Social and business etiquette

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Social and business etiquette

On July 16, 2013, Posted by , In Resources for Candidates, With No Comments

Social / business etiquette


Industry gatherings are fairly frequent and picking your way through acceptable etiquette can be a bit of a minefield.

A lot depends on why you are there and who you are.  Clearly if you are independently wealthy and have no intention of pursuing new ventures and therefore have no need to impress, short of being downright rude you can relax and don’t have to worry too much.

For most other people perhaps a good starting point is why are you there?  If you simply use these events as convenient opportunities to socialise with your friends then again you can relax.  However I think many people can think of other places and people they’d rather be with so if you are going hide in a corner with people you already know is there any point?

If you are looking to make contacts then there are some rules you should apply to this kind of networking in order to avoid offending.

Perhaps it should go without saying but getting blind drunk is not going show you in your best light or help you make new contacts.  It is surprising how many people attend these events, see free alcohol and immediately go on a major bender.  At more than one awards evening I have seen inebriated people venting there frustration on actual or potential customers, I can’t imaging their business benefits from it and indeed have some directly suffer.  I have nothing against people having a drink and enjoying themselves; in my experience, and that does include late nights which have become early mornings, the more astute characters in the industry tend to stay moderately sober until late in the evening when they are likely to be with a limited number of people they know.

There is another old adage that you have 2 ears and one mouth and you should use them in that ratio.  Clearly if everyone did this not much would get done so the real point is to show an interest in other people and try not to bore them.

The next most important rule of networking is to remember no-one wants to feel used.  Some people only attend or make an effort to talk when they are after something – its obvious, its rude and often not appreciated.

The best way of developing a true network is to develop relationships with your contacts; help them where you can by putting people in touch with each other where it will be mutually beneficial.  That way people are more likely to reciprocate.

Social gatherings usually aren’t appropriate for detailed business discussions.

If you do want to approach someone at a social gathering regarding a business issue the best way to handle it is to have a very brief discussion, exchange contact details and arrange to go through the detail at a later date.

Many points of traditional etiquette are generally not relevant anymore.  Few CEOs, in an informal social gathering, would be annoyed by not being introduced first, ahead of staff members.  However you should be aware of “good manners” and “etiquette” and try to ensure you do not offend.  I have seen an employer waiver over a candidate because of minor infringements of the correct use of cutlery; however ridiculous if may seem to you, other people are entitled to their values and you should respect them.  Even if you only view it at a cynical level; if they are in a position of power you should apply the “golden rule” – he who has the gold makes the rules.

Another important factor of good manners is never to snub anyone.  If you don’t want to talk to them do it politely and move on.  However if this is a person you have never met before how do you know you don’t want to talk to them – they may have a fantastic business opportunity or at least a very interesting story to tell.  What’s more the world is full of influential people who were snubbed early in their careers and don’t forget it!

Importance of relationships in Career

It is true that relationships play a fundamental part in career success.  However I would argue that this is not at the expense of technical skills but rather on top of them.  Although there will always be exceptions technical skills are the foundation – can you do the job or not.  Once you have the ability there is no doubt that relationships help by smoothing communication, opening doors or perhaps when you reach the limit of your specialist knowledge putting you in touch with those who can help.

Faux pas

A drunk, and redundant, individual from a print company looking for a career in print management berating a senior individual from a print management organisation about how print management is evil and cost him his job.  Needless to say the Print Management guy wasn’t keen on him.

A client wavering on a candidate they had been certain on because he put his knife in his mouth at dinner.

Foreign etiquette

We are all familiar with the bank adverts that point out cultural differences and in general western cultures tend to be less formal, whilst oriental cultures in particular are quite reserved.

The Japanese are very formal and have enormous personal space and are very conscious of hygiene.  Business cards should be “presented” with 2 hands rather than tossed across the table as is common in the UK.  When shaking hands it is best to be at arms length and don’t wipe your nose across the back of your hand and then proffer it to shake hands.  The other very important thing with the Japanese is that they are very uncomfortable saying “no”.  Often they give an unconvincing “yes”, the western party leaves thinking everything is agreed only to find later that is hasn’t.  It is best not to back them into a corner, so it is better to lead them to define and state what is to be agreed.

Our experience with people working in France is that they don’t socialise with work colleagues as much as we do in the UK.

Not surprisingly eating habits vary quite a lot and this has quite an impact on the “business lunch”.  In London, and to a lesser extent the UK generally, lengthy and often alcoholic lunches were reasonably common; this is much less so now although it hasn’t died out completely in the City.  The Americans I have done business with tend to be very business like and practical, lunches are quick and non alcoholic.  Scandinavians are often happy with a sandwich whereas as the French still enjoy a real and lengthy lunch.  Make no mistake however business is still being done and adapting to these various cultural preferences is important in empathising and developing relationships with business contacts.

Whilst Mercury does not offer general etiquette training we do brief both clients and candidates on cultural differences and individual preferences prior to interview.  This is vital as we need to ensure clients are able to focus on the calibre of the candidate rather than perhaps misjudging a candidate based on differences in cultural background.

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