This may be my least popular article to date with students, but it actually might end up being one of the most important. The fact is, etiquette, or the lack of it, can impact your educational opportunities in many ways. I began to think about this a lot when my brother (a Stanford University 2013 graduate currently serving as a Washington, D.C. intern) told me it was one of the first things all 13 Native American interns were required to undergo before beginning their internships this past week. The same dreaded word came up when my sister (a 2011 WCU graduate currently working toward her MBA) mentioned it later the same week as she was preparing for her first big interview for a management training opportunity with an international company. I knew then that understanding the basics of etiquette could play an important role for me as well. Whether it is a scholarship interview, a college entrance interview, a job interview, or even just asking a teacher or community member for a letter of recommendation, etiquette can make a huge difference for your future.
Many of you might be asking exactly what is meant by the word “etiquette”. There are many ways to define the word but simply put, etiquette for a student or young professional just beginning their career relates to the way you present and carry yourself. It incorporates how you dress, speak, and handle yourself in a variety of situations. It impacts that important first impression. Listed below are several points of basic etiquette many students will want to keep in mind as they move into and through the milestones of scholarship application processes and college interviews over the next several months.
- Clothing and Appearance – The best advice here is “dress for the job you want, not the job you’re applying for”, or in other words, “dress for success”. Understand what is meant by the terms Business Casual and Business Wear. No matter how comfy your Jordan’s are or how cute your new denim mini skirt is, they do not belong in either category of appropriate business attire items for a college or scholarship interview. I’m not saying to wear your prom dress or tux either! Keep it simple and classy. Girls should always consider wearing closed toes shoes, slacks, skirts or a dress at or slightly above knee length, solid colors when possible, and to limit accessories. For the guys, if not a suit with dress shirt and tie, think about slacks and a dress shirt and tie, or for a slightly more casual look, khaki’s and a polo shirt. DON’T wear jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes, athletic wear, hats, cowboy boots, company logos boldly stretched across your chest, mini length skirts, mid-drifts or off the shoulder tops, no plunging necklines or body hugging silhouettes. And don’t be too intimidated to ask the person booking your interview appointment what the recommended dress is for the interview, or do a little research on your own. Use common sense. Do you look like someone they would want to hire? Do you fit the image of the school, company, or organization you are applying to be part of? What message are you sending with your appearance?
- Attitude and Demeanor- Who else like me has heard their parents say “It’s not WHAT you said, it’s HOW you said it!” Yes, tone can definitely send the wrong message and get you in trouble with parents, teachers, as well as with interviewers. It’s perfectly okay to list all of your accolades, but do it with as humble an attitude as possible while still showing confidence in yourself. Many interviewers say that some kids come across “cocky, as if we’d be lucky to have them”. Practice typical questions with a friend, counselor, or other adult before your interview. Another complaint from interviewers is an interviewee slouching back in their chair or seeming bored by the whole process. Try sitting on the edge of the chair instead. Posture can demonstrate the energy and enthusiasm you have for the opportunity to attend their school or represent their scholarship. Don’t chew gum, eat, ask for a break, or kick your feet up on the desk. It’s all about respect and common courtesy.
- Language and Communication- Speak clearly! Avoid awkward pauses and mumbling when possible, and answer questions fully and honestly. Don’t give one word responses or make the interviewer feel as though they are having to pull answers and responses out of you. Be prepared! If you say your favorite book is Perks of a Wallflower, make sure you know who the author is. Never use profanity or slang in any form. Watch that your conversation doesn’t become too relaxed and casual, and never address the interviewer by their first name unless asked to do so by them personally. Always offer a firm handshake at the beginning of your interview, and then again at the end. It never hurts to follow up with a thank you note; remember hand written always trumps electronic email as it shows you cared enough to make a little more effort. Lastly, be yourself, but be your best version.
Even though we seem to live in a society that appears to value etiquette less and less, your ability to demonstrate courtesy and respect reflects directly back upon yourself. Gone are the days for most people when families sat together around the dinner table and parents taught some of these basic points. The family dinner time may not be as common in today’s hectic society, but the importance of etiquette still is. I hope this little etiquette lesson has helped. Now off to practice a few of these myself!