Saturday, September 29, 2012

Five Tips to Looking Your Professional Best Before You Get Dressed

When you are meeting someone for the first time,  know that you will be judged before you have a chance to say hello. Yes, people see, hear, feel and, yes, even smell their way to assessing their first impression of you. All of this information is downloaded in seconds and is not easily erased, if at all. If you are meeting a potential client, interviewing for a new position or networking, you can be sure that people are making judgments on what they see. 

Messages sent by your posture, body language, grooming and attire precede your handshake, eye contact and first “How do you do?”. Grooming—choices you make to ensure you are polished and ready to send the right message before you even head to the closet let alone out the door is a personal subject and the attention paid to this detail pays off.

Your grooming speaks to the respect you have for yourself and others. Its message is powerful.  When you spend the time to present your best self you gain in reputation, advancement, promotion, salary. And yes, studies exist that say women who wear makeup are offered better salaries. You may not like the study results but the reality is – it pays to look good.  Here are a few upfront preparations that will have you off to a great presence before you get dressed.

Shower – it’s a given, right? Thought so. This one is not one of the tips. It's a do or die. 

Hair – clean, cut and styled and complementary to your face. Choose styles that are professional and simple. Women, save the glam looks for special evening events. I have seen men and women with unkempt, disheveled hair at work, networking events and luncheons. They look like they have just climbed out of bed and schlepped in without taking a peek in the mirror. Assumptions made are not easily erased.

Hair is not the only thing to brush. Make sure oral hygiene is top notch. Your smile is one of your best assets. Let it work for you. Whiter teeth are more attractive but not everyone is blessed with “pearly whites”. Coffee, tea, colas, wine and smoking all contribute to discoloration of teeth. I am not advocating giving up your pleasures. Just understand the extra care your smile may need. Remember the mouth wash and mints.

Hands – you will be using this asset as you greet others! Keep hand smooth and fingernails clean and trimmed. Nail polish color should be a professional color. If you are a nail biter—do all that you can to ditch the habit. It is very unhygienic, makes your hands look unkempt and sends the message to others that you are stressed. According to research, those who nail bite make others feel uncomfortable.  

Feet should be covered. The only toes that should be seen are women’s in dressy sandals or open toed pumps at appropriate events. In this case, consider pedicures mandatory.  I know that in the south, women shun hose due to the heat. For a more polished look wear the hose. You will most likely  be in air conditioning and the look is so much more pulled together. If you opt out of the hose, be sure legs are meticulously groomed. Men, wear socks! Match the color to your pants and no white socks, ever!

Cosmetics – Yes? No? How much? A study funded by Procter & Gamble and designed and executed by Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute found that individuals who wore makeup with a natural or professional look were perceived to be more competent, likable, attractive and trustworthy. Dramatic makeup reduced the trustworthiness factor so leave the smoldering eyes out of the workplace. Individuals wearing no makeup scored the lowest.  Like the research results or not, people respond positively to the “I took 5 minutes to improve my appearance” effort. Many women also say they feel more confident and pulled together when wearing makeup. 

Now that you scrubbed, brushed, buffed and polished, you are ready to don your business threads and get noticed for all the right reasons!

Carolle Vargas is president of Your Etiquette Style, an etiquette and business protocol training company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  For more helpful hints regarding business etiquette, visit her site at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Business Etiquette—What Your Handshake Says About You

This is the first of a series in using four of the five senses to make a great first impression.

When you are meeting someone for the first time, you will be assessed often before you have a chance to say anything. It is important to understand what people see, hear, feel and, yes, even smell impact their first impression of you. All of this information is downloaded in seconds and is not easily erased, if at all.

Let’s begin with what people feel. Your handshake – the ultimate greeting.  A strong, powerful handshake is not bone-crushing or overly enthusiastic. It is a firm steady grip and is offered with sincerity, confidence and authority. 

Anyone who offers a “dead fish”, fingers only, clammy or otherwise wimpy handshake is seen as – wimpy. 

The two-handed handshake has its place and purpose. The two-handed or “preacher’s” handshake is often used by clergy, politicians, when offering condolences, and greeting the elderly and you want to give a softer handshake. It also has its place when greeting friends. Do not offer such a handshake when greeting for the first time in business. It will diminish your credibility.

Don't let this be you!!

How to be prepared:
Your handshake is an extension of your personality. It conveys a powerful message along with your words and body language. Here are a few, upfront preparations that will have you off to a great handshake.

Hands Must Be Clean, Groomed, Warm, Dry

Clean hands are expected unless you are shaking hands with your landscaper or mechanic while they are in the middle of working. Not only should hands be clean for aesthetic purposes but also for health reasons. Seeing someone sneeze into their hand and then offer a handshake is …well…disgusting. Clean includes fingernails.

Groomed hands mean hands that are moisturized and calluses smoothed out. If you have a condition that lends to warts or other scabs (yew!), seek remedies as these are definite turnoffs. Be sure nails are trimmed. Manicures, professionally or done at home are recommended.

Warm hands, cold heart or is it cold hands, warm heart? I say warm hands feel good! Unless you have just come out of the cold, be sure to offer up warm hands. That means keeping cold drinks (which also make your hands wet) in your left hand.

Dry is up there with warm. A wet handshake is as welcome as the “dead fish” handshake. Wet hands can come from cold drinks, ineffective hand drying or excessive perspiration. Carry cold beverages in your left hand and grab an extra towel to ensure dry hands. If your hands are overly damp from perspiration, consider applying anti-per spirant to your palms before the event.


Keep rings to a minimum. Zealous handshakes can make for painful handshakes when wearing overly large or multiple rings.


Shaking hands with someone wearing a cast or bandage is awkward and can be a turnoff. If you are injured, offer your left hand. The other person will understand and appreciate the gesture. They will also be happy to not worry about hurting you.

Now the Moment of Truth:

“I hate the giving of the hand unless the whole man accompanies it.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
  1. Be genuinely pleased, enthusiastic and happy to meet, greet and shake hands. Show these sincere feelings in your eye contact, smile and in the words you use to greet while shaking hands. Letting your eyes fall away while greeting with a handshake implies that you are not interested or something else is more interesting. People never forget how you make them feel. Anything missing from the package will weaken, if not prevent, a great first impression and will detract from an otherwise awesome handshake. To quote Helen Keller “I can feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake.” 
  2. Don’t wait for someone to offer their hand (be aware of cultures where handshaking is not customary). Gain the advantage and be prepared to offer your handshake first. Business settings are gender neutral so no need to see if a woman offers her hand first. 
  3. Stand up to shake hands. When seated you diminish your presence.
  4. Remove obstacles between you and the person you are greeting. Come around from your desk, table, etc. if possible. 
  5. To obtain a solid grasp, extend your hand -- fingers forward and straight, thumb pointing to the ceiling. Aim for the palm of the hand and connect web to web (that space on your hand between your thumb and forefinger). Apply firm but gentle pressure. Give 2 quick shakes from the elbow and release. 
  6. If the person with whom you are shaking hands lingers for a moment before releasing, take a cue and determine the best time to release. A few introductions may lend to a longer handshake but most of the time it’s just creepy to hang onto a hand too long. 
  7. When joining a group of people shake hands with everyone in the group. Do not exclude anyone lest they feel neglected. A simple wave or nod will not suffice – offer your hand! 
  8. Shake hands when saying goodbye. Say a few words such as “Great talking to you”, “It’s been a pleasure to meet you”, “Hope we can meet again”, you get the picture. 

Use the same warmth in your voice and great eye contact when saying goodbye and you will be someone people will look forward to seeing again—soon. 

Carolle Vargas is president of Your Etiquette Style, an etiquette and business protocol training company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  For more helpful hints regarding business etiquette, visit her site at

Monday, August 27, 2012

Etiquette Tips: Seven Must Dos to Look Your Best From Top to Bottom

It’s the never ending, always going to be there, make it or break it first impression dilemma. After all, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.  So here is a list of seven simple things to ensure you are groomed, pressed and polished for any occasion.

Using What God Gave You
While it is important to choose your clothing, make-up and jewelry to fit your age, size and occasion, what many forget is to start with what Mother Nature gave you:
OK, you’ve taken a shower and brushed your teeth.  You’re starting with a clean slate.   To make sure we don’t start off on the wrong foot, take these points to heart:

Perfume/Cologne: Light on the cologne, or even better, don’t wear it to work.

Skin – Keep it clean and moisturized. Use appropriate products for dry or oily skin.

Women and makeup: Go light on the makeup. The goal is to enhance. You will want to appear fresh and bright. Save the heavier stuff for evening.

Hands – Keep nails cleaned and trimmed. Women, save the flashy polish for evening .

Hair – Hair should be kept well groomed – clean, trimmed and styled. Save the bed head look for, well….just rolling out of bed. A good cut can eliminate a lot of primping time for men and women. Keeping it simple and fuss free can add precious minutes back into your day.
Oh, the hair in other places such as ears and nose…keep that trimmed, plucked or whatever it takes to get it out of site. Men, make sure beards and moustaches are neatly trimmed.  Unless you’re auditioning for the Geiko caveman role, the less hirsute the better.

Dress to Impress

Clothing – Yes, it is an age old problem where choosing the right clothing for an event is a book in itself. While there are many books out there to guide you along the way, the most important thing is to choose clothes that fit your size, age and the occasion.
Clothes that are too small or too large do you no favors. Invest in the best quality you can afford in order to compliment your frame.  Trying to look ten years younger might work well on date night, but not when you are going to meet a client or the boss.  If you are having difficulty deciding on what works best for you, bear in mind that there are a number of books and articles that speak directly to types of clothing that flatter various body types. Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies, provides great advice for assessing your wardrobe and adding new items. Other good reads are Frumpy to Fabulous Flaunting It by Natalie Jobity and The Style Checklist by Lloyd Boston.
Dressing for the occasion shows respect to others. Consider the message dress sends in the case of interviews, more formal occasions and meetings within various types of industry. Of course, you would not wear a suit or dress shoes to a luau at the beach. If you are dressing to impress, dress as if you have the position you are aspiring to obtain or like the individuals you will be mingling with. Bankers and accountants will dress much differently than those in “creative/artsy” careers. Always strive to look the part.

Shoes – Buy good quality shoes, making sure to keep them clean, polished and in good repair. People notice footwear more than you realize. Invest in good fitting, sensible shoes. If you succumb to fashion, as I do, be sure you can walk safely and keep those heels in repair. You can polish your shoes yourself as needed or treat yourself to a shoeshine. I know folks who take their shoes periodically to a cobbler for refurbishing. This adds years to the life of a favorite pair of shoes.  Also have a couple of pair of dress shoes so you can switch out your shoes when the occasion merits. This not only adds style points, it also adds years to their life. To prevent foot odors, invest in foot powders or sprays.

Hose – Or no hose? That is the question.  And it’s a tricky one. If you live in any of the hot southern states, hose (nylons) in the summer can be considered cruel and unusual punishment. If the occasion is ultra-formal or executive business where you will be in air-conditioning, I recommend going with hose. You will look more polished and put together. If you just can’t go there, be sure legs are clean shaven, buffed is better (gosh, did I have to say that!) and that you are not wearing sandals. Should your event be sandal approved, make sure you have a fresh pedicure and save all of but the classiest of flip flops for the beach. Men, keep your sandals for the beach or the most extreme casual of events like barbeques in your own back yard.

How Do You Define Casual?
What does casual mean nowadays? When in doubt, think of dressing one step down from what you would usually wear. Sliding beyond that is courting disaster.

Now Stand Up Straight and Smile
Ok, now that you are scrubbed, polished and sporting some classy threads, improve your look even more. Present yourself with confidence through your body posture.  Be sure to smile and make eye contact. You will be inviting to others and feel good about yourself. 
While this article didn’t attempt to cover everything, by considering the basics presented above, you will be assured of making sure that your first impression has you off to a great start.

Carolle Vargas is president of Your Etiquette Style, ,  a business etiquette and professional comportment training firm in Jacksonville, Florida.

Business Etiquette Training: Five Tips on Being a Great Dining Guest

Other than grabbing a bite to eat or heading out to dinner with friends, whenever a dining invitation is extended your way a couple of things may pop into your mind: “What do they want?” or “What’s in it for me?” Even when the answers are not obvious, always be prepared to be the “guest that’s the best” and your host will know they made a good choice in choosing you! 

The three top reasons you may be invited to a business luncheon/dinner (hint –per Ms. Pamela Eyering, President and Director of The Protocol School of Washington® “It’s never because they think you are hungry.”)

1.       To say “thank you” – lucky you! You are a guest of honor.  If there are several guests, all eyes are on you.  Be attentive to not only table manners but also to other guests at the table.  
2.       To get to know you better. This is can be a beginning to a great business relationship, a job interview or promotion. People will take note of how you handle yourself. Do you contribute to the conversation? How do you treat wait staff? What do your table manners say about you?
3.       To contribute something. This may be as simple as being a guest that adds value to group dynamics or you may be asked for a favor or to participate in an endeavor.

No matter the reason, here are some simple tips to give you poise and confidence and set you apart from others. When you are at ease you help put others at ease.

Arrive on Time
Being punctual is being respectful of other people’s time.  On time is usually not more than 5 minutes early but never ever late. If the venue is a restaurant, reservations are being held for you and you may be keep other guests waiting as well. If you can’t avoid the unavoidable, contact your host and advise them of your arrival time.

Introduce Yourself to Others
Once you have been greeted by your host, feel free to mingle and introduce yourself to other guests. Usually a host will introduce you to a couple of people to get you integrated into the group. If this does not happen (your host may be very busy) introducing yourself to others indicates you can hold your own in a group and you are interested in others…which takes us to…

Be a Good Conversationalist and a Great Listener
Be prepared to engage in small talk, ask open questions about others and then listen. Most everyone has a favorite topic—themselves. If you are talking 50% of the time, you are probably talking too much. Avoid the top three no-no’s for discussion: politics, religion and sex. Other subjects to avoid are diets, health, gossip and anything negative. Remember good eye contact and, of course, never ever talk with food in your mouth. Speaking of table manners….

Mind Your Table Manners
The more crisp your table manners, the more poised and sophisticated you will appear. No one wants to be next to or observe a bore at the table. Often correct table manners are a matter of not knowing. Don’t be the one that doesn’t know because the ones that do know will know that you don’t know and that can impair your ability to make connections, establish relationships and be someone that others want to get to know better. Become familiar with place settings, napkin placement, styles of eating – American and Continental. Know what foods are OK to eat with your fingers and other details that matter.

Send a Thank You Note Promptly
Alas, thank you notes have become rare these days. Send a thank you by email and you may surprise your host. Send it by mail and you will surprise and delight! Always go for the surprise and delight –it is so worth it. To make it easy to send your thank you in a timely manner, address your envelope before you attend the event and write your note immediately after—then mail it! How to write a memorable thank you note, you ask? Instead of beginning with “Thank you for…” write something similar to “I felt special when…” “Your special touch of ____ was a highlight of the evening”, “I will always remember…”, “You really know how to…” You get the picture. 

Being a great dining guest is so much more than just which fork to use. It encompasses the entire interpersonal experience of everyone. To underline the importance of etiquette, author Harvey Mackay, author of Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, says “They don’t teach etiquette much anymore, but if you ever have to choose between “Incredibly Advanced Accounting for Overachievers” and “Remedial Knife and Fork” head for the silverware. 

Carolle Wells Vargas is Executive Protocol Director of Your Etiquette Style, a prominent business protocol and etiquette training company in Jacksonville, Florida. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Welcome to Our Business Etiquette Blog!

Welcome to Business Etiquette Today -- a blog to share current and important etiquette tip. By putting yourself and your business contacts at ease you create positive first impressions, and increase your bottom line.

I am Carolle Wells Vargas, a certified Corporate Etiquette and International Protocol Consultant dedicated to helping you succeed in business by doing the right things at the right time. You often don't know what you don't know and that can cost you, both in revenue and reputation. Follow me to get the edge on correct business protocol and watch your business grow.