FastWeb Column: Common Courtesy in Your Job Search

This story was published in 2007 for FastWeb, an online education resource and scholarship search engine.

I love the term “common courtesy,” particularly because we use the phrase when we want to note there’s been a lack of it. Nobody mentions common courtesy when it’s there; they lament its absence and from the number of times we use the phrase, it seems courtesy is actually rather elusive. Rules of etiquette can be daunting, particularly for those unaccustomed to reading the syndicated “Miss Manners” column (unlike me and everyone’s grandparents). In fact, I suggest you examine your own life and habits to be sure you aren’t offending any passersby when you pass the salt before the pepper.

There are an equal number of rules when it comes to applying for jobs. The only time I hear these rules talked about, however, is when fellow undergraduates poll each other to see what’s expected. It’s the rude leading the rude. I don’t have the 20 years experience to match Miss Manners’, but I do have Appalachian charm and a great record with old men and cats, which makes me well-qualified to talk about formal politeness.

The consensus on thank-you notes firmly says one should send a letter post-interview, pre-hire. After your interview, whether it’s on the phone or in person, jot down a quick thank you. This sounds daunting: What do you really have to say to that person when you’ve only known them for an hour? It also seems cheesy and a little… suck up-ish. Don’t think like that. Just show your appreciation that the interviewer took the time to speak to you and hear your thoughts. Try to insert something from the conversation that they’ll remember, maybe a shared interest you discussed. Be sure to write cleanly, but do not type the letter. Make it personal and snappy.

When being interviewed on the phone, go where it’s secluded and indoors. (The talking-in-a-wind-tunnel effect can happen even if it doesn’t seem breezy on your end.) Don’t mumble if you’re nervous or screech if you’re accepted. It may be a fabulous job, but nobody wants to be the kid who blew the boss’ eardrums when they got hired.

For all other things, be as conservative as you can. Dress nicely and neatly; be on time and cheerful. It’s also important to Google the person who you’ll speak to: See their history and give yourself some talking points.

After advising you to be conservative, I’m going to do the opposite. I’d like to remind those employers who might be reading that they also have an obligation. This year, as I applied for graduate schools and summer internships, I was appalled at how rudely business was conducted. Graduate schools were late on their deadlines to announce acceptances. One school pushed the deadline back three times, missed it by two days on their last attempt, sent my letter to the wrong address, and failed entirely to send the email they promised was coming after that. Summer internships say that due to the number of applicants, they are unable to contact people not selected. They are apparently also unable to give applicants a time frame to let them know when they should be taking no news to mean bad news. How long does it take to send a form email?

We, as applicants, are willing to do almost anything to get these gigs. We want to give them our unpaid summer labor, we want to fork over enormous amounts of cash for tuition, we want to move to cities where we don’t know anyone.

The least we can ask in return is a little common courtesy.

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