like to introduce Mr./Mrs. Lesser Authority to you.”) If you have forgotten someone’s name, politely ask for a reminder.
Work Hours: Always be punctual. Pay attention to policies related to breaks and absences. If possible, avoid requesting leave during the first few months on the job. Avoid excessive absenteeism.
Meetings: Arrive several minutes early and ask if you are uncertain about the seating pattern. Turn off your cellphone and give your attention to the speaker. Let the speaker know if you plan to use your phone to search for information during the meeting. Do not interrupt; note what is shared and share your points later. If providing a report, be concise and stay on subject. Unless directed otherwise, do not share information discussed in closed meetings.
Social and Business Events: Attend when possible. Mingle and meet new people. Maintain a professional image. Give your attention to those present by putting your cellphone away unless you are expecting an urgent message. Never hold a glass and plate in both hands — you need your right hand free to shake hands with others. Limit intake or refrain from all alcohol. Do not appear that you came just for the food.
Conversations: Listen to others attentively and speak when they have finished speaking. Maintain eye contact and keep a polite tone and appropriate volume. Keep your conversations brief and on track. Do not ask personal questions or offer too much personal information. Be sociable, but avoid gossip.
Public Speaking: Speak in a way that suits the circumstances and the audience and that is authentic to your style. Avoid using offensive language even in casual settings. Be aware of your allotted time and stay on track.
Phone Communication: Turn off your cellphone or switch to silent mode when you are not on breaks or at lunch. Accept personal calls while on breaks or in urgent situations only. When leaving voice mail messages, speak slowly and clearly. Provide your name and a number at the beginning and end of a lengthy message. Always speak politely.
Personal Space: Try to stand no closer than an arm’s length away from the person with whom you are speaking. Keep your voice at a level appropriate for your work environment during phone calls and face-to-face conversations. Do not decorate your work space with items that might offend others, especially if it is a shared space.
Shared Space: Take responsibility for cleaning up after yourself when using counters and appliances shared with others. Avoid strong smells that will travel throughout the office. Wash and return utensils and cups and label items placed in the refrigerator. If using a shared photocopier, make sure the paper tray is full when you leave it.
Deadlines: Be on time or early on deadlines. Know what and when you need to submit as you begin a project. Be sensitive and flexible regarding others’ schedules when working on team projects.
Neatness: Management may view neatness as organized and precise. Appear to be neat. Maintain a clutter-free work area especially if you share work space with a colleague.
If invited for a meal interview, remember that, in addition to your interviewing skills, your table manners are being observed. Learning proper dining etiquette will serve you well in many business and social settings.
- Place Settings: The general rule for silverware is to work from the outside in as the meal progresses.
- Bread on the Left, Drink on the Right: It may be difficult to determine which drink is yours when you arrive at the table. Here is a helpful tip from Martha Stewart: Hold both hands in front of you, palms facing each other. Use the tips of your thumb and forefinger to make circles on each hand. The remaining three fingers in each hand point upwards. Your left hand will form a b and your right hand will form a d. Bread (b) is on the left, and drink (d) is on the right.
- Dinner Plate: When finished eating, do not push the plate away from you. Instead, place both your fork and knife across the center of the plate, handles to the right. Between bites, your fork and knife are placed on the plate, handles to the right, not touching the table.
- Soup Bowl: The soup bowl may be placed on top of the dinner plate when the table is initially set. While eating the soup, rest your spoon in the bowl. Do not put it on the plate under the bowl until finished.
- Bread Plate: Bread should be broken (not cut) into bite-sized pieces. Butter only the piece you are preparing to eat. When butter is served, put some on your bread plate and use as needed.
- Napkin: Place in your lap. If you need to excuse yourself, place the napkin in your chair. When leaving the table after the meal, place the napkin on the side of the plate loosely folded.
- Salad Fork: If used, it belongs to the left of the dinner fork.
- Dinner Fork: Placed to the left of the plate. If there are three forks, they are usually salad, fish, and meat in order of use from outside in.
- Butter Knife: Placed horizontally on bread plate.
- Dessert Spoon: Above the plate.
- Cake Fork: Above the plate.
- Knife: To the right of the plate. Sometimes there are multiple knives, usually for meat, fish, and salad, in order of use from outside in.
- Tea Spoon: To the right of the dinner knife.
- Soup Spoon: If needed, to the right of the tea spoon.
- Water Glass: Just above the tip of the knife.
- Red-Wine Glass: To the right of the water glass. A glass of red wine can be held either by the stem or partially by the bowl, whichever is more comfortable.
- White-Wine Glass: To the right of the red wine glass. A glass of white wine is held on the stem to preserve the chill.
- Alcohol and Business Dining: The general rule on alcohol during a job interview or networking function is to avoid it. Even if a glass of wine relaxes you, you want to be focused and professional.
Order foods that can be eaten with utensils. Avoid foods that are difficult to eat. Do not order the most expensive item on the menu. A la carte items are ordered and priced separately.
- Offer a dish to the person on your left, then serve yourself and pass on to your right. If someone to your left asks you to pass a dish, pass to the left.
- Pass the salt and pepper together and set them on the table rather than handing them directly to the person.
- Servers will typically serve food from the left and clear empty dishes from the right.
- Butter, spreads, or dips should be placed on your plate before spreading or eating.
- If not eating, place your hands in your lap or rest your wrists on the edge of the table. Do not put your elbows on the table.
- Meeting materials should be placed under your chair.
- Do not begin eating until everyone at the table has been served or until the host asks you to begin.
- If you need to signal the server about a problem with your food or utensils, do so discreetly. It is recommended that you refrain from sending back food.
- Do not ask to taste someone else’s food, and do not offer a taste of your food to another.
- Taste your food before seasoning it. Do not assume it needs seasoning before tasting to see.
- Do not talk or laugh with your mouth full.
- Cut one piece of food at a time. Cut only enough food for the next bite.
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- If soup is too hot to eat, do not blow on it; let it cool. Dip the spoon into the soup, moving away from you. Fill it only three-fourths full to avoid spilling. Sip from the edge of the spoon. Do not slurp!
- Try to finish at the same time as your host or the majority of the group at the table.
- Excuse yourself to visit the restroom if you need to blow your nose. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with your napkin.
- Keep your focus on the others at your table even if the restaurant or dining area is noisy and full of distractions.
- Avoid discussing politics, religion, or any other topic that might be perceived as controversial. Safer topics include recent best-selling books, movies, travel, sports, technological advances, and hobbies.
- Do not ask for a to-go box. This may be appropriate if you are with close friends in an informal dining situation.
- Do not answer a call or text at the table. If you absolutely must communicate with another party during the meal, excuse yourself politely and be as brief as possible. Diverting your attention from those at your table is considered unprofessional and rude.
Terms like business professional and business casual can leave you wondering what to wear. Business casual can mean different things to different employers, and business professional depends on the industry and organizational culture.
The following lists offer commonly accepted guidelines for understanding terms associated with dress and for expanding your wardrobe to include items appropriate for networking and interviewing.
Professional attire Basics
- Suit — black, gray, or navy are safe bets
- Contrasting jacket and skirt or pants
- Skirts should fall below the knees when standing and cover thighs when seated
- Pants may be cuffed or un-cuffed
- White or solid-color dress shirt or blouse
- Dress shirts typically have pointed rather than button-down collars
Professional Attire Accessories
- Solid color or subtle pattern tie
- Closed-toe heels or dress shoes
- Socks worn with dress shoes should be a dark color and crew length
- Simple accessories/jewelry
- Belt that matches shoes/attire
- Black, brown, or burgundy notebook or portfolio
- Grab a portfolio for free at the Career Center if you don’t have one!
Business Casual Options
- Slacks or skirts that resemble those from a suit
- Neatly pressed khakis or corduroys
- Sport coat or blazer
- Cotton shirts in solids, prints, or muted plaids
- Cardigan or v-neck sweater
- Loafers, oxfords, of low-heeled shoes or boots