When speaking with people who do a lot of hiring, something I hear a lot is that people don’t have basic good manners these days. And not just young people. Everyone is rude.
All you have to do is take the TTC in Toronto to see this is true. People shoving their way onto the subway while others are trying to get off, putting bags and feet on seats, looking away while they sit and someone with a cane or a baby stands, and cramming themselves into the front of the bus and refusing to budge, so you can get to the back – where it’s empty.
I use the TTC all the time as an example because it’s the best one. It’s totally representative of a much bigger systemic problem in our society.
The good news is that, if you want to stand out in a job interview or networking setting, it’s pretty easy to do that by having better manners than many others.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but these are the basic manners that many people are lacking. Learn them, use them, and live by them. It will make a difference.
Say please and thank you
When you ask for something, say “please.” When you get it, say “thank you.” This applies both in person and in writing. In writing, it is also customary to say “thank you” when making the request, as in “thank you in advance” or “thank you for your consideration.”
Say hello to people. And smile. Don’t ignore the receptionist or the janitor. Treat everyone with the same respect you give to the CEO and make them feel as though you are glad to see them.
Hold the door
If you are walking through a door, hold it open for the person or people behind you. If it is a “pull” door, open it and allow the people to walk through before you. Do not walk through the door and leave them to fend for themselves.
If you need to get past someone who is in your way, say “excuse me.” Also say “excuse me” when you step on someone’s foot (“sorry” also works here) and when you burp or yawn. Cover your mouth when you yawn. And try not to do it when people are talking.
Listen when someone is talking
Nod and smile, look interested, ask questions. Pay attention and don’t make it obvious that you’re looking around for someone else to talk to.
Put your phone away
Put your phone away when you’re supposed to be paying attention, like in conversations or meetings. DO NOT CHECK YOUR TEXT MESSAGES DURING JOB INTERVIEWS. I read once that a third of millennials think it’s OK to text during a job interview. It’s not.
Respond to messages
Call people back and answer their emails and texts. Don’t leave people hanging – even if it’s not someone you particularly want to talk to. If you don’t respond, don’t get cranky when others ignore you. This does not apply to unsolicited marketing attempts or weird messages from strangers.
Cancel if you can’t make it
Don’t say you’re going to something and then not show up, regardless of whether it’s an event or a job interview. It’s becoming increasingly common for people to just ghost employers for interviews (not show up without explanation). And when you call them on it, they tell you that employers regularly leave people hanging after the interview, so why not? What are you, eight years old? This “he started it” stuff is for children. You’re a grown up. Act like one. Be the change.
Basic table manners
Don’t chew with your mouth open, put your napkin on your lap, keep your elbows off the table, don’t eat before everyone has their food, don’t slurp your soup.
Should you find yourself in a situation with two people who do not know each other, make an introduction. Don’t leave them standing there awkwardly. If you forget one person’s name, introduce the other and stop. They will get it and fill in the blanks. (If you forget both names, pretend to suddenly get an absolutely URGENT call).
If someone is struggling to carry something, offer to help (and hold the door). Offer your seat to those who need it. If you see a way in which you can be of assistance, offer it.
Wash your hands after using the washroom
True story. I know a hiring manager who was in the washroom in his office building when he saw a guy walk out of a bathroom stall and leave without washing his hands. The guy was his next interview. He did not get the job. Don’t blow your chances by being gross. This is less “manners,” and more “basic rules of living.”
Say “thank you”
Yes, I already listed this. Say it again. When you’re leaving a place, thank your host or interviewer for their time. Say “thank you” regularly and freely.
Not only do people appreciate gratitude where it is due, it can make you realize how much you have to say “thank you” for.
If you’re not already doing all of these things, start now. Manners aren’t just about stupid rules. They’re about making other people feel comfortable and included. They’re about creating your place in the world with those around you by being inclusive and respectful of them.
That’s what makes people with good manners likable.
And remember to follow these rules everywhere, not just when you think you’re around people who matter. Everyone matters. And if that means nothing to you, remember that you never know who’s watching.
That woman with a baby standing on the bus may be your next interviewer.