Professional Etiquette

One of the best ways to get ahead in your academic and professional career is to follow the rules of etiquette. These simple courtesies usually cost you nothing, but they often reward you with success and respect.

Thank You Letters

One of the simplest ways to build your professional reputation is to follow the proper etiquette for thank you notes. People who take the time to follow up with a thank you note are rewarded in many ways. Certain application committees may even favor applicants who send thank you notes to interviewers.

Thank You Notes

  • Make sure you know when to thank the person. If you have any doubts, send a thank you anyway.
  • Be prompt – one to five days afterward is ideal.
  • Double check names, titles, and spellings.
  • Many faculty are so busy that email is the best way to contact them. Ask and find out for sure.
  • If you do choose to email, take it seriously. Avoid chatspeak, and use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
  • Handwritten cards are better in some circumstances. Just make sure your handwriting is legible! If you are unsure, you can either type the note, or write a business style letter.
  • Always leave room to hand sign the note, using a nice blue or black pen.
  • Always proofread for spelling and grammar errors.

Writing the Letter

What to Include

  • The first paragraph should state where & when you met the interviewer. Also, thank them for their time and reaffirm your interest in their graduate program.
  • The second paragraph should mention what particularly appeals to you about their university and should reinforce points in support of your interest or application.
  • The third paragraph is the place to mention things that you wish you had communicated during the meeting or event. You can also restate your understanding of the next steps in the application process, if necessary.
  • The closing paragraph should thank the interviewer for their time and effort for their communication and/or consideration, and provide a way to follow up.

Following an Interview

  • If needed, you can clarify something you may have said, or address lingering concerns.
  • Remind the interviewer of some of the qualities you have to offer, and reiterate how you would be a good fit with the colleagues degree program.
  • Notify them if you are no longer interested in the school.
  • Always remain positive.

Following an Informational Interview/Meeting

  • Thank the interviewer for the information provided.
  • Keep the door open for future contact.

Following a Graduate School Fair

  • Thank the interviewer for the specific information they provided.
  • Reiterate your interest in the university/department and, if applicable, a specific program.
  • Request additional information and a business card from the recruiter.

Additional Resources

Networking Etiquette

If you have read our other pages on networking, you know that talking to the people you know can be a great asset to your career. Did you know that this is true for the graduate/professional school application process as well? Here are some etiquette points to help you become an expert at networking you can use as you continue your academic career.

General Networking Tips

  • Follow up on leads or referrals quickly.
  • Offer to help others when you can. Academic relationships should be mutually beneficial.
  • Always send a thank you note. This is one of the best ways to make a good impression.
  • Keep a file of contact information (business card organizers work well for this). Try to get in touch with the people in your network at least once a month.
  • Be patient, and listen more than you speak. Use open-ended questions that help the other person know what you’re looking for, but still allow them freedom.
  • Know the preferences of the person you are contacting. Some faculty prefer face-to face meetings, while some are so busy that email is the most effective way to contact them.
  • Silence your cell phone, or set it to vibrate mode. Voicemail was invented for a reason.
  • The person standing right in front of you should always take priority over the person trying to call you.
  • Always ask before you give out someone’s contact information. This will allow them to prepare for a possible interaction.

Meeting New People

  • Stand up to greet someone, especially if you have not met them before. Be friendly, and remember to smile and make appropriate eye contact.
  • Handshakes should be firm, and last for about 2-5 seconds. When you shake hands, make eye contact.
  • When you introduce yourself, make sure you let the other people know who you are and what you do. It will be easier for the other person if you let them know how they should address you.
  • Introduce less important people to more important people.
  • Remember names, but avoid using first names until you have been given permission to do so.
  • Feel free to exchange networking cards with the person.
  • Follow up with an email or phone call if you think the two of you can have a mutually beneficial relationship. Three to five days is a good time range to do so.

Networking Cards

  • Treat a networking card as an extension of your own image. Invest in quality cards, and keep them clean and in good condition. Ensure the contact information is up to date!
  • Try not to keep the cards you receive loose in your pocket or purse, as that could be perceived as rude. Instead, invest in a card holder to keep them in. Try to avoid putting them in your back pockets altogether.
  • Make sure to have a good supply of cards when you go to a networking function. Bring enough to give to everyone you plan to talk to, and a few extra, just in case.
  • Cards are usually exchanged at the beginning or end of a conversation. Follow the lead of the person you are talking with, but feel free to offer your card even if they do not.
  • When receiving a card, take the time to look it over and make a comment about it. Do not write on the card in front of its owner unless you are directed to do so.

Phone Calls

  • Plan what to say ahead of time. This will help you be concise.
  • Know the title and name of the person you are calling, as well as the best time to call.
  • Briefly explain why you are making the call. Introduce yourself in a few sentences, so the person you are calling will be better able to judge what the call is about.
  • Avoid jargon and slang and keep away from personal questions, so you do not make others uncomfortable.
  • Discuss private or sensitive topics in person. If you absolutely must conduct private business over the phone, confirm with the other person that it is appropriate.
  • Always let someone know if you put them on speaker phone.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate. Telephones may distort your voice a little, and you would not want to be misinterpreted.
  • Do not speak too loud/soft, and use a positive tone of voice. Be aware that people can not see your body language over the phone, and make sure your point is clear.
  • If you must leave a message, plan it out before you call. Be brief and concise, and make sure to leave your phone number for them. Give them a few good times to call you, so you can avoid playing ‘phone tag’.
  • Return phone calls promptly. This will help you make a good impression, and you will be less likely to forget to return an important voicemail.

Additional Resources

Dress for Success

Whenever you meet for a business meeting, others form their impression of you are made within the first ten seconds of that meeting. It is in your best interest to make certain that those ten first seconds impressions are good ones. Dressing professionally will greatly help you make good first impressions.

Business Professional: The more traditional business image


• Cotton & button down
• White, off white, pale, and blue colors are preferred
Suit (Jacket & Pants)
• Open-collar jacket shirt/suit jacket
• Dark colors—blue, black, brown, & gray—preferred
Socks & Shoes
• Dress shoes coordinate with suit
• Heels intact
• Socks should coordinate with shoes & suit
• Long enough to not expose skin while sitting
Accessories (Tie, Jewelry, etc.)
• Traditional silk tie that coordinates with attire
• Wear minimal jewelry, such as a watch and wedding ring
• Wear light or no cologne


Shirt or Blouse
• Comfortably fitting cotton or silk blouse in a neutral color
Suit (Jacket & Pants/Skirt)
• Traditional colors of blue, black, gray, and brown
• Skirts should be of appropriate length
Stockings & Shoes
• Shoes in solid colors—black, brown, burgundy, or navy—that match the outfit
• Closed toe are standard
• Stockings should be the same color as the suit
Accessories (Jewelry, Perfume, etc.)
• Earrings should either be small studs or avoided altogether
• Wear one watch or bracelet
• Wearing less perfume is best

Business Casual: Professional dress that looks relaxed yet neat and pulled together


• Button down
• Must have sleeves & collars
Suit (Pants & Jacket)
• Khaki slacks acceptable
• Business suit, blazer, sports coat
Socks & Shoes
• Shoes matter, leather preferred
• Loafers acceptable
Accessories (Tie, Jewelry, etc.)
• No earrings or body piercing
• Tip of tie should reach below belt-buckle


Shirt or Blouse
• Certain blouses made to be worn out are permitted
• Button-down shirts
• Tuck in shirts
Suit (Pants & Jacket)
• Khaki slacks acceptable
• Bus. suit, blazer, skirt, pants, dress
Stockings & Shoes
• Loafers acceptable
• Shoes matter, leather preferred
Accessories (Jewelry, Perfume, etc.)
• Earrings should either be small studs or avoided altogether

What Not To Wear


  • No shirts that have bright colors, French cuffs, or monograms
  • No ties with loud colors or patterns
  • Avoid boots
  • No non-traditional jewelry, such as nose rings, eyebrow rings, and multiple earrings


  • No tight fitting or mini-skirts
  • No blouse that is tight-fitting, wrinkled, or distracting because of loud colors
  • Do not wear a sleeveless blouse
  • Do not wear open-toe shoes, high boots, or stiletto heels
  • No printed stockings
  • Avoid large hoop and dangling earrings
  • Do not wear more than one pair of earrings and two finger rings
  • No non-traditional jewelry, such as nose rings, eyebrow rings, and multiple earrings

Other Tips

  • The quality of a suit can impress any potential employer
  • Dress as professionally as possible when hired, and then learn about the dress code
  • If uncertain about an office dress code, wear traditional business attire
  • When wearing casual business attire, dress in a classic but understated look
  • Clothing should always be clean, pressed, wrinkle free, and without holes or frayed areas
  • Hairstyle should project a professional appearance: clean, neatly trimmed, and well-groomed
  • When in doubt, leave it out

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