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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Business etiquette 101

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun


You've landed the job of your dreams and want to make a great impression. As you select the perfect outfit for your first day, you start worrying about all that could go wrong. You don't even know if you should call your new boss by his/her first name.


Certainly, the rules of business etiquette have changed over the years. But no matter how casual your office environment, mastering the art of business etiquette will increase your self-confidence, and could pay dividends in career advancement.

"Etiquette is not charm school. It's a set of guidelines for everyday living," says Rebecca Chu-Rapovski of Markham, certified image professional of the Association of Image Consultants International (www.aici.org). "Everyday etiquette should help you put your best foot forward in business and social situations."

Image consultants work with a host of clients -- politicians, news anchors and businesses and others who recognize the value of well-mannered employees in service, sales, hospitality and many more industries.

"Awareness of etiquette is rising," says Karen Brunger, director of the International Image Institute in Toronto (www.imageinstitute.com). "It could be a result of the business casual dress code, which was a leveller between employees. To rise to the top, you need to respect the rules."

Business etiquette is really common sense, says wardrobing consultant Sandy St. Marseille, who completed etiquette training with the goal of advancing her business, Image Source.

"Many businesses have become so automated," she says. "We're really losing touch with people...Business etiquette makes the workplace more personalized and makes you feel more confident in any situation." Consider the following tips:

Use of first names. "The person in authority gives permission for first names to be used," Brunger says. "You should always start off using a title, and remember that 'Ms' is safer than 'Mrs.' In your job interview, you might be invited to use their first name, which sets a precedent and allows you to use their first name when you meet again."

Shaking hands. "Shaking hands is a very good gesture in business," Chu-Rapovski says. "It's comparable to shaking hands after a business deal...Subconsciously, it says you're already doing good business."

Appropriate attire. What you wear to work depends largely on the type of business environment you're in. But business casual never means jeans -- unless perhaps you're an artist -- and conservative is always a safe choice, Chu-Rapovski advises.

Introductions. "Always introduce people with their first and last name and offer some information about each to open up conversation," Chu-Rapovski says. Introduce an individual of lower rank or status to an individual of higher rank or status. And remember, it's perfectly appropriate to introduce yourself to someone you want to meet.

Handing out business cards. "In a business meeting, you should hand out your business card right away, so everybody knows who everybody is," Brunger says. "But at a networking event, you should wait until you're asked. If not, it may look like you're desperate for business."

Making small talk. "People ask personal questions when it's really not appropriate," says Brunger, who lists the following topics as taboo: religion, politics, marital status, children and negative news. "Unless you already know something about them, talk about general things," Brunger says.

Business etiquette is really about treating people with respect, says Chu-Rapovski. "If we all practised etiquette, the world would be a much kinder, more thoughtful place to live."

(Linda White (linda.white@rogers.com) is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)



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