Ages ago, I applied for a job as a flight attendant, and the airline flew me to their headquarters for the first interview. Beforehand, I consulted a flight attendant, and she handed me the best piece of career advice anyone has ever given me.
"They'll have someone on the plane watching you," she said, "They're looking to see how you conduct yourself, how you eat, what you drink -- all of it. Your interview begins way before you think it does."
Though I never confirmed if that was actually true, it doesn't matter. From then on, I knew that how you conduct yourself at work and during work travel says just as much about you as your resume. Actually, it says more.
Whether you're just starting out in business or vying for a promotion, these simple guidelines will never fail you.
Arrive on time for meetings -- face to face or virtual. If you're the meeting host, on time means at least five minutes early. If you're the guest, on time means on time. It's crazy how often people on both sides of the invitation are late and say nothing about it. If you get held up and know you're going to be delayed, a quick email can keep the person on the other end from feeling stood up.
When it comes to business meals, bring your manners. I once invited a client to lunch, and the first red flag went up when she brought a coworker that I didn't invite. The client talked about herself the entire time while the coworker sat in obvious misery. When the client's plate arrived first, she hovered over her plate and dove in with such intensity I figured she was finishing up a month-long juice fast. Mouth packed with food, she kept on talking while her colleague and I lost our appetites. Several months later, the client asked for a referral. I'll let you guess if she got it.
No nail trimming at work. This wouldn't be on the list if I hadn't witnessed it too many times to count. This also goes for toes. I've seen that, too, and hardly survived it. Just because most of us work in open work environments doesn't mean it's a green light to do things better done in the privacy of your own home/bathroom. When should trimming nails at work happen? It should happen never. While it should be obvious, this also goes for large group meetings as well. Now, I'm not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Once, one of my nail-trimming coworkers busted me doing my eyebrows at my desk, and she never let me live it down. I deserved it! The same rule applies for flossing at your desk.
Express gratitude. Thank you notes go a long way. If possible, a handwritten note is best. Check out the custom engraved stationery from Dempsey & Carroll, where they remind you that "the first job starts with a thank you." Fine stationery is an investment, though. Target has some lovely, affordable boxed sets. If you take the time to follow up, it will get noticed. It will also get noticed if it's poorly executed. I once saw a note from a candidate that was written on something that looked like a kid's birthday party invitation. Also, if you prefer a paperless option, make sure your message is concise, thoughtful, and free of misspelled words.
Whether it's a company-wide function or a team dinner, ask before inviting your significant other. Ask the host/coordinator of the event. Are spouses in or are they out? This is really an all-or-nothing thing. If it's not been offered to everyone, it's inconsiderate to assume that the company wants to pay for your spouse. Secondly, if you bring your significant other and nobody else does, talking shop feels awkward to everyone (your guest included), and that's what business dinners are often about. As a general policy, if spouses/significant others are openly invited, absolutely go for it. If it's not a group-wide invitation, fly solo.
Don't say anything in email or instant messaging that you don't mind being broadcast to your entire organization. Once, I sent a gossipy email intended for a coworker directly to the person I was gossiping about. Ouch. Worse, my email got forwarded around while I wanted to crawl under my desk and die. Watch what you're saying on instant messaging systems, too. Likely, there are chat logs of what you're chatting about that are archived somewhere, so if you're talking about your lady parts or who didn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom, somebody in IT is probably reading it. No wonder those IT guys say so little and then go to lunch in huge groups -- they have a lot of dirt on the rest of us.
Don't dominate the "Questions" segment in meetings. How many questions should you ask? Frankly, I think one question per big meeting is usually enough; three is the maximum. For smaller meetings, just consider how much air time is available, and try not to dominate. Also, consider if the question has the word "I" in it. Who will benefit from the answer? If it's just about you, save it and track down the right person after the meeting. There are all kinds of ways to be heard -- if you just need to hear the sound of your own voice, start talking to yourself at home while you're trimming your nails.
Turn off your gadgets in meetings. My company's CEO starts every meeting by reminding us to turn our phones face down, close our laptops, and focus only on the meeting. Having the discipline to step away from distractions is refreshing. Of course, this really only works if everyone adheres to it. It's difficult to make that happen, but when everyone is unplugged and focused, meetings are much more productive.