Sunday, January 6, 2013

Courtesy Counts

Think chivalry (read: courtesy) is dead?  Convinced that Facebook postings are your own personal right to freedom of speech?  Figure your VM message is your own business and why bother to clean out a full mailbox?  Do you rarely return emails and like to communicate with potential business contacts through your Facebook page?  If this is your modus operandi for navigating the workplace jungle, think again.

So why is it so important to understand the ancient art of courtesy?  Who cares whether you do or don’t answer your email using Facebook or clean up your VM messages so someone can leave you a business message?  If you are networking, job hunting or planning to move up to a better position within your own company, these are just a few of the common speed bumps that can crash your best laid plans of getting a job with a company that may not think or act a hip as you do.

Although technology has moved forward with leaps and bounds, some things haven’t changed, nor moved forward with that kind of speed in today’s work world.  You’ll find that many employers may act like 21st century companies, but when it comes to the basics, they’re about as reactionary as your grandmother’s book of etiquette tips.  (Matter of fact, if I was job hunting now, I’d read that book and heed the tips that were invented long before the digital age.)

Communications in the best of times can be difficult to master and the gap between your generation and that of your future employer can easily kill any opportunity your qualifications may have afforded you.  Your task is to communicate in THEIR language, not expect them to communicate in yours.  Remember who’s paying the bills (or who you hope will be paying you a decent salary) and realize that even though you may be much more sophisticated in your ability to communicate, you need to match their means and methods to be sure they receive your  message.

Timeliness is also crucial.  Their office may be closed when you a get a VM inviting you for an interview.  The time they suggested may not work for you.  Whatever their message, acknowledging its receipt promptly via the same method as they sent it ensures they understand your interest in their offer.  If they suggested an inconvenient time, give them several alternatives to let them know of your availability.   Being immediately available isn’t absolutely necessary.  Responding to their query as soon as possible is. 

Here are some major errors you’ll want to avoid:

  1. Full VM boxes infuriate companies who depend on leaving messages and assume they will be checked regularly.
  2. Not returning calls/emails tells them you don’t care enough to work in their world.
  3. Cutsie signature files, VM messages or non-standard email replies label you a round-file player (read: toss that resume or application in the trash since the applicant doesn’t meet our business standards or s/he would take the time to sound professional).
  4. Casual workplace habits like gum-chewing, bad-mouthing, poor posture, and lack of proper hygiene are not conducive to long-term hiring.
  5. Dress habits are very important. Too formal is much better than too casual.  Their definition of Casual Friday and yours may be miles apart.
  6. Speech habits are a top priority.  You need to sound like you can do the job and leave the overly-familiar, swearing, cool or hip language for your private friend-to-friend conversations.
  7. Facebook is a billboard to the world. Post anything you don’t want your future employer to know and you’re toast…even in a right to privacy state.  That employer may well have offices in a freedom of information state and will obtain the information one way or the other.
  8. Declaring you’re not computer literate is employment suicide. Become fluent in their language (computer, VM, email or whatever) to show them you’re willing to learn whatever you need to in order to not just survive, but thrive in their environment.
A few more words about voice mail since it’s a crucial business and employment tool.  It’s extremely important to have yours activated with a clear, concise message.  It’s amazing how many mobile phones have no VM set up leaving the caller unable to leave a message and totally frustrating a potential employer.  Your message is a window to their new employee; make it a welcoming, professional one tells them you can function well in their world:  “Hello, this is Sam Jones. Please leave your name, number and message at the tone. I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”  Boring?  Probably, but it’s important to confirm that your caller has reached you (not misdialed another number) so they’ll leave you that message you’ve been waiting to receive. (You do want that interview, don’t you?) After you’ve recorded it, listen to your message as well as have a business friend listen to it to determine that it has the proper tone and content.   

When you leave a message for a potential employer, be sure to state your name clearly (spell it if there’s any possibility of confusion) and leave your phone number, speaking slowly.  I’ve spent too many hours listening to VM messages 4 and 5 times trying to understand the person’s name and decipher their phone number.  Often I’ll return the call, and ask for a name that I’ve mimicked because I have no idea who I’m calling, so the parrot-technique is my last resort.  Sometimes I just have to ‘fess up and ask to speak to whoever called my number and left a message regarding pilot career counseling.

Finally, if you’re a serious job seeker, repeat your phone number again, at the end of your message, allowing the listener an easy way to return your call without having to listen to the whole message again.

The bottom line is “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” which was as valid in ancient times as it is now.  You need to learn to live in your employer’s world, not vice versa. This doesn’t mean you have to live a celibate life, but just realize that you’re judged by your public persona and courtesy is crucial to becoming a success full team player and long –term employee.