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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Basic etiquette can be key to success

By Vicky Smith
Sun Media

A friend of mine started her career in the insurance business. She worked for many years in small communities before she was transferred into a manager's position in London, Ont.

It was Christmas time, so she joined the London team for the Christmas party. The group was seated at a round table and the waiter took drink orders. My friend does not drink but heard other people ordering Singapore Slings, Grasshoppers and Mudslides. She quickly looked at the menu and decided she would order a shrimp cocktail.

The office joke

When she ordered, there were a few chuckles, but the laughter really broke out when her shrimp cocktail appetizer was brought out with everyone else's drinks.

Of course, this was the office joke for a few weeks.

Business etiquette is about presenting yourself with the kind of polish that shows you can be taken seriously.

It's also about being comfortable around people from diverse backgrounds and their being comfortable around you.

Understanding business etiquette related to business functions, casual Fridays and e-mails can enhance your professionalism and your career.

First impressions formed at a business dinner, a client meeting or golf game can make or break a key business arrangement.

We have 60 to 120 seconds to make a first impression and we want to make it a good one.

"Your image, how you look, carry yourself and dress can speak volumes about your mood, energy level and attitude," say Lewena Bayer and Karen Mallett, from the etiquette and protocol firm In Good Company.

"People do make capability judgments based on their impressions of your style and appropriateness of attire."

Wayne Foster, chief information officer of the Frouin Group of chartered accountants in Ottawa, offers suggestions on making a good impression in a social setting:
  • Find out who will be attending the function. Ask for a list of attendees.
  • Take the time to check your address book to refresh your memory about the people you are likely to meet.
  • Decide how you're going to introduce yourself. In addition to your name and title, you want to give the person you are meeting an idea of what you do and something about why you are at this event, all in 10 seconds or less.
  • Find a conversation topic other than the weather. Check out a newspaper or the television news before heading out and prepare a few small-talk stories you can tell.
    Always carry an ample supply of business cards.
    Diane Craig, president of Image International in Toronto and Ottawa, trains executives and politicians in etiquette and public image.
    "There is a right and wrong way to present a business card. It's always best to ask for someone's card before you offer yours," she says.
    "Make sure the card is turned so the person you are handing it to can read it, because it's awkward for someone to have to turn it around."

    On casual Fridays, many business environments look like gym workout areas or night spots.

    Mallett gives the following suggestions:
  • Casual includes khakis, sport shirts, sweaters, slacks, blouses and skirts. Some people get casual confused with very informal or play clothes. Typically, business casual means a tie isn't required, but a collar is.
  • When choosing what to wear, assess the role you are playing that day. The level of formality depends on who you are interacting with and what your responsibilities will be.
  • Dress as though you hold a position higher in rank than where you actually are in your company.

    Ask yourself the following questions:

    Does this clothing fit me properly? Is it too tight, too loose or too short? Does this article of clothing look worn-out or out of date? Am I dressed appropriately for my position and responsibilities?

    The "first-impression" rule applies to e-mails as well. Chris Mitchell of Microsoft offers the following tips:
  • Many people don't scroll down in their e-mails. To communicate effectively, put essential information at the beginning.
  • To be effective, restate the central idea or original query at the beginning of an e-mail that goes back and forth.
  • The subject line may be the only part of an e-mail that many people read, so it's a good place to summarize actions required.

    "Business etiquette is essentially about building relationships with colleagues, clients or customers. In the business world, it's these people that can influence your success or failure," Neil Payne says in an article entitled Business Meeting Etiquette.

    "Etiquette, and in particular business etiquette, is simply a means of maximizing your business potential by presenting yourself favourably."

    Vicky Smith is owner of Contact Human Resource Group.

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