Job Search Etiquette: A Q&A With Anna Post
“Etiquette, remember, is merely a collection of forms by which all personal contacts in life are made smooth.” So wrote Emily Post, the goddess of manners, in the first edition of her eponymous etiquette tome, published in 1922.
Much has changed since Ms. Post penned those words, which appeared in a chapter titled “Etiquette in Business and Politics” (written for gentlemen, mind you). So where can today’s job-seeking Gen Y professionals learn to mind their P’s and Q’s?
Enter Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and the co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition, in addition to a handful of contemporary etiquette guides. Since joining the Emily Post Institute in 2006, Anna has conducted business etiquette seminars around the country and can tell you a thing or two about gracefully landing your dream job (or, well, any job).
Must you cover your colorful tattoos during interviews? How fast should you send out those thank-you notes? When should you start talking salary? We asked Anna Post our most pressing job search etiquette questions and got her answers—so the rest of your professional life can be made, well, smooth.
You have a job, but you’re looking to leave. Should you be upfront with your current boss about your plans to move on?
Not necessarily—not until you really have something concrete to tell them. This is to protect the position that you do have. People can get interested in a job and it comes to nothing.
But you absolutely must once you’ve accepted an offer. Some people choose to tell when they have received an offer, some even choose to inform that they are looking for other positions—often this has to do with the relationship with your boss and your reason for leaving. This one is going to depend on that relationship, but when you can tell someone, it’s generally appreciated so that they can prepare and plan.
What’s an acceptable reason for why you need to leave the office for an interview? What about the “doctor’s appointment” excuse?
To not split too many hairs, I would say a “personal appointment.” Rather than saying you’re at the doctor when you’re really not—which is a tiny white lie—I think it’s better to say that you have a personal appointment.
You’ve already accepted one job offer when you receive another (even better) offer from another company. Can you politely back out of the first job without burning that bridge?
Not necessarily, without burning a bridge. You can be graceful about it, but no matter how graceful you are, they may be disappointed and frustrated with you. At the end of the day, you need to do for yourself what you need to do. If a better job comes along and that’s what you need to take, then that’s what you need to do. But you need to be upfront and apologize for the inconvenience as soon as you’ve made your decision.
The more calm and upfront and understanding of the inconvenience you are, the better chance you won’t burn a bridge. But there is no way not to inconvenience the company that made the first job offer at this point.
Let’s talk dress code. Is there really harm in showing your tattoos or piercings? My friend has a tattoo on her wrist and her mother insists she has to keep it covered on interviews.
It’s really going to depend on the office and the industry. It’s worth asking HR in advance if you’re really worried about it, especially if it’s a tattoo that, while hidden for an interview, might be visible on the job. That’s the kind of thing that I think is important to check out and to find out what’s acceptable in that culture and what’s not.
A lot of people say, “Well, I’m not going to cover my tattoos, that’s me and if they don’t like me, fine.” The result is if you really want that job, you might not get it. The applicant needs to think about what they really want and be aware of what they’re willing to compromise on. The office environment is what it is and you’re the one entering into it, so you need to be respectful of that environment and know what those expectations are.
Should you take notes during an interview or is that rude?
It’s not a note-taking situation unless there is something you’re promising to follow up on and you want to write it down for later. The assumption is you’ve prepared and know what the company is about. Generally speaking, I would say no. That said, I’m sure there is an extenuating circumstance where that would make sense, but I wouldn’t pull out a pen and paper as a matter of course.
Which is preferred: a follow-up email or a handwritten note? And at what point should these be sent out?
I wouldn’t send out an email while the door is still closing behind you. I would wait a half hour—at minimum, 15 or 20 minutes. I’d probably send it a half hour or an hour later, and I also probably wouldn’t send one from my iPhone. I’d wait until I got back to my computer.
That’s not to say it’s wrong, I just wouldn’t want it to seem like it’s something on the fly. I’d want it to seem like something that I’m serious about and committing to and focused on, instead of something sent while I’m walking down the street, which is what “Sent from my iPhone” implies.
As for the handwritten, I would put it in the mail within 24 hours. You can always do both and send an email and say, “I just dropped a note in the mail to you, but I wanted to thank you anyway for the opportunity… ”—and that kind of covers your duplication issue.
Do you have any tips for handling an interview over lunch? Is there anything you should avoid ordering? Should you reach for the check at the end?
Typically the interviewer pays for the lunch. As for what to order, I wouldn’t order anything outside the general price range and I wouldn’t order any courses that the interviewer didn’t order. And I would not order alcohol unless the interviewer did—but even then, I don’t think I would.
Salary is always a tricky subject. When is it appropriate to bring it up?
This isn’t the first thing you talk about. It doesn’t mean that it might not come up. Were you to feel that the interview was ending and you hadn’t spoken about it, I might ask a question instead and say, “Would this be an appropriate time to discuss compensation?” if you really felt it needed to come up or you were surprised it hadn’t. And they may say, “We’ll talk about this at the next interview.” Rather than asking, “What is the salary?” when they aren’t moving to that topic, I would ask about the subject rather than the salary.
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