3 ways for young feds to impress the boss

Business etiquette specialist Pamela Eyring advises on how young feds can get ahead and make a lasting impression on their superiors.

You’ve just joined the government and want to impress your manager. But how? Dressing to the nines and impeccable manners will get you far, says business etiquette specialist Pamela Eyring. “Having great business etiquette gets you noticed by your supervisor -- in a positive way,” said Eyring, who spent more than 20 years in government and served as the first civilian chief of protocol at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Eyring now serves as president and director of The Protocol School of Washington. Here she shares her top three tips for how young, up-and-coming feds can make a lasting impression on their superiors.

Class it up

“Understanding that you’re young, you don’t have to dress like older people,” she said. “But you have to look mature, especially in the government.”

Eyring suggests you eliminate any kind of weekend attire from your work wardrobe, and for women that means no cleavage-baring blouses. Showing too much skin is “the No. 1 complaint, in government and private industry,” she said. “Young women especially are showing way too much cleavage. That’s fine for the weekend if you want to do that, but in business, we don’t want to look at your chest.”

Skirts should be similarly modest, to the top of the knee, or longer, she said. And keep the footwear professional too. “Flip-flops are too casual and too noisy, and they don’t give an appearance of professionalism,” she said.

Her No. 1 tip for young women to look more professional is to wear something with a collar. “I always tell women, if you put on a jacket or blouse with a collar, it gives you more power immediately,” Eyring said.

For men, however, the main culprit in poor dress is a disheveled, slouchy appearance: dirty, cracked shoes or wrinkled dress shirts. Young men also tend to wear suit jackets or sports coats that are too big, hanging down to their knuckles, Eyring said. “Very rarely can you just pull [suits] off the rack and wear them,” she said, suggesting men have their suits tailored to perfection.

Another tip for young employees is to mirror dress after a mentor or a boss who’s had a longer career. “Step it up, she said. “I always liked to dress one step ahead of [superiors] because when you look more professional, you feel more professional. And professional dress gets you noticed if you’re coming up in the workforce.”

Check yourself

How you greet a person and shake hands, eye contact and posture all tie into presenting yourself in the best light possible. “When you’re talking to someone, you should give eye contact at least 40 to 60 percent of the time,” Eyring said. Young people often haven't mastered the art of making eye contact, she said, either staring too intensely or looking away from the person for too long at a time.

Handshakes matter too. “You used to see a lot of young men who had been taught by their mothers, especially in the South, to let the woman offer her hand first, and then just shake her fingertips very gently and softly,” she said. “But today in business, women and men shake hands the same way: Web to web, firm grip -- then let go.”

When it comes to body language, your posture is as important as your handshake. When greeting and meeting someone, make sure your shoulders face the other person’s, Eyring said. Also, if you’re sitting down and someone greets you, stand up so you can give the other person better eye contact.

Manage your time

Showing up to work on time, if not early, is just a basic necessity, but many young professionals fail to realize the importance of time management, Eyring said. “‘If you can’t be timely to work, your superior is not going to put you on a level of a higher position,” she said.

Time management is not just about being punctual but how you use your time during work hours. Using your personal cell phone “over and over and over again” is a no-no, Eyring said, and if you have to take a call make sure to step out in the hallway on your break to do so. “They didn’t hire you to talk on the phone and check your Facebook; you were hired to be there and work,” she said.

And if you complete your tasks before deadline, “don’t leave early, go find more work to do!” Eyring said, suggesting employees ask their managers what else they can do instead of “just sitting there and waiting.” Showing that you’re eager to learn is also key to get a manager’s attention and show you’re serious about your work, she said.

Discipline in time management and consistency is expected of employees, although “it might not be in your orientation,” Eyring said. “These are the things that [managers] watch and what they want.” 

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