Young Professionals: How to live in a business world

You know that dream where you're giving an important speech, and then all of a sudden you realize you're completely naked? Everyone is pointing and laughing at you, leaving you completely traumatized. Well, interviewing for a job can feel a little like that. Although you're fully dressed (hopefully), elements of the"naked dream" can emerge in real-life situations.

Take Lizzy, for example, a freshman at the University of Tennessee who spent her high school years working part time at Baptist Eye Surgeons. When the office hired a new manager, she asked Lizzy for an impromptu job interview. "I already had the job, and I was just technically running over to pick up some paperwork," says Lizzy. "I didn't know I was going to sit down and talk with the lady. I had on 'jorts' and a tank top and flip-flops! It was really awkward."

You never know when you are going to need to put your best foot forward. But for a young person, just entering their career, questions about workplace professionalism can be difficult to answer. However, you probably already know more about the proper etiquette of the professional world than you think. For example, when you meet new people, you probably introduce yourself and maybe even shake their hand. Knowing social etiquette is the first step to mastering business etiquette.

Barbara Pachter, author of the 2006 New Rules @ Work, writes, "Your ability to interact graciously and politely from the moment you meet someone sets the stage for everything that follows." First impressions are key. And while it sometimes seems like life is one big popularity contest, in some ways, it is. People who are well-liked are often afforded more opportunities, as evidence by 18-year-old Taylor, who was recommended for his current job by his high school English teacher, proves. And his high school Spanish teacher wrote a letter of recommendation attesting to his work ethic and overall good character. Taylor says that he only got his college job working in the Instructional Service Center at UT because his teachers loved him. "I would never have even heard about this job if it weren't for them," says Taylor.

And while networking is great, it can only get you so far. Once your foot is in the door, it becomes increasingly important to be prepared and demonstrate how your qualities equip you for the job. For Taylor, good communication skills and a solid interview really set him apart. So, if you are preparing for an interview, try practicing in front of the mirror. Elizabeth Pallardy, UT Career Services Consultant, suggests thinking of questions your interviewer might ask, and coming up with the proper responses. Research the company you are interviewing with. Your interviewer is bound to ask if you have any questions. Wouldn't it be nice to wow them with your knowledge on their company. And frankly, if you don't go to an interview prepared, it is an insult to the company. There is no such thing as being over prepared. Elizabeth also recommends updating your resume, buying a portfolio, and making sure you have a proper outfit to wear. There's no need to heighten your stress by not being able to find anything professional-looking on the morning of your interview.

If you still need help preparing, get your parents involved. When Taylor set up his interview with the ISC, he didn't hesitate to ask his mom for help. "I looked up common interview questions and practiced my responses to myself and with my mom," says Taylor, whose mom is a Director at Children's Hospital. "She's given a lot of interviews, and that was probably the most helpful thing I did. Although my mom is actually a little more intimidating than my boss."

But even if your interview goes great and you're sure that you blew your interviewer away with your informed, well-researched answers, other factors may determine whether you get the job. Chris Martin, President of Knoxville Leadership Foundation, says that before he hires people, he gets their social media pages inspected. He looks for things, such as inappropriate language and pictures, that go against what his company stands for. You might think that employers are only checking to see if you party too much, but there is more to it than that. Martin's business is an inner-city Christian ministry, so they look for posts that could be considered racist. So if your Facebook or Twitter page doesn't line up with what a company stands for, a perfect interview might not get you the job.

Sometimes the best way to be remembered well by a future employer is the way in which you follow-up your interview. A smart gesture would be to promptly send a hand-written thank-you note after your interview. Write down the name and correct spelling of your interviewer so you can address them directly. If you talked about something interesting, include that in your letter. A letter is a nice, personal way to let them know you appreciate their time and look forward to hearing from them. "A small gesture often tells a person - whether it's a colleague, a boss, a client, or a customer - more about you than your entire resume," writes Pachter. "It shows that you are thoughtful and concerned; it expresses competence as well as warmth; and it may even signal that you are a person of character."

But once you get the job, never let yourself get too comfortable. While wearing a three-piece suit everyday isn't necessary, you should always act in a way that exudes professionalism. "You should carry yourself in a way that would be presentable," says Lizzy. "You never know who you are going to be meeting and how that's going to affect you later." You can bet that Lizzy no longer wears "jorts" to the office, even if it is just to pick something up. In fact, she cites the incident as a teachable moment that everything you do is a representation of yourself to the professional world. But word of caution, professional doesn't mean robotic. Taylor's advice is to "dress nicely, show up early, ask questions and have a personality. Nobody wants to hire a stick in the mud, regardless of their credentials."