Manners Matter: Use Yours to Open Doors to a New Job

by Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

Although manners may seem inconsequential in a job search, many recruiters and hiring managers are highlighting the importance of etiquette in helping you make the cut! From the business breakfast to the luncheon interview, proper etiquette can convey respect and professionalism as well as cultural sensitivity. Effective communication and people skills never go out of style and also convey important messages to potential employers about your prospective value to their team. Use the quick guide below to plan a professional interaction for your next business meeting.

1. Be present in the moment.

Although this sounds straightforward, your nerves may be communicating your true feelings. You are less engaging if you fidget, glance around the room, or present other nervous mannerisms. Use appropriate eye contact to focus on the individual with whom you are meeting. If several people are present, include all of them in your gaze from time to time. Your interactions will suffer if your mind is elsewhere, even if focused on your next question or your elevator speech. Take the necessary time to practice important points you want to cover in advance so that you can be fully present in the meeting. Take notes with you if necessary to help maintain your focus. Don’t get distracted by the activity of eating at a business lunch.

2. Be on time.

Though you may classify this tip as a “no-brainer,” over half of people are late to meetings. Map out your route in advance and be familiar with the meeting place ahead of time so that you can feel prepared for the meeting rather than stressed over running late. Five minutes of early arrival time lets you practice your key points. As the old saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

3. Turn off all electronic devices.

Be sure to keep devices in your pocket or briefcase and set them to silent mode even before the meeting begins. Do not place them on the table. If you are expecting an important call, inform the caller of your scheduling conflict in advance and offer to call them at another time so that you are not interrupted. You don’t want to be in the position of excusing yourself to take a call during an interview or business lunch. That kind of behavior sends a clear message of disrespect for the hiring manager and the importance of the meeting.

4. Offer a firm handshake upon meeting.

In American business culture, a handshake is expected. Stand up and extend your hand. If the other person prefers not to shake hands, simply smile and make a positive statement such as, “It’s a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Smith.” If you are interviewing with an international firm, be aware of potential cultural differences in greetings and social customs. Check websites, the library, or your local bookstore for resources to help prepare for other types of customs such as bowing instead of shaking hands or acceptable distances for personal space.

5. Follow the leader in terms of getting down to business.

Cultural differences also impact the timing of business discussions that are embedded within a social context such as a meal. In any kind of interview situation, you have been invited as a guest, so following the lead of the hiring manager is a safe approach. Above all else, focus on the individual with whom you are meeting.

6. Prepare an opening statement.

Your opening statement does not need to include the typical elevator pitch. Save that for later, as part of the business discussion. Craft a simple, well-mannered statement such as, “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, Ms. Smith.” You can continue with other small talk topics or questions about the person’s company until the tone of the meeting turns toward serious business.

7. Who picks up the tab?

If you initiated a lunch or coffee meeting for networking or intelligence gathering, you should pick up the check. If it’s an interview situation, you can check with the person who arranged it and even offer to pay for your own meal in advance. Regardless of who is paying, order modestly and select something easy to eat. Slurping spaghetti or sloshing too many drinks will not get you the job.
Many companies use the business luncheon as part of their interview protocol to see how you perform. Show them you can handle the pressure of any social situation with aplomb. Business etiquette extends to the support staff who arranged the meeting as well as the wait staff in the restaurant. Treat everyone with equal respect and professionalism.

How you finish the meeting is just as important as how you begin it. Regardless of how you feel about the meeting, end with a verbal “thank-you” and follow up later with a written note. Maintain your manners in every contact and you will be successful in creating a lasting positive impression that can open the door to a new job!