Job Search Tools

Business Etiquette

Like much of the education you've acquired over the years, rules of etiquette are learned as abstract concepts but never really understood until applied. Soon you will bring to a work situation all those academic theories that were drilled into you in the classroom. In the same way, you will soon apply theories of business etiquette and find that they smooth your way and allow you to focus on your personal growth and career development - things that really matter.

Using proper business etiquette is more than just "minding your manners." Within a business context an additional set of rules guide personal interaction to insure a comfortable atmosphere that invites mutual respect and communication.

Consider the following advice as you prepare for campus recruiting; it should help you through the social dynamics of the job search process.

When you interview . . .

Punctuality is essential. It won't say much for your potential as a dependable employee if you can't even be on time for an interview. If, despite your very best efforts, something causes you to be late, stick an apologetic smile on your face, explain briefly the reason for your delay, and get on with the interview. At the end of the interview, thank the recruiter for his/her patience and the interview. In your thank you note, don't mention your delayed arrival at all . . . it's not your best selling point! Why continue to bring it up?

Never call an interviewer by his or her first name unless and until you are asked to do so. Unless another title is used in an introduction, assume that all men are Mr. and all women are Ms.

Never use profanity . . . ever; even if the interviewer has an uncontrollable potty mouth.

Avoid junk language . . . I mean, like, give me a break . . . don't go there, you know?

Avoid jargon. Refer to classes by their titles (Principles of Selling), not by their numbers (Marketing 350). Avoid using technical terms with a person who lacks a technical background. Of course, if you and a recruiter speak the same insider language, go ahead and show off a little.

When you attend an employer reception . . .

Arrive promptly and find the host(s). Introduce yourself and express your appreciation for the invitation.

Circulate and participate. When there is a speaker, stop chatting and pay attention.

Food will be served at receptions, usually buffet style. Do not graze. You can't afford to appear to be more interested in the food than the opportunity to talk to people. Limit yourself to soft drinks. If alcohol is served, Career Services recommends:

  • Abstain from alcohol.
  • If you are of legal age and decide to consume, limit yourself to one drink.

Alcohol won't be available at university events and it will seldom be served at off-campus functions. If you are offered an alcoholic drink that you don't want, explanations or apologies are not required; just say "No, thank you." The same is true with food you don't like or want.

When employers call . . .

Your telephone is an important link with employers . . . answer it nicely, please. The sounds of gum chewing, eating, drinking, and smoking are amplified and extraordinarily unattractive over the phone. Music playing? Turn it off. Late for class or your job? Ask when you can call back; the caller will understand.

An answering machine message should be courteous and direct (don't waste their time). Include your name (first or last) and/or phone number in the message so callers will know they dialed correctly.

Do you have "call waiting?" Learn how to turn it off when you are making a call (in DeKalb, you press #70 before you make your call). Callers will hear a busy signal. When you hang up, call-waiting is reactivated. If you are talking to an employer who calls you and you hear "the beep," ignore it! You aren't really going to put a potential employer "on hold" are you?


You may be just starting your career, but you can shake hands like a CEO. Extend your hand with confidence, offer a nice firm grip, and let the recruiter "lead." Handshakes that are too delicate or overly robust are a mistake. If for some reason you aren't completely comfortable with the ritual handshake, your job search is going to be stressful. The job interview process has been referred to as "handshake to handshake combat," and you need to be able to carry it off comfortably.

Listen carefully as names are pronounced. Ask for a name to be repeated if necessary. Remembering names is more than a nice social amenity, it's an important business practice. If your name is mispronounced, correct it politely and immediately. You risk embarrassing future colleagues when they find out they've been mispronouncing your name.

In a healthy business climate, men and women assume equal responsibility and are accorded equal respect. Social courtesies (opening doors, helping with coats, etc.) are extended mutually. Flirtatious or sexist behavior is not acceptable . . . and you don't have to humor anyone who thinks it is.

Show courtesy and respect to everyone. In addition to being the right thing to do, your behavior is being observed by employers who will (rightly) assume that you will treat customers and co-workers with a similar degree of civility. Arrogance and sarcasm are equally unattractive.

If you feel at a disadvantage because you lack experience in business/social situations, invest in a good book on etiquette. It will give you confidence.

And one more thing!

After an interview, a well thought out thank you letter (probably more appropriately called a "follow-up letter") can improve the odds of getting the second interview you are hoping for.

A thank you letter can and should say more than just "thank you" - it can offer additional information about your qualifications, for example, or follow-up on a topic that was discussed during the interview. If, during an interview, you can see that the job being offered is not what you are looking for, a follow-up letter can let you graciously "drop out of the running."

Read the Career Services Guide for some help with writing your follow-up correspondence, or see one of the career counselors for advice. Follow-up correspondence can be sent as an e-mail message or regular mail. Either should be free of spelling or grammatical errors.View the Thank You Letter handout for additional information.