At least once a year you will see a story on the news, or perhaps see a flyer from your career services office talking the importance of business etiquette. Setting-specific “skills,” like knowing which fork is your salad fork, obviously only have limited relevance.
Many of the other components of business etiquette, however, are mostly common sense. If you find yourself frequently sticking your foot in your mouth, a brush up in business etiquette is not a bad idea.
Many business classes focus on networking and how to handle cocktail hour conversations. To my generation, this is known as the boring hour spent waiting for dinner. Cocktail hour, however, is not happy hour. In many ways, cocktail hour is similar to an interview. There is a feeling out process, and you have one chance to make a good first impression.
Stick to relatively safe topics, or at least stick to somewhat temperate viewpoints. When an interviewer asks you “tell me something about yourself,” most people do not spout off a hardened political stance or why they hate religion. Initial conversations during cocktail hour at an event should be treated the same way.
You do not need to speak in 18th century English, but reintroducing “excuse me,” “please,” and “thank you” are fairly helpful. Many people forget these words exist. Putting in the extra effort to be polite will make you stand out from the crowd in many situations.
Dress according to the situation, within reason. If you are interviewing, wear a suit. If you show up and everyone else wears jeans, then take off your sportcoat and roll up your sleeves. If you have a suit that was tailored in 1992, you might want to consider a new one.
If you are trying to network at an afterwork happy hour, you are not required to wear a suit. But you probably should not wear a dirty t-shirt. Playing the role of dirty t-shirt social rebel is not going to get you very far.
What you wear is an opportunity to enhance a positive impression. At the very least, dress well enough so that it does not detract from people’s impression of you.