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Business Etiquette and Corporate Style Tips

Q: I perspire a lot, even in winter. What can I do to manage this and avoid stains?

A: These stains are caused not by perspiration alone but rather by the interaction of sweat and the aluminum compounds found in most antiperspirants. With that in mind, look for a brand with lower aluminum content and use only a thin application. Allow it to dry completely before you dress. Wear layers so that you can self-regulate your temperature more easily. Opt for loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibers (such as cotton and linen). Remember that sweat stains are most conspicuous on light colors.

—Carol Davidson, Carol Davidson, president, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: For my LinkedIn profile picture, is it O.K. to use a casual shot of myself playing tennis?”

A: If you’re in a creative field (author, artist) or physically challenging job (personal trainer, professional athlete, mountain climber, etc.), a picture of you in action fits the bill. If you want to work in a more traditional field (such as finance or law) and use LinkedIn to gain clients or referrals, use a professional headshot.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla., and author of Wear This, Not That! Stylish Solutions to Flatter Your Figure

Q: People are always late to my weekly staff meeting. How can I stop this?

A: Send an automated e-mail reminder a half-hour before the start of your meeting. Include a timed agenda, with the start time in bold type. One or two minutes before the meeting is scheduled to begin, ask attendees to take their seats. At the official meeting start time, close the door and begin. Don’t be tempted to wait for latecomers. To encourage punctuality, begin by addressing the most pressing matters first. Be sure that you lead by example: Arrive prepared and on time.

—Carol Davidson, Carol Davidson, president, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When someone invites me to a business dinner, should I mention beforehand that I’m a vegetarian?

A: Absolutely. Business dinners are a great way to connect with bosses and co-workers you might not normally spend time with. Instead of worrying about whether or not you’ll be able to eat what is served, politely mention your vegetarian preferences when the offer is proffered. If you are to dine in someone’s home, offer to bring a vegetarian dish. If you will be dining in a restaurant, most likely you will find something on the menu that suits your needs.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla., and author of Wear This, Not That! Stylish Solutions to Flatter Your Figure

Q: I have a small budget for client gifts. Should I skip it this year?

A: Regardless of your budget or the economy, now is not the time to neglect your best clients. Show your appreciation without breaking the bank by taking your client out for a festive holiday breakfast instead of lunch or dinner. Or send a candy assortment or food basket the client can share with the team. Making a donation to your client’s favorite charity in his or her name includes the client in the altruistic spirit of the holiday. Since the donation amount will not be announced, you can manage your costs.

—Carol Davidson, president, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Can you recommend a foolproof Secret Santa gift?

A: Put your trust in gift cards. Some of my favorite retailers that work for both genders and most tastes: Starbucks, Macys, Amazon, and American Express. Be advised that most retailers consider a gift card like cash—if you lose it, you’re out of luck—so keep a close eye on it until it gets to the intended party.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla., and author of Wear This, Not That! Stylish Solutions to Flatter Your Figure

Q: Do you have any tips for wearing colored or patterned tights to the office?

A: While highly trendy, wearing bright or excessively patterned tights carries risk in many office environments. Err on the side of subtlety by choosing tights in black, navy, brown, or gray. For a more conservative look, keep the color of your tights and shoes in the same hue. In less formal or more creative environments, darker accent colors, such as burgundy, plum, or teal, may also be appropriate. If you want to add a bit more visual interest, choose neutral colors in a classic menswear-inspired pattern, such as a pinstripe or herringbone. If you decide to wear snazzier tights, pair them with a tall boot or long skirt, as less will be on display. In business, you want to keep the attention close to your face, so remember the blink test. While standing in front of a full-length mirror, close your eyes and then open them. If you see your tights before you see the rest of your ensemble, save them for evenings or weekends.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is a 15 percent tip still acceptable in restaurants?

A: The generally accepted tip for good service at a restaurant is still 15 percent of the bill. If service was excellent, you may wish to leave 18 percent to 20 percent. Keep in mind that the majority of servers’ income comes from tips, not salary. (Most restaurants pay servers less than minimum wage.) A good tip—as well a poor one—is always remembered and might mean the difference between a great meal and a not-so-great one next time you visit. Also, try to leave the tip in cash, handing it directly to the server, if possible.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla., and author of Wear This, Not That! Stylish Solutions to Flatter Your Figure

Q: What color nail polish is right for work?

A: The more conservative your office wardrobe, the more conservative your nail color should be. You can never go wrong with a nude, light, or subtle color. In many work environments darker colors such as a brick red, wine, or plum may also be acceptable, particularly in the winter months. While nail color in shades of gray, dark blue, and black are on-trend this season, they are often perceived as too “Goth” and are generally frowned upon in the workplace. Ditto for shades of silver, gold, and anything that sparkles; save them for a night on the town.

—Carol Davidson, president, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When my boss invites me to lunch, should I assume I don’t have to pay?

A: When you are “invited” to lunch by your boss or anyone else, it is customary for the inviter to pick up the tab. For more clarity, turn the tables. Ask yourself: ”If I invited a client to lunch, would I expect him or her to pay?” Also consider that offering to pay your share of the bill may indicate a lack of appreciation for the invitation. So sit back, enjoy the occasion, and be sure to mind your manners during the meal—and afterward. Always send a thank-you note the day after. Understanding the subtleties of etiquette lets your boss know you can handle social situations appropriately, which just may put you at the front of the line for a promotion.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla., and author of Wear This, Not That! Stylish Solutions to Flatter Your Figure

Q: When should I call instead of sending an e-mail?

A: Reach out by phone or in person if you need to send an upsetting or confrontational message. If the topic is complicated and requires a good deal of explaining, save it for live conversation. Because the tone of an e-mail can easily be misconstrued, leave your note in draft for 24 hours when in doubt and then reread it before hitting the send button. And remember: Although the act of sending an e-mail is immediate, the response may not be; if you require an instant reply, pick up the phone. Finally, if you need to apologize, do it face to face.

—Carol Davidson, president, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What’s the best way to hide a few extra pounds in business attire?

A: The easiest way to camouflage a little extra weight for men and women is by wearing a jacket. Choose one that fits well through the shoulders and is comfortable (not tight) through the hip and midsection. Keep in mind you should always fit the largest area first, and then tailor the jacket to fit smaller areas if necessary. Women should look for details such as darts and seams that nip in at the waist, and men should opt for vertical stripes and welt (inset) pockets—all of which help to achieve a slimmer appearance. Contrary to popular belief, oversize or boxy jackets don’t hide the extra pounds; they actually make you appear larger.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla., and author of Wear This, Not That! Stylish Solutions to Flatter Your Figure

Q: We’re allowed to wear jeans to the office. How can I make them look more professional?

A: Stick to a uniform dark blue and avoid fading, whisker, or acid washes. As a general rule, the fewer the pockets, the more professional a jean appears. Choose a trouser, bootleg, or straight leg with a respectful (mid-rise) waist. Save the skinny, boyfriend, or ultra low-rise cuts for the weekend. Make sure your jeans are clean and well-pressed, sans rips or frayed bottoms. What you pair your jean with is as important as the jean itself. To step up your look, add a blazer or collared shirt with office-appropriate accessories.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Should I invite my boss to my wedding?

A: If you are having a large event, plan to invite other people from the office, or have developed a friendship with your boss, you should invite him or her. But if you are planning a small ceremony or don’t have a close personal relationship with your boss, don’t feel obligated. If the subject comes up (which it most likely will), don’t make lame excuses. Simply explain that you are planning a small family affair and leave it at that. He or she will undoubtedly understand and appreciate your candor.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I occasionally brainstorm ideas with a co-worker, but he recently presented one of mine as his own. How do I handle this?

A: First, be certain that you made it clear that the idea in question was yours and one you intended to present. If you did not, assume that your co-worker genuinely did not remember how the idea came to him, and let it go. If, however, you are certain of the impropriety, approach your co-worker in a nonconfrontational manner. Let him know that you believe the idea was originally yours and that he may have unintentionally presented it as his own. If he is open, see how you can work together to rectify the situation. Regardless, be sure to build on the idea and make your contributions known to others. While you may not receive credit for the initial concept, colleagues will remember your role as a team player and strategic thinker. To avoid a similar predicament in the future, share your ideas in a group setting, rather than with just one person. In addition, take the initiative to schedule a short meeting with your manager to share your most viable ideas.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is it O.K. to walk into the office in sneakers and then change into dress shoes when I reach my desk?

A: I understand the need to wear comfortable shoes when commuting to the office. Comfort always overrides fashion when you have a long distance to traverse. As an image consultant, however, I must make an argument for first impressions. Seeing a man or woman in a suit and sneakers just doesn’t say “professional.” May I suggest finding a coffee shop or deli a few doors down from your office where you can make a quick change into your dress shoes? Another option: Women can look for a pretty ballet flat, wedge, or kitten-heel shoe and men can opt for a dark brown or black loafer that will provide a comfortable walk to work and look great paired with business attire.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: When you send a confidential e-mail to the wrong person, what’s the best way to handle it?

A: Assume that your e-mail was read and call the recipient right away. Apologize for your error and request that he or she delete the e-mail because it was intended for another person. If the contents of the errant e-mail message could put your employer or you in jeopardy, immediately contact your company’s legal department. To prevent such mistakes, never add the recipient’s e-mail address until after you’ve finished composing your message. Type out the recipient’s entire name instead of hitting just the first few letters and relying on auto-fill. Make it a habit to double-check the address box before you hit “Send.”

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is it O.K. to order lobster at a business meal when someone else is paying?

A: If your host orders lobster, go ahead. She or he may have you order first, however. If the lobster costs about the same as the average entrée, enjoy. Otherwise, don’t choose the most expensive item on the menu. By doing so, you may give the impression you take advantage of people, prompting your host to wonder if this is how you behave in other professional situations.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: My food keeps disappearing from the company refrigerator. How can I address my coworkers without being rude?

A: When you notice a small amount of food or drink missing for the first time, ignore it and assume a coworker took it by accident. If, however, it happens a second time, begin to label your items with your name. Because people are less likely to help themselves to things they have to hunt for, store your edibles in the back of the refrigerator or in a drawer. You might also make your items harder to get at by placing them in double-knotted plastic bags. If your food still continues to go missing, ask the office manager to address the problem.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: At work I sit next to a woman whose perfume is overwhelming. Should I say something, and how?

A: For people with allergies or sensitivity to particular scents, perfume can cause chronic sneezing, nausea, difficulty breathing, or migraine headaches. Many times the perfume wearer uses the scent so often she cannot recognize it—and ends up putting on even more. If you have a problem with a co-worker’s fragrance, address the problem immediately and with candor. Mention courteously that her fragrance is distracting you and ask her to skip wearing perfume in the office. Chances are she will oblige. If not, check with your human resources department. Many companies are now adding a “no perfume/cologne” clause to their dress code policies, and you may elect to lodge a complaint.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: What’s the proper etiquette for exchanging business cards?

A: When receiving a business card, look at it for a few seconds, make a comment on the design or information (if appropriate), and place it reverently in your pocket or card case. When speaking with someone, jot down a note or two on the back of his or her card to jog your memory later. Have different pockets for incoming and outgoing business cards, so you don’t accidently hand out someone else’s card. Make sure your cards are clean, unbent, and unripped, as they are a reflection of you and your company.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When your table is ready and you’re still finishing your drink at the bar, should you carry it to the table or leave it?

A: By all means, feel free to take your unfinished drink with you to the table. If you are uncomfortable or have difficulty carrying your beverage, you can ask the bartender to have it brought to you—a common practice in most high-end restaurants. Bear in mind, in some establishments the bar and table waitstaff may not on be on the same register or might not be able to combine checks. If this is the case, you may be asked to close out your tab at the bar separately. In any event, don’t forget to tip 15 percent to 20 percent of the bar tab to your bartender for good service.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How early should you arrive for an interview?

A: Although you should never be late under any circumstance, it’s a bad idea to arrive excessively early. Aim to get to an interview about 15 minutes prior to your meeting time. Showing up well before your allotted time slot can make the interviewer feel compelled to move his or her schedule around. Arriving 15 minutes early shows that you are punctual yet have respect for other people’s time and work.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When I get a spot on a dry-clean-only suit, should I leave it there until I can take the suit to the dry cleaner?

A: Over time, it may turn into a permanent stain, so if you notice a spot or heavy perspiration marks, take the garment in for dry cleaning as soon as possible. I don’t recommend trying to launder a dry-clean-only garment yourself, but if you do decide to attempt it, try a home dry-cleaning kit, such as Dryel or Woolite Dry Cleaner’s Secret. These kits come with a pre-moistened cloth to help remove spots and freshen clothing.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How can I make capri pants look more professional?

A: Opt for a tailored cut and also a longer hemline, as pants that end near the knee all too often resemble shorts. If your office is very casual, linen is acceptable. For a more conservative environment, choose crisp cotton, silk, or wool. In general, the fewer the number of pockets, the more formal the pant looks. Dress up your capris with a nice button-down, blouse, or casual jacket. Wear a small heel and tasteful jewelry. Remember to press or iron your capris for a more polished appearance.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When a piece of clothing says “Dry Clean Only,” is that always true?

A: Yes. I have ruined several wonderful items by laundering or hand washing clothing that called for dry cleaning only. Some of the problems: fabric shrinkage, button discoloration and rusting, and color bleeding. If you want to save money, don’t clean a garment every time you wear it. Assuming the piece of clothing has no stains, you can get multiple wearings by simply pressing or steaming it. And deodorizing it if need be. Hang your the garment to air it out; you can also try a number of products to freshen up the scent. I like Lysol Neutra Air Fabric Mist, as it sprays a fine mist that won’t harm clothes.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I share an office with someone who’s messy, and I fear it makes us both look bad. What can I do?

A: Unfortunately, you will be perceived as a contributing factor because you share the space. Since the appearance and organization of your office sends a message to others about how you handle the details of your work, it is best to nip this situation in the bud. Rather than send an e-mail or leave a note, speak directly to your office mate. Be careful not to assign blame. Just state the facts that the office looks messy and that you think it reflects poorly on the both of you. Suggest a cleaning schedule you both can live with. If need be, offer to help your office mate with an initial cleanup. Lead by example and keep your area and any common space as neat and clean as possible. Escalate the matter to a boss or supervisor only if absolutely necessary.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Can I wear the same suit to different job interviews at the same company?

A: Absolutely. A suit is the best choice for an interview, hands down. And if you have only one, you should definitely wear it again, no matter if you are interviewing with the same company or even the same individual. As an image consultant, I teach my clients how to create a multitude of outfits from a few key pieces. You can easily create a new look by wearing your basic suit with a different blouse or shirt color and mixing up the accessories. Ladies, try wearing a different necklace or adding a colorful scarf. Men can choose a tie with a different pattern or add a smart-looking pocket square to their ensemble. Unless your suit is a conspicuous color or print, no one will remember it was the same one you wore before. Most important to interviewers—and what they will remember—are your confidence and communication skills. Once you land the job, you can celebrate by buying a new suit.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: No matter how carefully I pack, my clothes always get wrinkled. Any advice?

A: If you find an article of clothing is wrinkled when you arrive at your hotel, run a hot shower and hang the item close by. The steam from the shower will naturally press your garment. Wrinkle-resistant sprays are also helpful and convenient, as they are small enough to stash in a purse or briefcase. If all else fails, try asking the concierge. Some hotels offer pressing services, while others supply the room with an iron and board.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What’s a polite way to escape from a nonstop talker at a reception or cocktail function?

A: When you want to break away from a conversation, be friendly but firm. Simply extend your hand for a handshake and say, “Mary, I have to speak to a colleague now. It was a pleasure meeting and talking with you.” You can now take your leave without having offended anyone. If you feel you may want to reconnect with this individual at a later date, you might also suggest exchanging business cards.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How can I avoid wrinkles in my clothes when I pack for business trips?

A: Both an overstuffed suitcase and one with too much empty space will lead to wrinkles, so pack lightly but tightly. Place heavy items (shoes, toiletries, etc.) on the bottom so they don’t shift, crush, and wrinkle your clothing. Shirts, skirts, and pants can be folded, stacked, and packed in the center of your suitcase. By putting tissue paper in between layers, you will reduce friction and wrinkles. Knits and more casual items (T-shirts, polo shirts, jeans, etc.) as well as pajamas should be rolled and placed around the sides of your suitcase. On top, place face down any items on hangers. Leave them in plastic dry cleaning bags to reduce creases. Look for travel-friendly items (folders, cubes, compressors, etc.) designed to make packing more organized and wrinkle-free.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is it necessary to say “bless you” when someone sneezes during a meeting?

A: Nowadays, people expect a “bless you,” not out of concern for the sneezer’s well-being, but simply as an acknowledgment of another’s presence. Is it necessary? Probably not. No one says anything when someone coughs, so why do sneezes deserve special treatment? If the sneezer happens to be seated next to you, offer a discreet “bless you,” if you like. If, however, the person is at the other end of the room or someone has already given his or her blessing, hold off. At meetings, you want to move past interruptions and distractions quickly and get back to business.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: Can I wear sleeveless tops to work in the summer?

A: This question comes up nearly every time I give a corporate presentation on image and style. If your company is conservative in general or has a traditional business dress code (i.e., suits, jackets), wearing sleeveless clothing—without a jacket or cardigan—is inappropriate. In a business casual setting, the answer is not so clear-cut. In the absence of a formal dress code, err on the side of caution and ask your manager or HR person. Exposed skin sends a less business-like message, so also consider the nature of your work. Do you have a client-facing role or is your work primarily behind the scenes? If you do decide to go sleeveless, avoid tank tops, halters, and camisoles. Instead, opt for a sleeveless style with more coverage and a modest neckline. Finally, make sure you have a jacket or cardigan at the office, in case you’re called into an unexpected meeting.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Is chewing gum ever acceptable in a business situation?

A: As an image consultant and etiquette trainer, I must say it is never acceptable to chew gum in a business situation when interacting with co-workers, clients, or the general public. Gum chewing is a distraction and almost impossible to conceal during conversation, comparable to speaking with your mouth full of food. On occasion, however, I have suggested that a client chew a piece of gum to freshen his or her breath after a pungent meal, when it was impossible to use a toothbrush and paste. The secret is to be discreet: Excuse yourself from the table and chew a stick of peppermint gum in the washroom; then discard it. This way you can enjoy fresh breath and your chewing won’t offend others.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: Can I wear my favorite pair of 4-inch heels to the office?

A: Generally speaking, heels higher than 3 inches are perceived as more suitable for a dance club than an office environment, especially shoes with thin straps that expose more of the foot, as well as shoes with very thin heels. Ditto for footwear in bright colors. If you decide to go higher than a 3-inch heel, opt for a classic, closed-toe pump in a matte leather and neutral color. You might also consider a platform style or wearing pants the same color as your shoes to camouflage the height of the heel.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I have pale skin and I wonder if a spray tan would give me an edge on a job interview. Do you recommend it?

A: Several benefits can come from an artificial tan. For one, a little color may boost your confidence level, which in turn could calm your nerves and help you ace that interview. It may also send the message that you have an active lifestyle and are physically fit—something your potential employer should consider a plus. Just be careful not to overdo it. Straying too far from your natural skin tone could send the message that you are superficial, focused too much on extracurricular activities, and lack strong business ethics. Go only two to three shades darker than your natural skin tone.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I love all the bright colors they are showing for spring. Are they office appropriate?

A: No one can deny the merits of neutral-colored business attire, but sometimes we all need a color pick-me-up. This spring, designers are showing citrus shades of orange, yellow, and green as well as coral, pink, and bright blue. Because people perceive brighter hues as bold and playful statements, for a more conservative work environment, less is more. Add brighter colors in small doses by way of a scarf, tie, or handbag. Or you can incorporate more hues in a patterned shirt or blouse and team it with a neutral bottom or jacket. Generally speaking, for business, you will want to avoid wearing bright colors from head to toe.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When a wine glass is placed on a table at a restaurant, how do I signal that I don’t want any?

A: Never turn a glass or cup upside down to decline service. If you don’t want your wine glass, coffee cup, or water glass filled (or refilled), hold your hand over the glass. If the server fills it before you have a chance to signal no, leave the beverage untouched for removal after the meal.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I frequently respond to business e-mails via my mobile device. Must I include a salutation?

A: The type of device you use to send e-mail has little to do with proper e-mail etiquette. Instead, consider your relationship to the recipient, the intended degree of formality, and whether your message is a standalone reply or part of a longer chain of responses. On a first reply when communicating for business, use a salutation that includes the recipient’s name, whether it’s “Dear Christine,” “Hi, Christine,” or simply “Christine.” While a salutation is unnecessary thereafter, it is considered more formal and appropriate when communicating with a senior associate or an important client.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What is the “silverware-placement code” for telling waitstaff you’re done with your plate?

A: Rest your fork, tines up, and knife, blade in, with the handles resting at 5 o’clock and tips pointing to 10 o’clock on your plate. Leave any unused silverware on the table. Another way to signal the waitstaff you have finished your meal is to leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting. Don’t twist or crumple the napkin or refold it so it looks unused. Never leave the napkin on the chair. Don’t push your dishes away from you or stack them for the waiter when you are finished. Leave plates and glasses where they are.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I will be attending several upcoming job fairs. What do I wear?

A: Think of a job fair as a series of mini first interviews. Because the dress code of participating companies can vary, it is safest to err on the side of more formal dress. A suit or jacket in dark grey or navy (or black for women) is always an appropriate choice. Wearing a collared, long-sleeve shirt or blouse underneath makes sense because it looks professional enough on its own, should you decide to remove your jacket. Men should opt for a dark-colored, lace-up shoe; for women, a mid-heeled, closed-toe pump or slingback. Clean and pressed clothes and polished shoes are a must. Less is more with accessories, jewelry, and cologne, so keep them at a minimum. These tips, accompanied by a smile, direct eye contact, and a firm handshake, will help you create a positive—and professional—first impression.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: What types of sunglasses are in style for a corporate look?

A: Go with quality. Look for metallic, tortoise shell, or black frames with charcoal, dark brown, or black lenses. Avoid sunglasses that are trendy, sporty, or brightly colored as they tend to look inexpensive—even if they aren’t. Two classics that will never go out of style are the wayfarer and the aviator.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I am uncomfortable attending networking events. Can you help with some conversation starters?

A: To ease your way, arrive with a handful of open-ended questions. A logical place to start is by asking others what they do. Follow up with additional questions such as what they like about their job, current projects they are working on, industry trends they have noticed, or challenges they are facing. Remember, everyone is there for a similar reason. Be sure to ask others about the type of referrals that are useful to them and how you can help. Presumably other networkers will want to know your answers to similar questions, so make sure that you come prepared. Use current events to your advantage. Select one for discussion and ask others to share their thoughts. Avoid controversial subjects such as politics and religion. If you are truly at a loss for words, you can always start with questions such as: “What brings you to this event?” or “What have you heard about the speaker?” Follow up with your new key contacts in a timely manner. Don’t forget to mention the event at which you met and what you discussed.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I’m a vegan and don’t wear leather. What should I do as far as shoes for a corporate job interview?

A: In addition to pleather (synthetic leather), an assortment of footwear can now be found made from natural and sustainable products such as hemp and bamboo. Here are a few resources:,,, and Just keep the general professional dress code in mind. Men should look for a traditional oxford dress shoe (lace-up or slip-on), and women should opt for a closed-toe pump in a neutral color, with a heel no higher than three inches. Most important, shoes should be clean and well-maintained with no scuff marks or visible signs of wear and tear.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I look young and fear that I am not taken seriously at work. What can I do to project a more-seasoned image?

A: Seemingly small changes to your appearance, body language, and speech can make a big difference in how others perceive you. To convey a more mature and credible image, opt for high quality, classic clothing in solid, neutral colors or simple patterns. Depending on your workplace dress code, wearing a formal suit can look as if you’re trying too hard. However, the addition of a jacket, cardigan, vest, or other “third piece” to a shirt-skirt or shirt-pants combination will add a visual layer of authority and credibility. Don’t overlook your hair and makeup: Aim for subtle and sophisticated. Your body language and speech should be in synch with your visual image and in support of your overall message. Pay attention to your posture and maintain eye contact with others. In addition, speak slowly and with conviction. Demonstrate your maturity and experience with an awareness of industry and current events.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I want to help my daughter sell candy for her school’s fundraising effort. Is it okay for me to ask my co-workers to buy some?

A: I’m so glad you asked this question! Haven’t we all experienced that awkward moment when one of our co-workers, employers, or friends asks us to help out their kids by purchasing something we really don’t want or need? My suggestion: Instead of asking your co-workers face to face or passing around a sign-up sheet where everyone can see who bought (and how much), post a notice in the break room or other high-traffic area in your office announcing the “opportunity” to make a purchase to benefit your child’s school or whatever the cause may be. Provide your home and office contact information. This way, no one will feel strong-armed into purchasing—or uncomfortable about choosing not to. You may not make as many sales, but you will preserve valuable relationships.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I love big, expressive jewelry. Can I wear it to the office?

A: It depends. While dressing for work should not mean forgoing your own sense of style, your accessories should suit your industry, company, and position. Think about the type of clothing that would be office-appropriate for your environment and mirror that level of formality with your jewelry choices. When accessorizing, aim to create one focal point of interest. For most people this means directing attention to the face with an interesting necklace, pair of earrings, scarf, or tie. When you do choose a bold piece, keep your other accessories understated. If you have doubts about a particular accessory, try the “blink test.” Stand in front of a full-length mirror and close your eyes for a few seconds. When you open them, what is the first thing you notice? If it’s the accessory rather than your face or overall appearance, it’s probably too distracting for the office.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: Does the old rule about cutting up food (say, eggplant parmigiana) one bite at a time still apply?

A: Yes. If you slice up your food all at once, it is unattractive on the plate and makes you look childish or immature. (Maybe this has something to do with the fact that parents often cut up their children’s food at the beginning of the meal so they can then enjoy their own meal leisurely.) Cutting one or two bites at a time gives you a chance to put your utensils down during the meal and have a conversation with your companions. Other benefits: Your food won’t get cold as fast, and consuming it slowly can stop you from overeating.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: How can I maintain a professional look yet still dress for the inclement winter weather?

A: Dress in layers and pay attention to your fabric and color choices. Start with an undershirt of cotton, silk, or one of the new high-tech fabrics. Then put on your shirt or turtleneck. Over that, layer a thin-gauge, high-quality cotton, wool, or cashmere sweater. Avoid fleece, chunky, or Fair Isle knits, which have a more casual look and feel. Make sure to check for pilling, fading, and any other tell-tale signs that your cold-weather wardrobe staples need replacing. Save the short, brightly colored down ski jacket for the slopes. Opt for a neutral-colored wool coat that is 3/4-length or longer to layer easily over a blazer or longer cardigan. Choose hats, scarves, and gloves without excessive detail or embellishment. Fringes, pom-poms, and furry earmuffs are more suited for the weekend. Invest in a professional-looking, all-weather boot in a neutral color. If your boots are brightly colored, patterned, or Ugg-styled, swap them for a more business-appropriate shoe when you arrive at the office.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Keep It Rosy During Job Interviews

Maintain a positive, upbeat attitude. Everyone wants to be around a winner. Never criticize your current or former manager or employer.

—Tara McKernan, DHR International

Q: How can I keep my New Year’s resolution to stick to my diet when eating out with clients?

A: Select a restaurant with a varied menu to suit everyone’s needs—not just your diet goals. Then try to be discreet about your calorie counting so you don’t inhibit the choices of others. If possible, meet for lunch instead of dinner as the portions are smaller. For an appetizer, opt for a salad with dressing on the side. Order your entrée grilled, steamed, roasted, baked, or sautéed, rather than breaded or fried. Since most restaurant food comes adequately salted, use the salt shaker sparingly, if at all. Drink plenty of water throughout your meal. For dessert, ask for fresh fruit. Alternatively, order a few desserts with extra forks for the table so that the experience (and the calories) can be shared.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: I tend to forget people’s names, sometimes even moments after meeting them. Any advice?

A: Even the most socially savvy networker has forgotten a name or two. Don’t let it hold you back from making a connection. You never know where that relationship may lead: a new client, a new job, or a new relationship. If the person is wearing a name tag, take a quick peek. Otherwise, apologize quickly and say you’ve suddenly forgotten his or her name. Most individuals will gladly fill in the blank for you.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

Q: I am in need of some last-minute holiday gifts for my administrative staff. Any recommendations?

A: Though your gift may be last-minute, avoid having it look that way. Consider what you know about the recipient. If the person is family-minded, a picture frame or gift certificate for a personalized photo book would be a nice touch. For the animal lover: pet-themed stationery or mugs or a coffee-table book devoted to his or her favorite animal. For the film enthusiast: movie tickets or a gift certificate to Netflix, packaged with a few boxes of movie-size candy. For the athlete: a cool water bottle with built-in filter or subscription to a magazine devoted to his or her favorite sport. (To avoid looking last-minute, wrap the current issue with a note that the subscription is on its way.) If you do not know much about the person, you might give a gift related to his or her job. This can be a beautiful pen, writing tablet, desk accessory, or industry-related business book. Additionally, a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure or massage (with tip included) is always appreciated. If all else fails, you can’t go wrong with beautifully packaged candy, a basket of holiday treats, or a gift card to a local coffee bar. Don’t forget to include a festive holiday card with a handwritten note.

—Carol Davidson, StyleWorks of Union Square

Q: When is it appropriate to regift?

A: Never regift a present that was handmade or customized (think knitted, monogrammed, etc.) just for you. Stick it in a closet or drawer for a few months before disposing of it. Otherwise, if it’s something you think someone else would appreciate or could use, you can regift if you follow a few simple guidelines. (1) Keep a record of the name of the person who gave you the item and what it was, especially if you’re not going to regift it right away. This way you can avoid regifting to the original giver, and you can recall the item when you next see him or her or when sending a thank-you note. (2) Examine the item thoroughly for personalized notes or inscriptions from the original giver, remove them, and then repackage the object with new wrap. (3) If you have regifted the item and any of the parties involved discover the fact, don’t try to cover it up with lies. Be honest and considerate. You could simply state that the gesture was greatly appreciated, but you felt someone else would appreciate it (or could use it) more than you, so you passed it on.

—Kelly Machbitz, owner,, Clearwater, Fla.

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