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

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.
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 slopp iness, 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.

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.

Adapted from:
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.
Shelley Metzger: Dr. Shelley Metzger is the Associate Director of the Boise State University Career Center.
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