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What to do (and not do) in a professional setting

These tips will help you ace interviews and impress new supervisors.

We all know the old adage of “dress to impress” when interviewing for or beginning a new job, but appearance is only one part of presenting yourself in a professional way in the workplace.

When entering a new office environment, it’s important to adhere not only to the written rules of a company — dress code, hours of business, etc. — but also to the unwritten social codes that can be less obvious but just as important in making a positive impression on potential or new supervisors.

Here are some tips as you navigate a new internship or your first job.

Be personable. One of the easiest ways to build a rapport with interviewers, co-workers, and clients is greeting everyone in a kind, friendly manner.

“A warm personality will take you a long way,” said Bimpe McMillon, CPA, a technical reviewer for the Texas Society of CPAs. “You’re going to be working with all kinds of people from diverse backgrounds, and it’s so easy to put yourself in a bubble and not know how to interact with certain kinds of people and cultures. So communication is really important.”

That includes taking the time to learn and properly pronounce people’s names and mastering small talk.

Practice proper email etiquette. While it may be easy to get overwhelmed by email and let messages pile up unanswered in your inbox, it’s important to respond to email or voicemail in a timely manner.

“Responding to any email communication received within 24 to 48 hours is best practice,” said Holly Hawk, Ph.D., CPA, CGMA, lecturer at the University of Georgia’s J.M. Tull School of Accounting. Hawk suggested sending a quick response that acknowledges the email was received and establishes an appropriate timeline for a formal reply.

Avoid workplace gossip. Watercooler chit-chat is part of the office experience and can be a good way to get to know co-workers better, but always be sure those conversations are positive and professional. If you hear co-workers bad-mouthing others or gossiping about colleagues’ personal lives, avoid the temptation to join in and instead either politely walk away or decline to comment.

“Avoid office gossip,” said Stacey Conaway, CPA, CGMA, senior manager, external reporting at Winnebago. “It’s a really easy thing to fall into, but if you’re talking bad about someone, the person you’re talking to assumes you’re doing the same to them — avoid any negative communication about other people.”

Build your personal reputation. Just as companies have a specific brand identity they adhere to, you should think of your own reputation and what you want it to communicate to potential supervisors, colleagues, and clients. Do you want to be the go-to problem-solver? The consummate team player? The one not afraid to take smart risks? Start building that reputation early.

“You should start to think about how you want to build your personal brand at the beginning of your career,” said Conaway. Building your personal reputation early on can help you avoid career missteps in the long run, she added.

But while building your brand, Conaway cautioned against becoming too self-focused or unwilling to accept criticism or differing opinions.

“Check your ego at the door,” she said. “There are going to be times that you have difficult conversations or times when you think you’re right, but you end up being wrong. You need to be able to manage your emotions so you’re always professional.”

Be prepared. One of the easiest ways to ensure success in a job interview or on the first day with a new company is doing your homework before arriving.

“Research, research, research,” said Hawk. “You should research the firm and, if possible, the individuals you are interviewing with, along with having good industry knowledge.” Hawk suggested studying the company’s website, checking LinkedIn profiles of interviewers, and reading news pieces about the firm.

Prepping for common interview questions such as “What is your biggest weakness?” or “Where do you see yourself in five years?” as well as having your own questions prepared will show the interviewer you care about the job and are willing to do the work.

“I always took a notebook with me and had a list of questions ready,” McMillon said. “A lot of people were impressed by that because it made me look prepared and engaged.”

Above all, remember that the letters CPA hold you to a higher standard.

“There’s a certain level of expectation of CPAs,” McMillon said. “Having those letters behind your name brings a certain level of competence and professionalism — you have to live up to those standards.”

Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.

— Jennifer Bringle is a freelance writer in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, an associate director on the Association’s Magazines & Newsletters team.

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