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Etiquette & Professionalism

Conducting yourself professionally will aid you no matter what other tools you use during your job search process. The lack of professionalism and appropriate etiquette will likely result in missed opportunities.

Imagine you are an interviewer. You have seen a few well-qualified candidates already. Their resumes were well-tailored and they seemed like good people. One candidate seemed to have a certain quality the others lacked, however: The candidate’s polished professionalism reminded you of your co-workers. 

 

Appropriate Dress

Your professional image is an important part of the job or internship search, especially during the interview process. Choosing conservative attire rather than a fashion statement is always best. Wherever an employer is present (such as an employer information session or an industry career day), remember to dress in business professional attire.

A polished "dress for success" appearance creates a positive first impression and is essential so that the employer can focus on your qualifications, free from distraction. Research literature on interviewing supports this: approximately 80 percent of hiring decisions are determined within the first few moments.

You should invest in modest attire with industry-appropriate colors and designs that convey confidence and professionalism. Plan ahead! Don't wait until the night before your 8:00 a.m. interview to verify that the clothing you plan to wear fits and is appropriate! 

And for those jobs/industries that are less formal, wearing business professional attire to the interview demonstrates that you are a professional who takes this process seriously. If you believe a business suit may not be the right choice, call the receptionist or administrative assistant at the prospective employer's office for tips on what constitutes appropriate employee attire.

If you are ever in doubt about what is appropriate, we encourage you to ask a professional in the field or a member of our staff.

General Tips for Creating a Great Impression

  • A suit, in black, navy or gray, is always the best (and safest) choice for both men and women.
  • Clothing should fit well and be clean and pressed. Shoes should be polished and in good condition with any scuff marks removed.Young Adults in Professional Dress
  • Deodorant is a must, but it's best to avoid cologne, perfume or body sprays.
  • Keep interview accessories professional. Take a briefcase or nice leather- or vinyl-bound portfolio to carry your resume, references or other pertinent documents. Leave tattered manila folders or college logo folders at home.
  • Turn off your cell phone and place it, along with your watch, in your jacket pocket or hand bag once you make it to the front door so that you're not tempted to look at them before or during the interview.
  • Do NOT bring backpacks, gum, iPods, coffee or soda into your interview. Avoid putting keys or coins in your pocket. This ensures they will not rattle when you walk or cause your pocket to bulge.

Specific Tips for Men

  • Wear a long-sleeved dress shirt, in white, light blue or with conservative narrow stripes. Ties in solid colors or narrow stripes are best and should be properly knotted. Avoid wearing character or novelty ties.
  • Sometimes, Always, Never Rule: on a three-button suit: Sometimes button the top button, Always button the middle button, and Never button the bottom button.
  • Shoes should be leather lace-up or slip-on business shoes. Match your belt to the color of your shoes. Choose black if your outfit is dark gray, navy, brown or black. Opt for dark brown if you're wearing tans, muted pastels or medium-toned colors.
  • Wear dark over-the-calf dress socks that match your shoes. Dress socks should ride above the calf so that no part of the leg shows when you sit down or cross your ankle over your knee.
  • It is best to be clean shaven and wear hair short. Beards and mustaches are acceptable within a few, more casual industries.
  • No jewelry other than a watch, wedding band, or perhaps a class ring.

Specific Tips for Women

  • Choose either a suit skirt or a tailored pant suit. Either is considered appropriate. Knee-length skirts are the best, offering the best coverage and allowing you to sit down comfortably.
  • Women have more options than men regarding shirt/blouse colors and patterns, but conservative, muted hues are best. Avoid tight sweaters, low necklines and anything resembling "club attire."
  • Choose between closed-toe flats, pumps or loafers. Avoid stilettos, chunky platforms, sandals with straps and flip-flops/thong type sandals. If you are wearing a skirt, nylons/pantyhose are strongly suggested.
  • Keep your makeup and jewelry simple and to a minimum. Large, dangly earrings should be avoided. Nose rings or other visible piercings should be removed.
  • Hair should be clean and conservatively worn. Fingernails should be a conservative length. If you wear nail polish, it should either be clear or a pale, neutral color.
  • Carry a nice briefcase, portfolio or messenger bag and leave your oversized handbag at home or in your trunk.

 


Guidelines for Requesting Letters of Reference

From Faculty

The first thing to keep in mind is that the vast majority of professors understand that writing letters of reference is part of their job and take pride in being able to help students succeed professionally. Many students however, may not be aware of how to best approach faculty to request a letter of reference. Here are a few helpful tips on how to get the references you need.

Who to ask

  • Choose faculty members who know you well, preferably in a variety of contexts.
  • Select professors in courses where you excelled.
  • Employers read many reference letters, most of which are filled with generic praise. Specific reference letters are more likely to get noticed. The more a professor knows about you, the more specific the letter will be.

How to ask appropriately

  • Make a formal request of your professor, by email or appointment, asking if he or she would be willing to write a reference letter.
  • Explain the purpose of the recommendation and why you have chosen the professor.
  • Give the professor time to consider your request.
  • Arrange an appointment to discuss the recommendation a few weeks in advance of the deadline, especially if you need multiple letters. Professors have very busy schedules and need ample time to write a thoughtful and distinctive letter, so ask early.

What materials to send or bring to an appointment

  • Provide information about the position (job description). The more professors know about the position the more easily they can tailor the letter toward a specific audience.
  • Bring the application forms and materials, with the deadlines clearly indicated and the relevant portions completed.
  • Provide a written description about yourself and why you are applying to this position. The more professors know about your past academic work, extracurricular interests and your aspirations, the more specific they can be about your talents and motivation.
  • Have available your graded papers and assignments that you completed for the professor’s class.
  • Provide an updated resume that highlights the experience and skills relevant to the position. When sending resumes electronically, please include your surname in the name of the file.
  • Offer a pre-addressed envelope with proper postage.

Follow-up

  • Double-check that the letter has arrived by the deadline. If not, contact the professor.
  • Always send the professor a thank-you note. (View the sample Reference letter below.)
  • Let the professor know whether you got the position.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Professors take the writing of recommendation letters very seriously, and they expect students to do the same. Recommendations reflect not just the quality of the student, but also the integrity of the professor and ultimately the university.

  • Never assume that the professor will be willing to write a letter. Always ask first, even if the professor has written a letter for you in the past.
  • You should also ask for permission to list a professor’s name as a reference on an application, even if a letter is not required.
  • Do not simply drop off forms and information with the office assistant or send them as an email attachment. Request to meet with the professor in person.
  • If a professor denies your request, he or she simply may have inadequate experience with you to write an effective letter, or they may have insufficient knowledge about the position.
  • Don’t harass professors about whether they have sent the letter yet, unless they ask you to send a reminder. You may request that the professor send you an email to confirm that the letter is sent.

 

Business Correspondence

Thank You Notes

A thank you note, letter or email is an essential component of the interview process, whether after a job search, graduate school, or an informational interview. This simple gesture can speak volumes about your interest and your appreciation for the opportunity to interview, and although nearly all job seekers acknowledge the value of sending a personalized thank you note, the majority of people never send one.

As a job candidate, you should view the thank you note as yet another opportunity to show an interviewer what a great fit you would be with their organization or program.

Typed, Handwritten, or Emailed?

The traditional thank you note takes the form of a handwritten letter. If your handwriting is legible, then this gesture can add a touch of personalization to your correspondence. If your handwriting is poor, however, a typed letter is perfectly acceptable. Select neutral paper or note cards, such as white or cream, and avoid colored paper and cutesy graphics or greetings.

Although less formal than a handwritten note or typed letter, the thank you email may also be appropriate, especially in today's email-driven environment. If the majority of your previous communications were conducted via email, or if the interview was sufficiently informal, then emailing your thank you letter is fine.

Ultimately, you may want to make your decision on what method to use based on how formally your interview was conducted. If your first impression felt strictly formal, then a typed letter may be more appropriate; if the atmosphere was more informal, a hand-written note or email may work better. 

For students participating in on-campus recruiting through the Center for Student Professional Development:

It is important to email a thank you note to the interviewer within 24 hours of the interview. Many applicant decisions or second-round interviews will be made quickly; emailing a thank you note will reaffirm your interest in the position.

You will find employer contact information at the student sign-in desk following your interview. In this situation, you may also follow up with a handwritten letter if you feel one would be appropriate.

General Tips

  • Ask for your interviewers' business cards, or write down the interviewers' titles and the proper spelling of their names before leaving the interview site.
  • Be sure to write and send your note within 48 hours of the meeting (or within 24 hours after an on-campus interview).
  • Remember to be genuine when writing a thank you note. Keep handwritten notes/letters to one page or less and emails to around three to four paragraphs.
  • If multiple people interviewed you, send a personalized thank you letter to each and mention something specific you discussed with them.  Be sure to include some key points that you believe the employer should remember about you.
  • Conclude the thank you note by reiterating how interested you are in the position/program and why.
  • Regardless of the correspondence method chosen, spelling, grammar and punctuation matter. Proofread carefully and have one other person review it before sending.

 

Sample Thank You Letters

The business letter format used in these samples is appropriate if you are sending a hard copy. If you are sending emails, some of this formatting will not apply, but do remember to include your email signature. For example:

     
Sally Student
Bachelor of Arts Candidate May 2015

Vanderbilt University
Cell: (555) 265-8588
john.q.public@vanderbilt.edu

 

Sample Thank You Letter Layout

Your Address
City, State Zip
Date

 

Contact’s Name
Title
Organization
Address
City, State Zip

 

Dear (Contact Name):

Paragraph 1:

In your introduction, express your appreciation for the time the person spent with you.  Mention the time and place where you spoke with the individual in all thank you letters except the reference thank you letter.

For each situation, there are many differences in how you approach this paragraph:

  • Informational Interviews – Reiterate your appreciation for the interviewee’s insight or knowledge of the discussed situation (i.e. company or field).
  • References – You may have a professional relationship with this individual and want to thank him/her for their continued support of your job search.
  • Career Fair – Reiterate your interest in the job/program and your enthusiasm to join the organization.
  • Networking – Thank the individual for inviting you to join their professional network or referring you to a network that is of interest to you.
  • Interview – Reiterate your interest in the job/program and your enthusiasm to join the organization.
Paragraph 2:

In your message, reiterate certain points discussed with the contact person, as appropriate.  Mention any important items you may have omitted.  Also, add any remaining questions you may have, and expand upon aspects of things mentioned during the discussion.

  • Informational Interviews – This is where you mention that you have scheduled an appointment with a contact the interviewee provided you, where you can ask for clarification on a topic that was discussed, or where you summarize a couple of key points that were mentioned that really stuck with you.
  • References – Help your reference draw connections by expressing your desire for the position/program for which you have applied, and highlight some of your strengths and how they fit the opportunity.
  • Career Fair – State your desire to work for the organization, and highlight a couple of key strengths that are relevant to the company or the position.
  • Networking – Highlight continued interest in the the network's career field, and highlight your willingness to join as an active network member (what you will contribute and whether others can contact you).
  • Interview - State your desire to work for the organization, and highlight a couple of key strengths that are relevant to the company or the position. 
Paragraph 3:

In your conclusion, indicate what you will do next, based on the conversation.  Be sure to include a phone number where you can be reached.

  • Informational Interviews – If you intend to stay in contact with the individual, mention that here and express the purpose of staying in touch.  The interviewee may have offered additional assistance such as a resume critique.  Mention your appreciation of this offer and forward your resume.
  • References – You want to stay in contact with references, so make sure to tell them that in paragraph three.  Also mention that you will send updates on your progress during the application process.
  • Career Fair – You only had a brief encounter or mini-interview with the contact, so conclude your thank you letter with a request for an interview, or reiterate your interest in the position and company. 
  • Networking – Thank the individual again for his/her assistance, and let him/her know you will stay in touch by providing updates on your career progress.
  • Interview  Re-emphasize a skill or strength, express your interest in the position, and provide contact information should the interviewer have any follow-up questions.

 Sincerely,
(Your handwritten signature)
Your name typed

NOTE: When writing a thank you letter, it should be only ONE PAGE.

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Sample Informational Interview Thank You Letter

Your Address
City, State Zip
Date

 

Contact’s Name
Title
Organization
Address
City, State Zip

 

Dear (Contact Name):

Thank you very much for taking the time to meet with me Thursday to discuss professional possibilities in the health care industry. I was impressed by your knowledge of today's complicated issues and appreciated your insight regarding the ways I can apply my Communications and Economics majors to contribute to hospital administration.

You gave me the name of Harriet Health at ABC HMO to contact, and we have an appointment early next month when she returns from a business trip.

I will be in contact from time to time to keep you posted on my career research. I will send a copy of my resume to your office as soon as it is ready and thank you in advance for your generous offer of a resume critique. Thank you for your help and valuable information.  

Sincerely,
(Your handwritten signature)
Your name typed

 

 

Letter adapted from: Information Interviewing, Martha Stoodley, 1990.

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Sample Reference Thank You Letter

 

Your Address
City, State Zip
Date

 

Contact’s Name
Title
Organization
Address
City, State Zip

 

Dear (Contact Name):

Thank you very much for your willingness to act as a reference for me in my job search. I place a great deal of trust in your judgment and ability to evaluate critical areas of my abilities and am honored that you will support me in this process.

I will be in contact from time to time to keep you posted on my career research. I will also send a copy of my updated resume to your office as soon as it is ready. I would appreciate any feedback you might provide. I thank you again for your assistance with this important step to my success.

Sincerely,
(Your handwritten signature)
Your name typed

 

Letter adapted from:  Information Interviewing, Martha Stoodley, 1990.

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Sample Career Fair Thank You Letter

Your Address
City, State Zip
Date

 

Contact’s Name
Title
Organization
Address
City, State Zip

 

Dear (Contact Name):

Thank you for talking with me today at the Vanderbilt career day. I appreciate your time and attention in the middle of such a busy event. I enjoyed speaking with you and learning more about Fosters Group. You were very helpful in explaining Fosters’ Management Trainee Program. 

My enthusiasm for the program and interest in working for Fosters Group were greatly strengthened as a result of our conversation. My degree in Human and Organizational Development from Vanderbilt and the leadership positions I have held on campus are two qualities you said were important to success at Fosters. I am confident that both my education and work experience provide a good fit with your requirements for the Management Trainee Program.

I look forward to an opportunity to visit Fosters Group and speak to you further about the Management Trainee Program. Please feel free to contact me at 615-555-1234 or by email at joanne.public@vanderbilt.edu if you would like me to provide you with any additional information.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
(Your handwritten signature)
Your name typed

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Sample On-Campus Interview Thank You Letter

 

Your Address
City, State Zip
Date

 

Contact’s Name
Title
Organization
Address
City, State Zip

 

Dear (Contact Name):

I enjoyed interviewing with you during your recruiting visit to Vanderbilt University on October 25.  The management trainee program you outlined sounds both challenging and rewarding, and I look forward to your decision concerning an on-site visit.

As mentioned during the interview, I will be graduating in December with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. Through my education and experience, I’ve gained many skills, as well as an understanding of retailing concepts and dealing with the general public. I have worked seven years in the retail industry in various positions from sales clerk to assistant department manager. I think my education and work experience would complement Fashion’s management trainee program.

I have enclosed a copy of my college transcript and a list of references, as you requested. 
Thank you again for the opportunity to interview with Fashion Department Store.  The interview served to reinforce my strong interest in becoming a part of your management team.  I can be reached at (615) 555-1111 or by email at student@vanderbilt.edu, should you need additional information.

Sincerely,
(Your handwritten signature)
Your name typed


Enclosure

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Sample On-Site Visit and Interview Thank You Letter

 

Your Address
City, State Zip
Date

 

Contact’s Name
Title
Organization
Address
City, State Zip

 

Dear (Contact Name):

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you and see your facilities last Wednesday. Both the interview and the tour made for an exciting and complete day.

I was particularly impressed with your warehousing procedures. Mr. Allen was so thorough in explaining your process to me, and I will be corresponding directly with him to express my appreciation.

Incidentally, the process you use is quite similar to one I have been researching through an independent study this term. Perhaps I can share my final report with you and Mr. Allen. The expense report you requested is enclosed.

Again, thank you for your hospitality during my visit and for all your efforts to arrange my visit.  Having seen your operation, I am all the more enthused about the career opportunity that Super Computers and Electronics offers. I look forward to your decision.


Sincerely,
(Your handwritten signature)
Your name typed

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Sample Networking Thank You Letter

 

Your Address
City, State Zip
Date

 

Contact’s Name
Title
Organization
Address
City, State Zip

 

Dear (Contact Name):

Thank you again for agreeing to be a member of my personal network. This is an important time in my life as I take the plunge to begin my career, and I truly value the advice of professionals like you who know the consulting field so well.

I especially appreciate your offer to introduce me to other professionals and consultants in your network, which I know will be extremely helpful to me in establishing myself.

Lisa, I can't thank you enough for your willingness to help me launch this phase of my career. I will be sure to keep you informed of my progress. And please do not hesitate to contact me if you think of any additional suggestions for expanding my network and establishing myself as a consultant.
Sincerely,

Sincerely,
(Your handwritten signature)
Your name typed

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