In my previous columns, I have stressed that any teen can succeed in the business world, as long as you don't behave like a typical teenager. Yes, this is a world foreign to many teenagers, where the word "dude" generally doesn't fly, and dead-fish handshakes are a sign of immaturity. This column will look at etiquette skills that can lead to professional success (or at least acknowledgement as a competent peer) in the business world.
While many people preaching proper business etiquette start by explaining introductions in a meeting, how to tip at a restaurant and such, I am an adamant believer that good business etiquette starts before any face-to-face interactions. The single most important thing you can do to come across as a professional and polite businessperson is to master outstanding etiquette skills during pre-meeting communications. In e-mails, it is crucial that you address the recipient every time with a "Dear Mr. Doe:" and sign it with a salutation such as "Very truly yours." Proofreading your e-mails and not "shouting" with excessive use of capital letters is important. In voice-mail messages, always speak slowly and repeat your name and number at the beginning and end of the message.
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Dress appropriately according to the type of venue you are attending and the expectations of those you'll be meeting. People judge and make first impressions of you by your clothes.
When arriving at a meeting, be ready to exchange pleasantries. Of course, shake the hand of the other attendees while maintaining a firm grip and looking the person in the eyes. Raise your eyebrows while smiling and shaking hands; it conveys a sense of warmth and trust.
Be aware of the goals and agenda of the meeting. Stay on track. You need not know the entire text of Roberts Rules of Order to be an effective participant in a meeting. Rather, be yourself; don't dominate the meeting, but contribute where you can. For every meeting you attend, you should prepare beforehand, take notes during, and take action afterwards.
In addition to proper business correspondence, meetings, phone calls, reports and the like, businesspeople do (believe it or not!) like to have fun. The most typical business event that falls under the category "business entertainment" is a business meal. Business lunches, breakfasts or dinners are customary in all realms of business. Lunches and breakfasts are good because they usually do not interrupt the workday and are more informal. Dinners have their advantages, as most people do not have to go back to work, thus the pace is more leisurely. Always do the standard legwork before a meal meeting; choose a restaurant you know, reserve a table ahead of time, and make it clear if you are the host--or not--so who picks up the bill is not a question. Other possible business social events include spectator sports, theater tickets and country club outings.
Especially as a teenager, good sense and proper manners can go a long way as you work your way up in the business world. For many teens, lack of maturity and professionalism can be their fatal flaw. Take the time to master these fundamental and basic etiquette laws as the building blocks for your success.
Fourteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder, CEO and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in over 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at firstname.lastname@example.org.