“Habit is second nature.”
─ Saint Augustine
If I were to ask you how you interact with an employer once you’ve received an interview request, you would probably say, “Impeccably! I take care of my appearance, I’m polite and punctual, and I make sure to proofread my emails twice. I certainly don’t want to give the wrong impression!” What if I asked you to describe the most recent interactions you’ve had with bus drivers, cashiers, salespersons, professors, or anyone else responsible for providing you with a service? Would your conduct merit an immediate job offer or an outright rejection?
Etiquette, both in the workplace and in academia, is one of the most important skills to master for a successful career. It can make the difference between progress and stagnation. Yet it is often given little consideration.
To shed some light on this issue, I sought the advice of two experts: Esther Ouellet, Manager, Undergraduate Studies Administration, and Sophie Ducharme, Officer of Academic Development and Operations, at the Telfer Student Services Centre (undergraduate programs). Thanks to their extensive experience in customer service and professional communication, I learned a great deal about the importance of knowing and following the rules of etiquette with front-line staff, long before I ever came face to face with an employer.
Preparation and punctuality: the keys to success
Esther and Sophie are unanimous: preparation and punctuality are two transferable skills that everyone benefits from developing early. Being punctual and well-prepared shows the other person that you respect their time, which is crucial in any professional meeting. Esther and Sophie add that if you arrive with a well-prepared request for an exception, it makes the meeting efficient and productive. On the other hand, overly informal written communications (e.g., an email without greetings, context, or subject line) give the wrong impression and impact service efficiency.
Behaviors to avoid
Esther and Sophie emphasize that every student must understand that all interactions, whether in person at the Student Services Centre, virtually in meetings with specialists, or in writing via email, define their professional image. More particularly, they describe two inappropriate behaviors: sending emails without greetings, punctuation, or a signature; and pouring one’s frustration onto support staff at the front desk. And what about emails, posters, forms, or lesson plans!? Take the time to read them carefully before asking questions –it will save everyone time.
Recommendation to follow
Courtesy and respect must be cultivated before they become second nature. It’s best to take every opportunity to practice. Remember that we are all human: our personal lives can affect our work, but it is best to treat everyone with the respect you feel you deserve.
Messages to students
To conclude, I leave you with the wise advice of our two experts:
Esther Ouellet: “Learn about professional etiquette (or even ethics). Read articles or blogs, watch videos on the subject and ask for advice. It may not be a priority for you right now, because no one at Telfer will turn you away if you don’t follow professional etiquette. That being said, I give you my word as Manager: it will make all the difference when you are interviewing for a position or seeking a promotion. Etiquette gives you credibility, adds weight to your experience and highlights your skills.”
Sophie Ducharme: “It may not seem very obvious to you now, but while you are pursuing your university education, you may be rubbing shoulders with your future employers and colleagues. A professor may very well act as a reference for a first contract not only because of your grades, but also because of the professionalism you have shown in all your interactions. Personally, it is thanks to my work ethic as a student that some of my professors offered me my first professional contracts. Our reputation precedes us, and that reputation is forged during our college years.”
Author: Anes Benkrid, 3rd-year Bachelor of Commerce/Juris Doctor student