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Mind Your Manners

By Melissa Hank

A bohemian attitude towards etiquette may be charming, or at least quirky, when you're a student. But if you sidestep manners in the workplace, you could ruin your chances at that promotion.

It's your first business lunch. You've fumbled through appetizers and slurped through soup. You’re eating spinach quiche when an errant chunk gets stuck in your teeth.


Do you pluck it out gracefully or grin like a goblin, hoping your boss won't notice? These are the times that try grads' souls, and business etiquette can help you save face whether you’re in a new office, doing lunch or networking your way to the top.

Being the office frosh

It's your first day on the job. You're filled with excitement, ideas and -- let’s face it -- terror. Your strategy is to:

(A) Devise efficient policies immediately and show your boss the error of her ways. After all, you’re a vital company asset.

(B) Assume a fetal position under your desk. Emerge only for chocolate and bathroom breaks.

(C) Find an experienced person to help you. Mask cowardly feelings with poise and willingness to learn.

The correct answer is c. Many employers believe grads overestimate their worth. Just because you have a degree doesn't mean you know it all.

Adeodata Czink, president of the Toronto-based Business of Manners etiquette center, advises clients not to take over the office right away. Employers will deem you overzealous and become defensive.

But your knowledge does count for something. If you have condescending colleagues, don't despair. "Walk as tall as you can. Give the image of height," says Czink. "Your biggest weapon is inner strength. Don't let anyone take it away from you."

Doubt this works? Elizabeth Taylor is only five foot, and look at the confidence she exudes.

A great way to learn about your career is to find a mentor. Mentors can show you how they succeeded, focus your goals and introduce you to influential people. Search for mentors at career centers, local professional organizations or ask professors and other people you already know.

The daily grind

You're getting used to your job and have more confidence. You generally:

(A) Treat your colleagues as buddies and your office as your home. Rehash sordid details of your weekend and hang laundry from computer cables.

(B) Talk business and keep your office savagely neat. Make Attila the Hun seem like an approachable guy.

(C) Wait pleasantly for others to befriend you. Use common courtesy and personal hygiene.

Once again, the answer is c. Czink recommends a personal touch, such as a framed photo or a plant, to warm a neat office. In dress, language and conduct, err on the formal side. If you dress and act for your next position you probably will get it, says Czink.

Don't ruin your image by swearing, using slang or chewing gum. If you're being introduced, stand, make eye contact, extend your hand and say, "How do you do?" If it's you who's making the introductions, present lower-ranking people to clients and those higher up. Use a last name (Mr. Gonzales) to address someone two generations older than you.

At a business meeting, don't sit too close to the head of the table. Let someone invite you closer. Make a few insightful comments instead of babbling like a brook.

When you're called to "do lunch," don’t fret. Place the napkin on your lap within ten seconds of sitting. Only place it back on the table after everyone has stood up to leave.

If something gets stuck in your teeth, it should come out the same way it went in. So olive pits go out by hand and that spinach chunk goes out by fork. When in doubt, watch the host. Whoever invites someone to lunch pays. If that's you, tip your server ten per cent. Be generous; round up.

Moving on up

You've mastered your current job and are ready for a new position. Networking is an invaluable tool -- over 80 per cent of jobs are found through it. Your networking approach is to:

(A) Camp out on the porches of major CEOs. Insert your résumé into their morning papers.

(B) Enhance your ESP capabilities. Send telepathic vibrations about yourself to influential people.

(C) Inform friends, relatives and colleagues that you're in the job market. The more people who know, the better.

You guessed it, the answer is c. You can also join networking groups; many grads overlook them. Most groups meet in churches, schools or community centers and welcome job hunters at any level. Be prepared to talk about yourself. Dress semi-casually, talk to everybody and specify which companies you're interested in. Reciprocate the favour and try to help others. Consider carrying a personal business card.

Congratulations, you've just completed Business Etiquette 101. Apply these basic tips and consult an etiquette expert who can fill in the blanks. And by the way, if you ever need a freelance writer . . .

Melissa Hank is a journalism student at Ryerson University. Her dream is to have manners that would put Betty Etiquette to shame