Common Greeting Etiquette Mistakes

Posted: March 21, 2014

How you greet someone professionally is one of the most important parts of your job search. Most people know what constitutes good manners in their culture, and very few people deliberately set out to be rude. And while in my position at the front desk of Engineering Career Services I rarely see anyone with overtly bad manners, I do see many opportunities to have better manners. It’s not enough to KNOW what the right thing to do is, you must then DO it.

Many of the slip-ups that I see come from the same source—nervousness. When your adrenaline is high for an interview or any kind of meeting, you can sometimes forget the niceties that will make the best first impression possible. The key to overcoming this is, of course, practice. Practice your professional greetings until they are second nature. Trust me, with a few minor polishes, you can stand head and shoulders above people who are just “good enough.”

The Handshake

When greeting someone for the first time, shake their hand. I see many students who remember this step, but fail to follow through in what makes the handshake meaningful. When you shake someone’s hand there should be an exchange of names. When offering your name, be sure to use theirs (“Nice to meet you Ms. Smith, I’m John Doe”). Eye contact is essential, so that you are focused on the person you’re meeting. If you don’t hear the name the first time, ask for the name to be repeated (“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that, what is your name again?”). I am sure that everyone has been in a situation where you miss a name, and the farther into the conversation you get, the more awkward it becomes to let the person know that you have no idea who they are.

Small talk

The next point that students often have trouble following through on is responding to the question “How are you today?” When asked by anyone other than a close friend, there is only one answer—“I’m fine. And you?”  Especially when asked by a potential employer, this is NOT an invitation to talk about your terrible day. It is part of a formula, of which you are expected to provide one half. Remember, when meeting someone for the first time, you don’t want to give the impression that you are a complainer. Also, you DO want to show that you are interested in the other person by asking about them as well.


While how you sit or stand may not seem like it can be polite or impolite, almost nothing can improve a first impression as much as improving your posture. When you are waiting in the lobby, slouched down in a chair, you immediately give the impression that you don’t want to be there. Sit up straight and try not to fidget. You should be arriving early, so take this time to review your notes on the employer, jot down any last minute questions that come to mind, and to generally focus on your upcoming meeting. Pay attention to what your body language is saying – and remember that your headphones are not attached. When waiting for a professional meeting, unplug from your media. You should be giving the impression that all of your thoughts are focused on the task at hand.

Remember, when it comes to making a good first impression, you don’t get a second chance. Make sure that everything about you shows your very best!

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”  
-Leonardo da Vinci