Business Etiquette Tips

  • If someone forgets your name, simply say: “I’m Kelsey. I work with Jim and Cameron.”
  • If you forget a name while greeting or introducing someone, don’t try to hide it. Instead, mention where you remember them from. This shows that you do in fact remember the person. Next, apologize and admit that you can’t recall their name. Finally, don’t make a big deal out of it — move the conversation along.
  • Business etiquette is gender neutral. For example, women don’t have to wait for men to extend their hand for a handshake. Women and men should both stand when someone walks into the room (during a meeting or job interview, for example). Rise, smile, extend your hand and greet the person with a firm handshake.
  • When going through a revolving door, the host goes first. This allows the host to direct the visitor on the other side.
  • When conducting business, it’s customary to stand 3 feet apart from your business associate. Any closer and you might invade their personal space.
  • If you notice a potentially embarrassing situation (e.g., unzipped zipper, food in teeth, lipstick smudge, etc.) gently take the person aside and subtly advise him or her.
  • If you invite someone to a business lunch, assume that you –– the host –– will pay.
  • When conducting business by speakerphone, identify yourself before speaking. It’s rude not to specify who’s present.
  • If at an event with nametags, wear yours on your right hand side. When you greet someone, their eyes will naturally be drawn to this side when shaking hands.
  • Confused at dinner as to which bread plate is yours? Remember BMW — left to right — bread, meal, water.
  • Begin to eat only after everyone else has been served, unless you’re at a picnic or buffet or your host insists that you eat before your food gets cold.

Networking dos and don'ts

Good networking is about exchanging information, building trust, being seen, gathering anecdotal information and creating a positive foundation for future interaction. Networking is also the number one source of job leads.

DO build career karma: Look for opportunities to connect people you already know. This takes the focus off of you and puts it on helping others. Remember, it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know that’s helpful.

DON’T be a leech: When you’re ready to move on, simply say, “Well, John, it’s been great meeting you, enjoy the rest of the evening. Please excuse me. There are some others I need to say hello to.” Or you could say, “Please excuse me. I’m going to get something to eat/drink. Enjoy the rest of the event.” A third option would be, “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, John. I’d like to make a couple of other connections, please excuse me.” Just be respectful and polite while maintaining integrity.

DO act as a host. When you see someone standing alone (we’ve all been there!) make eye contact and say “Please, join us. We’re discussing …” When he/she joins the group, facilitate the introductions. Introduce yourself first, and then make sure that he/she is introduced to the other group members. You can gracefully jumpstart the conversation after this interruption by saying, “Now Bill, finish telling us about your experience …”

DON’T get the order incorrect: Show your business etiquette savvy in the way you introduce others. Introduce the person of greater authority or importance first. Introduce a non-official person to an official person; and in business, introduce the junior to the senior. Be sure to explain who people are and use their full names. “President Roberts, I’d like you to meet John, our new intern.”

DO invite yourself. As you approach a group of people engaged in conversation, make eye contact with one of them. Smile. Approach the group and gently ask, “Good evening, may I join you?” You will not be rejected. If no one extends a handshake and introduces themselves, begin the introductions by introducing yourself.

DON’T flounder with an opening: When you’re stuck for a conversation starter, ask an open-ended question (one that requires more than a yes/no answer) such as, “How did you get started in the health care industry?” Or a tried-and-true icebreaker, “Do you attend these events often?” Not a true open-ended question, but you can ask follow-up questions about what they like or find most helpful, or even what other professional groups they like to attend.

DO follow up: Use the back of someone’s business card to remind you of any follow-up that is necessary. If you made a particularly strong connection, consider sending a personal note of thanks. Follow-up may well be the most neglected networking tool –– once you’ve made a connection, nurture it carefully.

DON’T forget to enjoy yourself: Showing up is the hardest part. Once you’re there, you’re more than halfway done!

DO keep business cards handy: A pocket is best. Having to root through your handbag or wallet can get a little too personal. If you’re in between opportunities, order some business cards with your contact information at

DON’T get too comfortable: When at a networking event, set a goal of meeting three new contacts before you check in with prior acquaintances.

DO show a genuine interest in others. Build your network while you’re waiting in line at the bank, socializing with friends, having your car repaired or watching your child’s soccer game. Building connections is also about building your exposure to industries, niches or specialty areas you didn’t previously know about. Many people end up doing work they love in an area that they had no idea existed.

DON’T worry about finding the “perfect” contact. For example, the editor at a magazine where you’d like to work would be a great contact, but why not cultivate a relationship with an assistant editor? The assistant editor will have a network too — and probably more time to offer. Think beyond the HR department or the hiring manager, because networking isn’t about finding a job, it’s about knowing people who can help put you in touch with opportunities.

DO practice. Networking can be uncomfortable at first. On your first networking call, the phone might feel like it weighs 50 pounds. Do not let that stop you. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little unsure of yourself before you feel like you’re being effective. With practice, you’ll get better.

DON’T forget to share. Networking gets easier as you begin to recognize how you can connect others. Listen carefully, ask good questions, and you’ll see that almost everyone has a “need” you can help fill. As you build personal rapport, you might find out they’re new to town and need to find a local veterinarian. Maybe during your research you find out that a company is hiring web designers, and you know that your former colleague’s brother’s sister-in-law is an award-winning web designer who just got laid off.

DO follow your passion and enthusiasm: It’s much easier to make connections and build rapport with others who share your passion and enthusiasm about a particular topic or industry. Don’t be afraid to let your individuality shine — particularly when it’s passionate enthusiasm.

And if you’re naturally more introverted:

  • Play to your natural strengths. Do more one-on-one networking and avoid big groups. Once you’ve established a new connection, send him/her a pertinent news article with a personal note rather than inviting him/her to lunch. Provide a professional introduction — look for opportunities to connect other people in your network who would mutually benefit from knowing each other. (See professional introduction script for ideas).
  • Arrive early. If joining a room full of people networking makes your palms a bit clammy, arrive earlier, rather than later. Much of the intimidation comes from sheer size of the audience. When you arrive early, you’ll be in the position to help facilitate introductions later on.
  • Linger at the registration table. This will give you access to people checking in, and you’ll get a better sense of who’s attending the event.
  • Seek out other introverts. You’ll recognize them standing alone or in the middle of the buffet table, trying to appear invisible. Introduce yourself.

Networking Scripts

Most people only network when they’re trying to find a new opportunity. Big mistake! But if you’re trying to expand and cultivate your network of connections for that reason, you could probably use some help with designing your approach.


  • Concentrate on doing career research and making connections. With this approach, you’ll be more relaxed and you’ll have different expectations of both the interactions and your contacts.
  • It takes time to develop relationships, so start early — but remember, it’s never too late to start.
  • You’ll find out most about the world of work by talking to others. Through your connections, the goal is to discover a few key things:
    • Different occupations or occupational specialties you were unaware of
    • Different ways to prepare for a particular career. (Don’t assume there’s only one way.)
    • Your professional strengths and how to position yourself within your chosen field (i.e., what knowledge, skills and abilities make you a unique candidate).
    • Whether your career goals need to be modified. For example, you learn that your personality and background make you much stronger candidate for a career as a text-book editor rather than an acquisitions editor
    • New careers that you didn’t know existed
    • How your career goals can best be achieved

Script: Setting the Stage/Introducing Yourself

Barbara Jones suggested I talk to you. I’m at a career crossroads, and I’m researching some options to determine which path might be the best match for my background and experience. One of the areas I’m hoping to learn more about is corporate responsibility. If you would be willing to spend 20 minutes with me giving me an insider’s perspective, I’d be most appreciative to learn more about your work.

I will call you on Friday to set up an appointment. If you’re able to get away for a cup of coffee, I’d love the opportunity to meet face to face. However, if it’s more convenient by phone, I understand. We can discuss on Friday.


  • Set the stage by emailing first. This will help make the follow-up conversation flow a little easier.
  • Provide the name of your mutual connection at the onset.
  • Put your request into context, i.e., researching options
  • Be direct about wanting information, not a job lead!
  • Be specific about your follow-up plans. Do what you say you’re going to do — contacts will be impressed.

Script: Describing yourself

My experience is in non-profit development. My main focus has been on building strategic alliances with other organizations and partners. From fundraising to budgeting to resource allocation — I’ve done it all. I’ve worked primarily in education, but I’ve also been involved in public policy and land use. Right now, I’m doing some research to see how and where my skills and experience might fit in on the strategic marketing side of things. Because my target is so broad right now, I’m trying to talk to as many communications and marketing professionals as possible — either in non-profits or in the private sector. Brad suggested that I talk to you because of your background. It would be very helpful if I could just ask you a few questions and get some advice. Your description of your background and experience should be less than 60 seconds.

Script: Gathering information

You’re looking for insider information that will help you position yourself in the field. Ask questions that demonstrate you’ve done a bit of research but that aren’t presumptuous in any way. For example, instead of saying, “I read that XYZ Industries is laying off 500 employees. What are you going to do?” Ask instead about consolidation/merger trends and how they affect hiring.

Here are some suggested questions you can tailor to your individual needs:

  • Are there skills, experience or knowledge that would make someone a “stand out” candidate in this field?
  • What are some of the career paths to get into this field? Can you share with me some of the career paths/backgrounds of your colleagues? How did you progress to your current position?
  • What do you find most interesting and rewarding about your work?
  • If your present job were to become obsolete, in what other kinds of jobs could you apply your skills?
  • If you were entering this field/profession today, how would you do it?
  • What’s the best way to stay informed about this industry? Are there publications you find particularly useful or interesting?
  • Describe the changes taking place in your field. What changes do you see taking place in the next five years?
  • Are there companies or organizations that are innovators in this industry/profession/field?
  • Do you know of anyone in this career who has my level of education or my type of experience? Would you be willing to introduce me to them?
  • Do you know of any similar careers that also use _____________ or involve ___________?
  • I really like this career. Do you know of similar jobs that don’t involve this ______ characteristic?
  • When people leave this field, is there a typical career path they follow?
  • How do people find out about openings in your line of work? How does one get connected to these resources?
  • Are there any interesting specialties within your field/profession?
  • Is there a typical hiring cycle?
  • If you could give me one bit of advice about entering this industry/profession/field, what would it be?
  • I’m trying to talk to as many people in this industry as possible. Can you recommend anyone I should talk to? May I use your name when I contact them?

Script: Professional Introduction

Kelsey and Michael: I believe the two of you aren’t acquainted. You’re both in the corporate sustainability realm — Kelsey as executive director of SustainNow and Michael as communications director for Corporate Sustainability at ABC Oil. Even though you’re both involved in different capacities, you have something else in common. I know that each of you is looking for a new opportunity. I thought you might find it mutually helpful to connect with each other to share resources and experiences. I’ve included contact information below so you can be in touch directly.


  • If technology helps to facilitate an introduction, use it! LinkedIn and Facebook are great tools.
  • Provide a context for the introduction — mutual interest on a specific topic, industry knowledge, an interesting career path — whatever is the point of contact between the two.
  • Provide contact information so you can bow out of the conversation and encourage them to continue talking themselves.
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