The reasons for this are fairly obvious. We've passed through the period of "do your own thing" which, by it very definition, abandons the need-to say nothing of the motivation-to worry about how we treat our fellow human beings. When self- enteredness rules in our personal lives, it causes anger and resentment in others. When it predominates in business, it can result in the loss of clients, lower morale, and declining productivity and competitiveness in any enterprise. The self-centered or narcissistic individual will probably fail to get that better job for which he or she is looking.
It always saddens me to see bright and highly educated young men and women fumble through interviews either in the employer's office or over a meal, because they are unsure of what good etiquette is all about. These people don't necessarily do anything wrong, but they are unable to project confidence because they're worrying about rules of etiquette they never bothered to learn.
An analogy can be made to someone who has to give a speech. The speaker goes to the podium with something wrong with his or her clothing-a button dangling by a thread, or a stain on a shirt or blouse. The dangling but-on or stain is always on the speaker's mind, which, of course, means that some of the focus on the speech itself s lost. Job seekers should take great pains to make sure that when they go for an interview their clothing is clean and pressed and is appropriate to the job they're seeking. And, while making sure your appearance is without laws, you should go into this sort .of important interchange between you and an employer fully aware of what good etiquette requires in one's behavior.
Of course we're speaking here of basic manners, accepted protocol, common sense. Then there are those job seekers who go into an interview and don't simply make mistakes in etiquette-they rewrite the book.
A few years ago, while I was writing Robert Half on firing, I commissioned a survey of top executives and personnel managers in which I asked, "What was the most unusual thing that a job candidate ever did at an interview?" They reported many unusual incidents, but there are a few that especially caught my attention.
He wouldn't leave unless I offered him a job. I had to call the police."
She told me to put on my suit jacket to make the atmosphere more formal."
"He pulled out a Polaroid camera and took my picture. He said he always takes a picture of everybody who interviews him."
I took a phone call. The candidate took out a bowl of Kentucky Fried Chicken, put it on my desk, and started eating."
"I asked him about his hobbies. He jumped up and started tap dancing."
"She told me that if I didn't hire her, she'd have her grandmother put a curse on me."
"Jumped up and down on my carpet and said must be a big shot to have such thick carpeting."
Bizarre, of course, but only because these people acted in an extreme way. Many of the responses to the survey pointed to simple bad manners that left a negative image in the interviewer's mind: sloppy eating habits, unpleasant personal habits, interrupting a conversation are ordinary examples of bad etiquette that we see far too much of these days.
If you aren't sure of what good etiquette is all about get a book out of the library and learn. Even if you think you're pretty well versed in etiquette, you can avoid potentially awkward situations by thinking ahead. If you're going to be interviewed over lunch or dinner, remind yourself not to order anything that is difficult to eat, like spaghetti, or dishes that are messy and demand the use of fingers, like lobster. Obviously, avoid items from the menu that are heavy on garlic or onions.
I remember a story about a young man who was being interviewed for a job over lunch. His potential boss ordered steak tartare. The young man had no idea what steak tartare was, but decided to order it, telling the waiter, "Make mine well done." The moral is to avoid not only dishes that are difficult to eat but those you can't pronounce or know nothing about.
Even though some other dishes on the menu may appeal to you, your purpose is not to have a good meal. You're there to smoothly progress through the lunch or dinner without butchering the foreign name of a dish or niggling with food that could end up in your lap.
Do not drink any alcoholic beverages during a business interview. Even a glass of wine can dull your senses; job interview is when you need to be at your sharpest. If your prospective employer has a drink, pass anyway. You don't have to create the impression that you never drink; simple "Not right now, thank you" indicates that you're at averse to drinking but don't choose to at the moment. This has become increasingly important because of the hanged attitude toward drinking. The day of the three-lartini lunch is long gone. I commissioned a study in which top executives were asked what percentage of days executives consume alcoholic beverages during a special business lunch. In their opinion, only 26 percent did compared to their estimate of 56 percent five years go-a whopping 30 percent decrease.
If you haven't quit smoking yet, stifle the urge until you're far away from your potential new boss. The best advice is to quit smoking altogether. Not only will your chances of a long life increase, your potential for career success will be significantly enhanced. I've commissioned numerous studies on smoking in the workplace, and the results are clear-cut and significant. In another survey of executives, we found that only 22 percent of the men and women running our top corporations smoke (61 percent of them used to smoke). When asked to estimate the percentage of smokers in their firms, they responded that 4 percent of top management smokes, 19 percent of mid-lie management, and 24 percent of staff personnel. I read hat as indicating that there's some correlation between smoking and job success. Smokers clearly darken their chances of rising to top management or, in an increasing number of cases, getting employed at all.
Another smoking study, perhaps even more relevant for the readers of this book who are seeking better job asked executives: "If you had to choose between two candidates, each equally qualified to do the job, but one smoker and one not, which would you choose?" These executives chose the nonsmoker by a ratio of fifteen to one. Clearly, smoking can be hazardous to your wealth.
Don't bring someone with you to an interview. That creates an awkward situation for everyone concerned. The receptionist has to pay attention to a person whose presence has no practical meaning to the business going on, and you sit during the interview wondering whether your companion is getting bored sitting in the waiting room. It just isn't good business etiquette. If you have someone accompany you, have him or her wait for you at a place totally removed from the building in which the interview is taking place.
When interviewed in an office, politely decline an offer of coffee or something to eat. It just puts you in position of possibly spilling the coffee, dropping crumb on the executive's rug, or having a mouth filled with pastry just as you're asked "Where do you want to be three years from now?"
Being on time to all appointments is good etiquette. Being late to any appointment is not. One of my survey showed that 93 percent of key hiring decision makers felt that candidates who arrive late for job interviews take giant step toward remaining unemployed.
Leave for an interview with plenty of time to spare even if you have to kill a half hour in a local coffee shop. Arriving early gives you a chance to make sure you can find the address and the proper floor, and precludes you coming into the interview breathless and disorganized. For the same reason, bring a minimum of materials with you. If it's a rainy day, politely ask the receptionist or secretary whether you can leave your umbrella and raincoat outside the interview room. The more you carry into interview, the more you will have to juggle. Be prepared to shake hands; having to shift things from one arm the other while the interviewer stands there with his or her hand dangling in midair is not very impressive.
Speaking of handshakes, be sure yours is firm. Don't overdo it, however. There is a whole world of men who do a firm handshake with crunching the knuckles of another man. To say the least, this can cause the wrong mind of lasting impression.
We've all heard how important direct eye contact is. That's true, but there are individuals who are so obsessed with this need that they spend an entire interview staring intently into the eyes of the interviewer, which is guaranteed to create tension. Eye contact can be accomplished by directing your gaze at the forehead or nose. I'm not suggesting avoiding the eyes, but don't feel that you have lock in like a laser beam from the minute you sit down.
More thank-you notes never get written because people are unsure of their ability to put something in writing and so don't. Then again, many people have never been taught that proper etiquette demands thanking someone beyond the perfunctory "Thanks" when leaving an interview. A thank-you note need be only a few lines, but be certain to add something to it that will enhance your image-maybe one of your strong points that did not come out during the interview: "Thank you very much for your time and courtesy yesterday. I'm pleased to be considered for the job, and am even more enthusiastic about the possibility now that we've met. By the way, I didn't mention yesterday that the computer program I helped to create with XYZ Corp. resulted in a 26 percent savings the first year. Again, thank you. Sincerely,”