Job search etiquette

Is there a polite — or impolite — way to conduct a job search? The answer is yes, and I take it as a good sign that I hear this question frequently. To entertain and instruct you, here are some of the most common etiquette questions/situations that I find myself discussing with job seekers and, occasionally, interviewers.

1. Handshakes. Our increasingly multicultural world has made this seem like a gray area, so here's the short answer: Do offer your hand to everyone you meet in this process. If someone doesn't want to shake hands, they will say so. And don't take offense. The reluctance could be due to religious practice, sanitary concerns or even arthritis, but it's unlikely to be a reaction to you personally. If this happens, simply withdraw your hand, smile and say, "I'm so glad to meet you."

2. Picking up the tab at networking meetings. If you did the inviting, you should probably do the buying. To make things easier on your pocketbook, try to select non-lunch times and consider pre-purchasing discount cards for your most frequently used coffee shops.

3. Parking all day at the coffee shop. Yikes. You do know that this business owner has to make a living, don't you? Make a rule for yourself: One new purchase (not just a refill) for every hour you spend in the coffee shop.

4. Interview conduct — candidates. To hear interviewers' stories, candidates have lost all grip on etiquette. Prove them wrong by following as many of these tips as you can: Don't arrive more than 10 minutes early; shake everyone's hand; thank them for the interview; express your interest in the job; dress respectfully; put away your electronic devices; bring extra copies of your materials.

5. Interview conduct — employers. Yep, candidates have plenty of dirt to dish on employers as well. Here's the short list: Don't keep the candidate waiting, but apologize if you do; use a host mentality to set the candidate at ease — this means checking that they will have a comfortable place to sit, that they know the length of the meeting and what is expected of them and that they are told who the other interviewers are; explain the overall hiring process and timeline; put away your electronic devices; dress respectfully.

6. Follow-up contact from candidates. In the world of business, time passing means opportunities lost. That's why I advise job seekers to follow up two to four times before letting something go. If done briefly, professionally, and with a decent interval between contacts (at least a week, possibly two), this is not pestering. Be sure you keep an upbeat or neutral tone.

And of course, if the other person asks that you stop calling because they can't help you at this time, thank them and do exactly as they've requested.

7. Follow-up from employers. Of course, employers should follow up with candidates, particularly when there's been an interview conducted. The more personal the contact, the better, but even a form letter beats silence. And if you want the candidate to stop contacting you, just say so.

8. References. This is pretty basic: Ask each person if you can use them for a reference, and ask which contact information they prefer you use. Then, whenever you get close enough to an offer that they may be contacted, tell them a few details about the position so they won't be caught off guard. Finally, check in occasionally to ensure they're not being contacted too frequently; if you think this is happening, give them a graceful way to get off the hook.

9. Final updates. You will talk to or request help from dozens or even hundreds of people during your job search. And yes, you will eventually get a job. So anticipate that happy event by tracking all the people giving you a hand now. Sharing your good news will be a reward to them for their investment in you. And yes, it's the polite thing to do.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.