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What I’ve Learned: “Remember that You’re Onstage”
Comments () | Published April 17, 2012

What tips do you have for someone going into a job interview?

First, research the company's history, know about its customers, read everything you can find so you can talk its talk. You want to bridge your skills with its needs.

Take a look at yourself. Have you had a makeover in a while? Do you need a haircut? If you have a lot of gray and you are going to be competing against young people, maybe dye your hair. Make sure your nails are nice.

Be five to ten minutes early. Anxiety comes up when you're running late.

Feel good about what you're wearing--that it fits appropriately, it's not too big or too tight, not too much cleavage, not too fashion-forward. It may sound boring, but be that way to some extent.

Remember, gatekeepers talk. Be polite and courteous to the receptionist.

You want to shake hands with everyone. If there are multiple people, give a nice firm handshake to everyone. Firm but no bone-crushers.

When you come in, stand out of courtesy until you're asked to sit. And when you sit, be engaged in the conversation. Don't lean back. Don't give that attitude of arrogance. Sit up straight and keep your feet on the floor.

What are the most common mistakes people make in interviews?

Definitely the attire. Statistics show that 55 percent of that first impression is based on the way you look. We're very visual people. Immediately, in 30 seconds, that impression is made.

The second one is eye contact. People judge you on your eye contact: Are you trustworthy? Are you lying? Of course, people understand nervousness, but you don't want it to look like you're lying about your qualifications. Keep good eye contact throughout the conversation.

What about bosses? How should they behave in the office?

I always say to bosses, "Keep in mind that everyone is watching you." The people who work for you will model what you do. If you are texting in the middle of your employee's briefing, they're going to think it's okay to do that, too.

Employees want the boss to be a good leader, someone they can talk to, share problems with, get advice from. They also want someone they can approach without being scared of getting yelled at.

So many people dread networking events. Any tips?

This is the one that adults--no matter what level or position they are in--have anxiety about. That's why a lot of people don't go. We're afraid of rejection.

When you attend a function, make sure you have plenty of business cards. Men, don't put them in your wallet. There's nothing worse than getting a business card that is curved and stuck together because it was in somebody's wallet.

Be well informed. Read the paper. Know what's going on, especially if you're in a new area, so that you have some small talk.

In Washington, it's very easy to go up to a person and say, "So what do you do?" We get a lot of complaints from people who come here for business and hate when someone from Washington asks them that question. If you're going to ask it, engage in conversation with that person even if they don't have the title you were looking for. It's not really the question that bothers people; it's the reaction. Don't say, "Oh, that's great," and walk away.

Watch out for talking about politics when you first meet someone. Try to keep it positive. Small talk is not profound conversation. Good topics are the weather, recent news, movies.

The hardest part of networking is when you're coming up to a group of people and you don't know them and you want to get in. First, avoid anyone in deep conversation. Are they not smiling? Are they whispering? That's not the group you want. Look for a group that's open, lighthearted.

You want to get in their line of sight, close enough to make eye contact, and then just smile. When you get eye contact, they'll notice. And then you just ask, "May I join you?" What are they going to say--no? Then you introduce yourself to each person, saying your first and last name. If you have a difficult name, say it slowly and clearly. Watch out for talking too softly.

Then be ready with small talk. You can't just introduce yourself and stand there and say, "Okay, now entertain me."

How about using social media like Facebook and LinkedIn to network?

Social media is great for networking. I'm a fan of Facebook and LinkedIn when they're used properly. Keep your résumé and information about yourself current. The most important thing is don't use it just to sell something, especially to someone you don't know well.

Think before you post. Is this too edgy? I've seen cuss words and stereotyping. Think of it as public--because it is.

What rules are there for social events and happy hours with colleagues?

Remember that you're still onstage. Jack Welch, when he was CEO of GE, used to plan these huge socials. He would watch his employees, especially the ones he was trying to groom for that next level. Did they go straight to the bar and drink all evening and hang with their peers? Or did they socialize with some of the other guests they didn't know?

So don't think that the leaders in your company are not watching. And vice versa. There's nothing worse than seeing the boss drunk or hitting on your colleagues.

Is business etiquette different in Washington than in other cities?

I think we're more formal because the government is here. But we're also fast-paced. We're moving so quickly and multitasking that sometimes we're seen as ruder. We're more direct in Washington, I think, than other places, even New York. There's still charm and courteousness in social settings, but in business it's gotten really hardcore. Maybe it's the economy and politics that are driving this.

What have you learned?

It's not rocket science. It's simply looking at the environment that you work in and showing respect to others who will be working with you.

We need technology, but we also need to be able to have a conversation with a person--and do business with actual people.

Etiquette can help you professionally. It can help you get the job and help you keep the job.

This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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  • Thank you so much for shaing! Great article!

  • Excellent advice and much needed in today's professional arenas. Thank you for sharing.

  • VA

    A good tip I learned for making small talk: Instead of asking, "What do you do?", ask "What's been keeping you busy?" It's open-ended and gives the other person the option to talk about their work or something else they're interested in.

  • Great tips!

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Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 04/17/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles