Business Etiquette

Communication Basics

Professionally Speaking

10 Most Common Mistakes:

  1. Assuming that all business associates want to be called by their first name. Wait until they ask you to call them by their first name--don't ask them.
  2. Sending out sloppy looking business correspondence. Typos, misspelled words, incorrect spelling of proper names, etc.
  3. Mistreating secretaries of the business associates--right arm to the decision-maker, can be of great assistance; get them on your team.
  4. Displaying a cavalier attitude on the telephone by not identifying yourself, putting people on hold (call waiting), and answering machines.
  5. Being lax about making and keeping business appointments. Be on time (early). If an emergency comes up and you have to be late, call and let them know.
  6. Smoking in the wrong places. Always ask. Never at a meal except before the 1st course arrives and after dessert is cleared.
  7. Giving conflicting signals about who pays. The interviewer pays. If you don't know, you can offer to pay your bill. Don't argue. Say thank you.
  8. Talking about business at a function that is social.
  9. Inviting higher ups out socially before they have taken the initiative.
  10. Failing to put your "thank you" in writing anytime it takes someone more than ten minutes to do something for you. Respond within 24-48 hours.

**Get rid of silly answering machine messages. They are inappropriate when conducting a job search...if not all the time!

Why is Etiquette SO Important?

Etiquette: a fancy word for good manners!

  • It might be part of your job: entertain clients, traveling, international business and customs.
  • It is a good skill to use in any capacity.
  • Most job interviews include a meal: while you might have impressive answers and a great resume, unimpressive social skills and poor table manners can leave a lasting, negative impression.
  • You don't want to be caught off guard; confidence is important.
  • First impressions are the most lasting. No matter what the occasion, it is always important to present yourself in the best possible manner.
  • You are constantly being observed. If you are seen displaying proper etiquette, that is a much better way to be remembered! (Imagine being remembered as the person who was seen playing with your hair, dressed sloppily, or smoking when inappropriate.)

Email Etiquette

  • Carefully read email and answer all questions, to avoid going back and forth
  • Avoid sending confidential information via email – make a phone call or ask to discuss sensitive issues in person
  • Don’t use text message or chat jargon (such as “BTW”) unless it is widely used within your organization
  • Include a brief greeting that is appropriate for status of sender (“Hey Lori” may be fine for a friend but not for a supervisor), also include a closing (“Thanks,” or “Best Wishes, John”)
  • Watch the tone – remember no body language can be interpreted, only your words
  • Use spell check and read message for errors before sending
  • Respond promptly; if you cannot respond at the time, indicate that you will do so later
  • Use proper color, fonts, layout and formatting (ones that fit with your work environment)
  • Avoid “casual speak” or slang; use abbreviations and emoticons wisely
  • If you email back and forth three times, and the problem is not resolved, pick up the phone
  • Additional resources:

Dinning and Reception Etiquette

Dining Faux Pas

  • Answering a phone call during a meeting or luncheon
  • Wearing sloppy or inappropriate clothing
  • Ignoring someone who just joined the group
  • Chewing gum during a meeting
  • Not looking at the person speaking
  • Refusing to shake hands
  • Having "sidebar" conversations during a meeting
  • Calling someone "babe" or "hun," instead of using their name or title
  • Standing too close to another person
  • Interrupting someone's conversation
  • Talking negatively regarding your organization(s)

Dining Etiquette

Many networking and business opportunities revolve around the consumption of food. While the following rules should be followed at all dining occasions, to help you feel more confident, Center for Career Development has highlighted some tips for each specific event.

Cocktail Party

  • Rehearse your introduction and several conversation starters
  • Do not bring up heated subjects like politics or religion
  • Have business cards made and ready to go
  • Hold your glass or plate in your left hand, freeing up your right hand for shaking
  • Do not talk with food in your mouth
  • If you are looking for a job – do not drink alcohol; Never accept alcohol if under age 21

Business Luncheon

When you are the host:

  • Call both the restaurant and the guest that morning to confirm the reservation
  • If the guest is more than 15 minutes late, call his or her office
  • Allow the guest to sit at the best seat
  • The host should be prepared to pay for the meal

When you are the guest:

  • Do not bring someone else with you unannounced
  • Turn your cell phone off and do not answer it during the meal
  • Order an entrée that is priced mid-range (chicken is always a safe bet)
  • Pace yourself when eating – not too fast, not too slow
  • Allow the host to pay for the meal if they offer
  • Do not salt or pepper your food without tasting it first

Formal Dinner

  • Remember that your bread is on the left and your drinks are on the right
  • Scoop up your soup away from you, not towards you
  • Cut your food and break your bread into pieces one at a time
  • Do not pick something out of your mouth with your hands
  • Communicate with your waiter using your utensils (turn the tines of your fork down when you are finished eating)
  • Know which utensils to use with what course
    (sample table setting below)

    Utensil Layout

Do's and Don'ts at a Business Function

  • Do hold your glass in your left hand, so that your right hand is free to shake hands
  • Do hold your drink AND plate in your left hand. If you can't do this, DON'T EAT! You are there to do business, not to eat food
  • Do use a firm handshake
  • Don't clutch your plate to your stomach while waiting for your turn in the buffet line; hold it flat
  • Don't chew ice
  • Don't talk with food in your mouth
  • Don't chew with your mouth open
  • Don't drink if you are a candidate for a position with the organization and are still in the interviewing process; if you are employed by the organization do not drink too much
  • Don't smoke

Special thanks to Diana Hurt, SPHR, and Carolyn Leusing & Associates and At Ease Inc. for sharing much of the information on this page.

Return to Job Search

Office Phone:

Office Email:

Office Location:
Room 234, Ridgway University Center