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Business etiquette has seen some pretty drastic changes over the past 5-10 years. What were once considered appropriate mannerisms, proper work attire, and even normal working environments have evolved thanks to changing times and new technology.

“What I have noticed is the obvious increase in technology which has taken away the personalization of communication,” says Sue Lentini, director of Career Services at South University, Richmond.

Another change she’s observed is the transformation of the standard office dress code.

“The business environment has become very casual,” Lentini says. “Not only do most companies encourage ‘Jean Friday’ some allow jeans all the time. I do believe that the more casual a person is dressed the more casual their attitude and work ethic becomes.”

She also notes that companies have made an effort during the past 5-10 years to allow workers to have more of a work-life balance.

“I do see companies becoming more flexible with their off time and working from home options to help parents take care of their families when needed,” Lentini says.

Innovations in technology have also brought about challenges to business etiquette in recent years. Thanks to mobile phones, people don’t have to be at their desk to answer phone calls, enabling them to bring their personal lives right into meetings.

Diane Gottsman, national corporate etiquette and manners expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, says proper business etiquette never deems it acceptable for a person to answer their cell phone during a meeting.

“Unless the participants are waiting for the call and it has something to do with the meeting,” Gottsman says. “Otherwise, a cell phone should be left out of the meeting, on your desk, in your briefcase or purse, turned off so it will not vibrate or ring.”

Although personal phone calls should never be taken during meetings, it’s inevitable that sometimes people are going to need to make them during working hours.

“Taking an occasional telephone call is not grounds for termination, but calls should be held to a minimum, unless they are important,” Gottsman says.

If possible, she advises waiting until lunchtime or after office hours to conduct personal business.

“Keep in mind when sharing close space that there is no such thing as privacy and everyone has the opportunity to listen to your personal calls,” Gottsman says.

I do believe that the more casual a person is dressed the more casual their attitude and work ethic becomes.

While overusing some forms of technology can get workers into trouble, a lack of communication through other modes can also cause problems.

For example, many busy professionals have a difficult time keeping up with the email in their inboxes. This makes it easy to forget to reply in a timely manner or even at all, but Gottsman says they should make responding to these messages a priority.

“The professional window to respond is one business day. And, always the sooner the better” she says.

Proper Etiquette on Social Networking Sites

Both Gottsman and Lentini agree that you shouldn’t feel obligated to accept Facebook friend requests from clients and work colleagues.

“You can choose to ignore the request and tell the person the next time you see them that you prefer to keep your site separate from business and you primarily use your site to update family that you don’t see very often,” Gottsman says.

Lentini says LinkedIn is the social networking site that should be used to make connections with business associates.

“As far as the professional website like LinkedIn, I accept everyone because 99% of those that request a connection have an objective to use it for professional purposes,” Lentini says. “As far as Facebook, I do not ‘friend’ students or co-workers. I do not think it’s very acceptable to mix Facebook with your boss or students.”

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. Lentini says it’s okay to accept Facebook friend requests from co-workers that you’ve known for awhile or have built a strong friendship with, if you would like to do so.

“I have received friend requests from colleagues that I didn’t want to accept and I told them that I only have family and college friends that I communicate with and we may then exchange emails or phone numbers to contact each other outside of work,” Lentini says.

Gottsman says job seekers should assume their profiles on social networking sites will be looked at by potential employers.

“Make no mistake that your social media profile will most likely be reviewed, and cleaning up any inappropriate posts, pictures and comments is in your professional best interest,” Gottsman says. “Candidates have been passed over because of posts that other people posted on their page – it is true that you are also judged by the company that you keep.”

Lentini agrees that many companies search for job candidates’ profiles on social media sites, so she tries to make sure her students are responsible with the content they put online.

“I encourage students to make sure they regularly check their security settings on FB to make sure they are hidden completely where someone can find them by searching their name but they can’t see photos or their wall or even their friends,” Lentini says.

It’s okay to have a Facebook page, she says, but it’s important to make sure you have your privacy settings in place so people can’t view your personal information.

“Even if they are not trying to hide anything, something that I don’t think is offensive an employer may believe it is,” Lentini says.

Job Interview Tips

One of Lentini’s most important job interview tips for her students is to always wear a suit, even when the employer says it isn’t necessary to do so.

“I do share with the students that if they cannot afford a suit they can always go to a consignment shop for a lot less and find slacks and a jacket that match,” Lentini says. “I believe everyone should have one interview outfit. If you are dressed up you are more likely to present yourself more professionally.”

In general, Gottsman agrees that candidates should always wear a suit to a job interview; however she says there are always exceptions to every rule, so proper attire should be determined based on the job you’re applying for.

“If you are applying for a lifeguard position, a suit and tie may be overkill,” Gottsman says.

Both Lentini and Gottsman advise job candidates to send a thank you note after the interview. They say this should be done immediately following an interview, but absolutely no later than 24 hours afterwards.

A written thank note is the best option, but Lentini says sending an email is also acceptable. It must be personalized with reference to the interview and should ask the employer for the job, she says.

Gottsman recommends sending both an email and a written thank you note. She says you should send an email immediately following a job interview, thanking the interviewer for their time, in addition to a follow-up handwritten note reiterating your interest in the job.