While many Grownups work in casual work environments, it’s still important to remember professional etiquette basics. Here’s how to put your best foot forward before the interview and beyond.
Technology has changed the way jobseekers find potential opportunities. It’s also transformed how employees communicate with peers, clients, bosses, and coworkers. Though the prevalence of text messages, email, video chats, and social media have caused some professional norms to fall by the wayside, not all rules of the business world have become extinct with new technology.
We spoke to some career experts and executives for their take on which “old school” professional rules still apply, and which no longer have an impact on who is interviewed, hired, and promoted.
Don’t: Squeeze accomplishments onto a one-page resume
Ding, dong: The one-page resume rule is dead!
“A strong resume is as long as it needs to be to tell the story,” says Laurie Berenson of Sterling Career Concepts LLC. “There will be a point in everyone’s career, probably at about five to eight years of professional experience, when it becomes necessary to continue onto a second page.” She also notes that trendy infograph style resumes may be a good option for jobseekers trying to break into more progressive fields like advertising, design, and entertainment, or those pursuing roles related to a company’s online and social media presence.
Do: Plan extensively for an interview
Though interviews in today’s business world commonly take place via video chat and in informal settings—potentially with a company founder who wears shorts and is barely of legal drinking age—securing a job is still serious business.
The right way to interview starts with basic planning. “Showing up early (or at least, on time) to the interview shows the discernment to look up directions, allow time for traffic, figure out where to park—and that the candidate respects our time,” says serial entrepreneur and Sideqik CEO Kurt Uhlir. And while prepping might seem like common sense, Uhlir says the majority of candidates he’s interviewed over the years don’t do it.
With the popularity of casual workplaces and anything-goes start-up environments comes an increased importance for job candidates to do their homework about a company before the interview, says Rosalinda Randall, etiquette expert and author of Don’t Burp in the Boardroom. Despite appearances, she says, it’s not acceptable for a candidate to let their guard down—even if a company is laid back.
“There are time-honored standards that persist: One is no matter the company’s culture or vibe, emphasis is still placed on appearance. The company is not there to impress the candidate—it is still the other way around, in most cases,” says Randall. All of these interview norms are still alive and well:
- Know how to shake hands properly
- Stand up straight
- Be energetic and excited to be at the interview
- Dress with the type of care that communicates interest—even if it’s a casual environment
- Pack mobile devices far away during the meeting, and turn off ringers and pings for texts and other alerts
- Research what the company does, the background of the interviewer(s), and the primary skills and responsibilities the role entails based on the job description
- Have some resume hard copies printed on professional resume paper on hand—just in case
Don’t: Mistake social media for professional networking
Social media has made it easier to establish a connection with professional peers and coworkers, and to maintain contact with those from past jobs, but Barbara Pachter, author of The Essentials of Business Etiquette: Eat, Greet, and Tweet Your Way to Success, says it hasn’t negated the importance of face time (and she’s not referring to the video-calling software). She recommends all professionals, especially those who work virtually, still prioritize their participation in industry groups and committees, partake in volunteer efforts, and attend networking events.
Do: Put your respect on paper
The process of job searching and hiring requires an investment (and sometimes, inconvenience) to all involved. The prevalence of social media, email, and text interactions in today’s professional world has made it even more important to go the extra mile. “After a job interview, send an email the next morning and drop a handwritten thank-you note in the mail. It’s the polish that very few people take the time for today that makes one person really stand out,” says Uhlir. The same rules apply to mentors, bosses, and generally anyone who is willing to go out of their way to listen or provide advice or guidance. It takes seconds, and leaves a lasting impression.
Don’t: Send out blanket emails of interest
Though the days of sending a hard copy resume and cover letter are largely in the past, the effort required to properly approach a hiring manager remains. With social media tools—like LinkedIn, company websites, and a basic Google search—it’s fairly simple to find the name and title of the person involved with the hiring and recruitment for a particular role. Address that person in the introductory email professionally and accurately.
Don’t: Be the email sender who gets sent to the spam folder
Email has made it so easy to communicate that it’s inherently introduced new professional norms—simply because people get so many email messages each day. Pachter says to take note of these email etiquette rules:
- Don’t send messages marked “urgent” or “high importance” (if it’s not really an emergency)
- Don’t send email messages with a request that the recipient acknowledges the message as “read” (Tools like Yesware offer a more stealth approach)
- Don’t send an email—and then text/call the recipient minutes later with the same information
- Don’t be sloppy: Check for typos, eliminate slang (type “you” not “u”), and edit those that read like a novel. “Keep it short, read your document out loud to make sure it doesn’t sound harsh, and add a salutation to make it friendlier,” says Pachter.
Don’t: Have sensitive conversations electronically
Email, chat, and texts are convenient, but they introduce the potential for misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Any professional using voice text or autocorrect features in typed texts should proceed with caution: It only takes a moment to look at the screen before hitting send, and could mean the difference between an efficient exchange and one full of unintended (and avoidable) miscommunication. The same goes for potentially sensitive conversations, debates, or disagreements. When in doubt, Pachter advises stopping by the person’s office, inviting him or her to coffee, or at the least, picking up the phone.
Stephanie Taylor Christensen is a former financial services marketer turned freelance writer who covers personal finance, career, health, and small business news. Her work is published in national media outlets including USAToday, Fast Company, The Fiscal Times, Refinery29, Real Simple, Forbes, ForbesWoman, The Huffington Post and Yahoo! Finance. She is the owner of Om for Mom prenatal yoga in Columbus, Ohio. Connect with her on Twitter.
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