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When I was a college student, professors rarely spoke about business etiquette. Transitioning into the workforce from college was just something we learned along the way. However, part of my job as a Career Services professional is to help students understand professionalism, and make their transition from college student to full-time employee a little easier.

There are many things to take into consideration regarding etiquette, but to help combat the anxiety that comes along with graduating, looking for a job, and beginning a career, I’ve come up with four simple etiquette tips that can help you look more professional now.

1. Eliminate slang and improper use of communication

According to an article from the Wall Street Journal, managers are quite perplexed at how the English language has become somewhat informal due to social media and email; which can lead to bad impressions, poor customer service and inappropriate marketing. Knowing how to articulate proper sentences is the recipe for being taken seriously.

If you build a reputation for yourself as someone who consistently uses acronyms, or uses “ain’t” compared to “isn’t,” for example, you create a persona for yourself as someone who looks ignorant and uneducated. By simply using proper spelling, grammar and punctuation, you show that you not only care about how you are perceived, but you care about professionalism and decorum in the workplace.

2. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listening skills matter.

We were all born with one mouth and two ears. Meaning, we should make it a point to speak less and listen more.  Being a good communicator means being a good listener as well. Let’s face it; we are all guilty of not listening at times.  Maybe we are too busy thinking about what we are going to say next instead of giving someone our full attention.

Photo of a woman in business attireIn any case, as Steven Covey mentions in his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by giving someone our full attention and asking thoughtful questions, we value what he calls “Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” By doing so, this builds respect and will show that you value your fellow employees and care about receiving the correct message they intend to deliver.

3. Take your appearance seriously

The way you dress outside of work is different from the way you dress while at work.  It’s all about civility and my rule of thumb is, if you would wear it to a night out on the town, it isn’t appropriate to wear to the office.  For example, if you wear your pants baggy, as if they are going to fall down, they need to be pulled up and professional looking. Along with that, if you have tattoos, make sure they are covered during interviews. The same goes for the color of your hair, piercings, jewelry and perfume.  Remember, you want to be viewed as an adult and someone who is competent.

First impressions are what matter the most and without making a positive impression, you might not be given a second chance. What you think is appropriate and stylish may not be the same as what your boss, or clients, think is appropriate.  To be safe, visit our Pinterest pin board to get a firsthand view on what is, and isn’t, expected in the business world.

4. Respect your fellow employees

Unfortunately, there are going to come times when you have to work with someone you don’t like.  It’s inevitable and a part of life.  You do not have to be best buddies, but it can be beneficial if you are polite, listen well, don’t gossip, follow directions, work as a team player, and are willing to learn new skills without complaining.

For example, if you have to work in a fellow employee’s office or cubicle, respect their space. Do not rummage through their desk, rearrange their things, borrow items and not return them, or leave a mess. Also, gossip can destroy office morale. If you are speaking poorly about others, the people you are complaining to will begin to wonder if you talk poorly about them behind their backs, as well. Keep things professional and remember, if you don’t want the whole world to know what is going on in your life, don’t say anything.


For more information and advice on business etiquette, please come to our annual Etiquette Dinner and Networking event taking place Wednesday evening, February 11th from 5 to 6:30 p.m.  It’s free to undergraduate students and dinner will include hors d’oeuvres, salad, main meal and dessert.  You will learn many helpful tips on how to navigate gracefully during business dinners and networking events. You will not only learn etiquette skills that will benefit you as an employee, but you will learn valuable skills that will help you in your everyday activities.