Dos and Don’ts of Job Search Etiquette

For many of us, the term “etiquette” might bring to mind ideas about the right way to set a table or make introductions at a formal dinner party. But the dos and don’ts of decorum also apply within a much different realm – that of the job search. In any market, potential employers consider attitude and professional demeanor heavily when evaluating candidates.

Here are some guidelines on job search etiquette to help you find – and land – the position you want.

Do research the company. Find out as much as you can about the organization before the interview. You may want to check out the firm’s web site for its mission statement and goals, as well as the business’s past financial performance. You can also read analyst ratings, scan the company’s annual report or search for media coverage. If possible, talk to someone who currently works at the organization or has worked there in the past. Your research helps you at every stage of the job search process; by using this information to help you prepare your cover letter and questions for the interview, you demonstrate initiative and convey your interest and enthusiasm in joining the company.

Do remember the art of written communication. Your resume and cover letter make a powerful first impression – one that ultimately decides whether you advance to the interview stage. Even if you’re conducting a widespread job search, take the time to customize your cover letter to each contact. After an interview, promptly send a thank-you note. It’s a courteous, formal gesture that has a lasting impact.

Don’t play the “cat and mouse” game with salary. If the job requirements have been outlined fully and you are asked to provide your expectations, it’s in your best interest to give an honest answer. While you don’t generally want to discuss salaries until you’re close to a job offer, being evasive or naming an unrealistic figure (if the topic comes up earlier in the process) can harm your credibility. Do your homework before you arrive at the first interview by researching salary levels in your industry. To determine starting salaries for jobs comparable to the one at hand, check with industry associations or staffing agencies. For example, a copy of the 2001 Robert Half and Accountemps Salary Guide provides comprehensive data on compensation in the accounting and finance fields. (Call 800-803-8367.)

Do make the best first impression. The interview begins as soon as you arrive at the company. Most businesses have a reception area where you’ll wait to meet the person conducting your interview, and this is when many job seekers let their guard down. Keep in mind that you may be evaluated just as much in the waiting area as in the interview itself. Make sure you are friendly to the receptionist, office assistant or anyone else who may greet you before and after the interview. In a survey commissioned by our company, 91 percent of executives said they consider their administrative assistants’ opinion of job candidates an important part of the selection process for positions at all levels. If you are discourteous to a receptionist or anyone else of the company, it will negatively impact your chances of getting the job.

Do show respect for others’ time. Beyond being punctual for interviews and responding promptly to requests for references, this rule also covers timing issues once you receive an employment offer. If you’re not prepared to give a yes or no answer immediately, thank your contact and promise a response within a few days. Stretching out your decision time beyond that could convey a lack of interest, and may also inconvenience the prospective employer, who may need to fill the position quickly. If you choose not to accept the job, inform the hiring manager immediately. This will give him or her a chance to offer the position to someone else.

Everyone you meet during a job search has the potential to make an impact on your professional growth. Any contact could become your next employer or a key networking resource. By following the rules of job search etiquette, you’ll show professionalism and a drive to succeed – essential qualities for every job seeker.